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As you know, I love screen printing but I don’t think I can say one of these processes is “better” than the other.
They both have their own strengths.
With screen printing and sublimation, you can create amazing custom shirts, totes and more right from home.
The quality you get with both of these methods is impressive.
In this article I will review
- What equipment you need to get started with either process
- Which process is faster
- What types of blanks are best for each process
- If you need a special computer program or heat press for either process
- What other projects you can make with these processes
Both screen printing and sublimation require some specialized equipment to get up and running effectively. Here is what you need for each one:
- Sawgrass SG500 Sublimation Printer or Sawgrass SG1000 Sublimation Printer
- Sublimation Paper
- Thermal Tape
- Butcher Paper
- Heat Press
- Lint Roller
Screen Printing Supplies
- Screen Printing with Vinyl Starter Kit
- Vinyl Cutter (I use a Cricut Maker)
- My Favorite Transfer Tape
- Painter’s Tape
After your initial investment into sublimation OR screen printing, there will be some supplies you need to reorder occasionally.
With screen printing, your main supply costs will be additional screen printing ink, Oracal 651 vinyl, and transfer tape. I like to purchase the larger Speedball ink jars as well as vinyl on a larger roll. These will both cut your cuts in the long run.
Which process is faster?
Screen printing with vinyl is a faster setup process than traditional screen printing with emulsion, but it still has some set up and preparation involved.
You have to cut your design on vinyl and weed the areas you want ink to print. Then, you transfer the vinyl to your screen printing frame and tape off any open areas of the screen where you don’t want ink to bleed through. After these steps, you are ready to squeegee the ink over the screen to make your shirts.
Once you have printed your shirt, it will need to air dry for 2-3 days (you can speed it up with a heat gun or heat press). After the ink is completely dry, you need to heat set the shirt to make the ink permanent.
Sublimation on the other hand is basically three steps. First, print your design on sublimation paper. Second, flip your artwork over so the design is touching your blank shirt and tape it to the shirt. Third, heat press the design!
And even better, after your design has been pressed (usually about 40 seconds), your shirt is ready to go. No drying time or additional heat pressing is needed!
Sublimation is a much quicker process … for one shirt.
Is Screen Printing or Sublimation better for making multiple shirts?
Sublimation is great for making unique, multicolor designs but this process requires a new sheet to be printed for each shirt. You can not reuse the printed sheets to make multiple shirts.
Printing a new sublimation sheet for every shirt takes time and it can get pretty expensive for a large order of shirts.
If you’re making a bunch of shirts with the same design for a family reunion or fundraiser, screen printing is the way to go. The beauty of screen printing is that you can use the same design on your screen to print hundreds of shirts.
Using a press makes this process even easier. If you want to start using a press, but are exactly sure what to do – let me show you everything you need to know in my Press Course.
Screen printing is faster … for bulk shirt orders.
What are the best t-shirt blanks for sublimation and screen printing?
One of the things I really love about screen printing is you can print on almost any fabric. This process works great on 100% cotton, cotton-poly blends, and so much more.
Sublimation is not quite as versatile. This process only works with polyester based materials. If you are making t-shirts, this means using 100% polyester shirts.
I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about how much I love my Bella + Canvas t-shirts. While these are poly-cotton blend shirts, I have found the sublimation ink doesn’t hold up quite as vividly as it does on 100% polyester shirts.
While sublimation works on most 100% polyester materials, the ink is going to show up better on light colors. If you print on a dark polyester shirt, your ink will likely look very dull or faded because of the dark pigment in the shirt.
Screen printing will work on any color shirt. White ink can be a little tricky to master, but it is possible to print on dark color shirts with screen printing. If you are having trouble using white ink, be sure to read my tips for screen printing with white ink.
Do I need a special heat press for sublimation or screen printing?
Since the key ingredient to making sublimation work is heat, you do need a reliable heat press.
The most important part about choosing a press for sublimation is making sure the heating area is larger than the design you are pressing. You don’t want to try heat pressing sublimation in multiple sections because the uneven heat can distort the design. I love my 15×15″ heat press from Pro World.
You don’t have to have a heat press for screen printing, but it definitely makes finishing your projects a breeze. I love this one.
Do I have to have a special computer program for sublimation or screen printing?
Both sublimation and screen printing start on the computer (or tablet) to create your design.
Sawgrass printers come with a very user-friendly software called Creative Studio. If you are a beginner or not very tech-savvy, you will love the ease of designing and printing with this software. I personally use Adobe Photoshop to create and size my designs. I love that Pro World includes templates for all of their sublimation blanks. These templates allow me to size and design each type of blank appropriately.
With screen printing using vinyl, you can do everything in Cricut Design Space. You can use Cricut fonts or fonts installed on your computer to create your own design. You can also upload SVG files. There are so many free SVG files available or you can subscribe to Cricut Access for a huge library of designs.
What other projects can I make with screen printing or sublimation?
While sublimation may be limited when it comes to designing on different color t-shirts, there are so many other things you can make.
You can find blank sublimation mouse pads, earrings, puzzles, multi-color cap badges, and custom photo mugs on Pro World. You can also use any of the Cricut Infusible Ink blanks, like these pillow cases, tote bags and coasters.
Screen printing also offers a huge range of things you can personalize. I have printed on so many items such as paper bags, wood, bed sheets, balloons, and even cookies. The possibilities are endless when it comes to screen printing. You can check out my blog for tons of screen printing ideas.
Well, which process is better for creating custom craft projects … Screen Printing or Sublimation?
As I said at the beginning, neither of these processes is really “better” than the other.
While I do love both processes, sublimation will come in really handy on those occasions that I want to use a full color design or make custom mugs, tumblers or other specialty items. Screen printing with vinyl is still my go-to method for large quantities or cotton shirts.
Thank you for reading this article. I would love to hear what you like about each of these processes. Write me a little note in the comments to tell me what you think.
If you have really wanted to give screen printing a try, but just aren’t sure you can do it on your own let me walk you through the entire process in my Screen Printing with Vinyl Beginner’s Course.