What's the difference bewteen sublimation transfers and screenprint transfers? | NiftyTransfers

Nifty Narwhal

Posted on March 10 2021

What's the difference bewteen sublimation transfers and screenprint transfers? | NiftyTransfers

What’s the difference between SUBLIMATION transfers and SCREEN PRINT transfers?

Here are some helpful tidbits on the differences between the two. This isn’t a completely comprehensive guide, obvi, but gives the main differences between the two transfer types and what you can use them on (some of the links below are affiliate links)



Sublimation transfers are printed from one machine with special sublimation ink. Most sublimation printers look like “regular” office printers, for example, Sawgrass (made exclusively for sublimation ink):

Or Epson printers that have been “converted” from regular printer ink to sublimation ink.

There are large format sublimation printers too, like this Epson F570:

Special sublimation paper is used. When sublimation transfers are printed, the colors appear dull and muted on the paper. The ink is not raised on the paper, and cannot be felt with your fingers. 

What can you sublimate on? 

Hard substrates (mugs, tumblers, luggage tags, and lots more) that are SPECIFICALLY MADE for sublimation. Sublimation blanks have a special coating that the ink will stick to. 

Fabric (shirts, towels, and lots more). Sublimation ink ONLY dyes the polyester fibers permanently. Any sublimation dye on cotton fibers will wash out. So if you sublimate on a 100% polyester shirt (for example Jerzees 21M) all of the dye will be permanent. If you sublimate on a 50% polyester 50% cotton shirt, in theory, half of the dye will wash out, leaving a very faded and vintage look. Most people recommend sublimating on fabrics with a minimum of 65% polyester. The higher polyester you have, the brighter and more vivid your design. The less polyester you have, the more “retro” or faded your design will be after washing. Straight-up sublimation CANNOT print white ink. So anything “white” will show up as the color of whatever you’re sublimating on. Pure white fabric will show the most, and the darker the fabric, the less your design will show up. Debbie Does Design has a super cool chart that shows polyester percentages and color examples.

You won’t be able to feel sublimation designs once they’re pressed.   


Screenprinted transfers are made with plastisol ink and TONS of equipment. Just a few things many commercial screenprinters use: a flash dryer, mesh screens, a darkroom with an exposure unit (to “burn” images onto the screens that will be used), a washout booth (a space for cleaning the screens), a film printer and software for printing positives, adhesive powder, ink, and transfer paper. There’s probably way more stuff than that, but compared to making sublimation transfers, it’s a world of difference! 

Unlike sublimation ink, screenprinted ink can be felt on the surface of the paper with your fingers. Some ink feels rough/gritty to the touch, while some ink feels silky smooth to the touch. The ink of our “low heat” transfers feel rougher than our “high heat” soft ink transfers, which feel smooth.

You will be able to feel screenprinted designs, since they are attached ON TOP OF the surface (unlike sublimation which goes INTO the fabric, for example).   

What types of fabrics and colors work well with screenprint transfers?

Screenprinted transfers can be applied to virtually any fabric type, or any color. Of course, if your screenprinted design is black, and you heat press it to a black shirt, you won’t be able to see it. But you can screenprint a white design to a black shirt (unlike sublimation, which can’t put a white design on a black shirt without extra steps, like bleaching, or using Siser Glitter HTV). 



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