Screen Printing versus Sublimation: Which Process is Better for Creating Custom Crafts?

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


This post may contain Amazon or other affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.


making shirts diy how to print

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

cricut or sublimation printer which is best

Both screen printing and sublimation require some specialized equipment to get up and running effectively. Here is what you need for each one:

Sublimation Supplies

Screen Printing Supplies

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.

sublimation screen printing blanks types of shirts

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.

sublimation vs screen printing process diy

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.

how to make shirts bulk large 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 on polyester based materials. If you are making t-shirts, this means using 100% polyester (dri fit feel) 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.

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.

sublimation compared to screen printing

Do I need a special heat press for sublimation or screen printing?

If you are using sublimation to make shirts or other flat items, like pillow cases and tote bags, you do need to use a heat press or Easy Press.

I have found this Siser heat press works great for sublimation. The Siser heat press is smaller than my large press, 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 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.

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.

If you don’t have a heat press yet, try one of these 6 Ways to Heat Set your shirt.

how to heat press sublimation screen printing ink cure

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.

For sublimation, I personally use Adobe Photoshop to create and size my designs. You can also use Illustrator to create new designs if you’re more familiar with that program.

If you don’t have much experience with graphic design, you can purchase pre-made designs on Etsy. There are so many amazing designs for sale, you might want to pick this option just to save yourself the setup time.

After you download a design from Etsy, you will open it in Preview or Microsoft Word. Before you hit print, make sure you size your design exactly how you want it to fit on your blank shirt.

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 blanks sublimation screen printing

What other projects can I make with screen printing or sublimation?

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, multi-color cap badges, and custom photo mugs (use this Cricut Mug Press). 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.

sublimation mug what works

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

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.

13 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
  4. Very well presented. Thank you! So glad to have come across your blog. Now, I’m on my way to visit you on YouTube.

    Reply
  5. I think sublimation printing technology is preferable over screen printing. It lasts longer.

    Reply
  6. In addition to sublimation and screen printing utilizing vinyl, both techniques require an auxiliary device. Sublimation needs a printer to print your designs for sublimation, while screen printing necessitates a vinyl printing machine.

    I love your explanation!

    Reply
  7. Both processes begin on the computer (or tablet). My designs and sizes are created using Adobe Photoshop for sublimation. Illustrator can also be used to create new designs.

    Reply
  8. Amazing that was helpful for me and will reach out on this website to know more things.

    Reply
  9. Hi! I have followed you for years and learned screen printing from you! This article was so helpful! I have been debating buying a sublimation printer, but have decided to stick with HTV and screen print with vinyl. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Mindy, thanks for following along! I’m so glad this article was helpful.

      Reply
  10. How do all the venders get the screen print onto the white paper? is that a printer that does that?

    Reply
    • There are a few different methods people are using right now. Screen print transfers are actually screen printed onto the paper. There’s also DTF which is a machine that prints on a transfer sheet.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Stay in touch

Cart

Want to get the latest screen printing tips and tricks delivered to your inbox?

Join my email list and be the first to know about new techniques and project ideas!