Sublimation vs. Screen Printing

Apr 15, 2021 | Cricut Projects, Screen Printing, Sublimation, Vinyl Projects


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Did you watch how I setup a sublimation printer yesterday? It is so easy to get started with sublimation.  So you might be wondering, why use any other method if it’s so easy? 

There are pros and cons to making shirts (or other items) with sublimation.  It’s the same with screen printing. 

Here is a breakdown of the most common questions when trying to decide between sublimation and screen printing with vinyl.

cricut or sublimation printer which is best

What Supplies are Needed for Sublimation?

What Supplies are Needed for Screen Printing?

For both sublimation and screen printing with vinyl, you need two main pieces of equipment.  Sublimation requires a sublimation printer to print your designs while screen printing uses Cricut or Silhouette to cut your  designs.  For both of these processes, you will need a heat press. 

sublimation screen printing blanks types of shirts

What T-Shirt Blanks Can You Use?

In my opinion, this is the main downside of sublimation.  With sublimation, it only works on polyester based materials.  If you are making t-shirts, this means using 100% polyester (dri fit feel) shirts. 

You’ve heard me talk about how I love my Bella + Canvas t-shirts.  While these are a poly-cotton blend, I have found the ink doesn’t hold up quite as vividly as it does on 100% polyester. 

With screen printing, you can print on almost any fabric.  The process works great on 100% cotton, cotton-poly blends, and so much more.

sublimation compared to screen printing

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.  While white ink can be a little tricky to master, it is possible to print on dark color shirts with screen printing.  Be sure to read my tips for screen printing with white ink.

sublimation vs screen printing process diy

How do the sublimation and screen printing processes compare?

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.

Screen printing with vinyl is a faster setup process compared to traditional screen printing with emulsion.  However, there are still a few steps involved.

You will cut your design on vinyl and weed the areas you want ink to print.  Then, you will transfer the vinyl to your screen printing frame. Tape off any open areas of the screen where you don’t want ink to go through.  Now, you are ready to squeegee the ink over the screen to make your shirts.

Once you have printed your shirt, it will need to dry for 2-3 days (or speed it up with a heat gun).  Once the ink is completely dry, you will heat set the shirt to make the ink permanent.   

Sublimation is a much quicker process.

Sublimation starts with printing your design on sublimation paper. Flip your artwork over so the design is touching your blank or shirt.  Then, heat press the design!  It’s a very quick process.  And even better, once your design has been pressed (usually about 40 seconds), your shirt is ready to go.  No drying time or additional heat pressing is needed! 

making shirts diy how to print

Which program do I need to use?

Both processes start on the computer (or tablet).  For sublimation, I use Adobe Photoshop to create and size my designs.  You can also use Illustrator to create new designs.

If you don’t have much experience with graphic design, you might want to consider purchasing pre-made designs on Etsy.  There are so many amazing designs to download and save yourself the setup time. After you download the design, you will open it in Preview or even Microsoft Word.  Before you hit Print, make sure you size your design how you want it to fit on your blank.

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. You can even pay a small amount to download one one from Etsy.

how to heat press sublimation screen printing ink cure

What type of heat press do you need?

If you are making shirts or other flat items, like pillow cases and tote bags, you will want to use a heat press or Easy Press.

I have found that the Siser heat press works great for sublimation.  I don’t get quite as good results with my larger heat press. The quality of this press is likely to blame for the inconsistent results. The Siser heat press is smaller but works perfectly for 8.5″x11″ designs, which is the max size my sublimation printer will go.

The most important part about choosing a press for sublimation is that the heating area is larger than the design you are pressing.  You don’t want to try doing sublimation in multiple sections because it can distort the design. 

There are a few ways you can heat set your screen printing ink.  You can use a household iron, although I do recommend a heat press for this process too.

how to make shirts bulk large orders

What’s the best way to make multiple shirts?

If you are 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. 

Sublimation requires a new sheet printed for each shirt.  You can not reuse the printed sheets to make multiple shirts.

Because you would need to print the design over and over for sublimation, screen printing will save you money when printing larger orders. 

how to setup sublimation screen printing

How much do the refill supplies cost?

After your initial investment into sublimation OR screen printing, there will be some supplies you need to reorder occasionally. 

With sublimation, your 2 main supply costs will be additional sublimation paper and sublimation ink refills. 

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. 

 screen printing ink sublimation ink

What is the best ink to use?

I am still fairly new into sublimation but I am LOVING the results of projects I have made with Hiipoo sublimation ink.  I am seeing very bright, vibrant results, so I plan to continue using this brand of ink.

My screen printing ink of choice is Speedball.  Speedball screen printing ink comes in 2 formulas – fabric ink and acrylic ink.  I have even created Ink Recipe Guides to help you make additional colors for your screen printing projects.

what blanks sublimation screen printing

What else can you make?

While sublimation may be limited when it comes to t-shirts, there are so many other things you can make.

You can find blank sublimation mouse pads, earrings, puzzles and mugs.  You can also use any of the Cricut Infusible Ink blanks, like the 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. 

sublimation mug what works
What am I most excited to make?

I just recently added sublimation to my craft room.  I’m most excited to be able to make custom photo mugs using my Cricut Mug Press.  I am also having fun making full color designs on shirts… designs that wouldn’t be very easy to do with screen printing.

While I do love both processes, screen printing with vinyl is still my go-to method for almost all of my projects. But, sublimation will come in really handy on those occasions that I want to use a full color design on something.

4 Comments

  1. I can’t find the link to register. I get to a page that says register now but there is no link.

    Reply
  2. I was originally look to get into sublimation, but then felt limited to having to order most things online and did not want to invest too much right away. I realize I could send things to have printed with sublimation ink and paper, but that would get to be too much. I really want to do sublimation mugs and also need a mug press to do that. I came across your YouTube videos and immediately knew that I wanted to get into screen printing. My boys have so many screen printed shirts from years of sports and band. I saw how many things you can screen print on and thought it was only logical to do that. I work for a preschool and saw many options there as well. For now I will be going the route of using my cricut and doing vinyl stencils, but your latest blog post with the exposed silk screen templates looks interesting too. I just bought my Speedball starter kit and some inks and will pick up a few extra frames to get me started (amazon, as well as some ink colors that I couldn’t find locally). Thanks for sharing your information. I will get into sublimation down the road as my business hopefully grows (although I would get a lot of use for gifts as well).

    Reply
  3. Hello, For the oracle vinyl should I use a certain colour for screen printing? Does gloss or Matt work better?

    Reply
    • It doesn’t matter what color you use since it’s just acting as a stencil. I have always used glossy but matte would work too!

      Reply

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