How To Make Sublimation Shirts For Beginners

Teenager wearing a sublimated shirt leaning against a mural

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Did you know that sublimation t shirts are one of the quickest-growing trends in the custom apparel industry? As more people discover the world of personalized clothing, learning how to make sublimation shirts has become an increasingly popular pursuit.

But like with any skill, beginners often face challenges with proper technique and avoiding common mistakes when making sublimation shirts. Having learned from professionals in the field, we know the joy that comes from learning how to do sublimation printing on t shirts and perfecting your craft.

Mastering the process allows you to create unique, eye-catching articles of clothing no one else has ever seen. Imagine having the skills to design and produce your one-of-a-kind sublimation t shirts – a wearable showcase of your artistic talents.

Continue reading this comprehensive guide to help you avoid the pitfalls and master the sublimation process for beginners. We won’t just provide a straightforward path to success. We’ll also dish out insightful tips and tricks to take your creations up a notch.

What is Sublimation Printing?

This cutting-edge digital print technique transfers high-quality images onto materials like fabrics using heat-sensitive sublimation ink. It involves a unique process where ink converts directly from a solid to a gas state under high temperatures, bypassing the liquid phase.

This fascinating printing method is ideal for entrepreneurs and DIY enthusiasts interested in learning how to create their own sublimation shirts. The science behind sublimation shirts ensures images become permanently embedded into the material, guaranteeing long-lasting prints that won’t peel or crack.

A prime real-world example of this technique is the creation of custom sublimation shirts for sports teams, where vibrant and detailed logos and graphics are flawlessly displayed. Whether you’re a small startup looking to make a splash in the fashion industry, or a solo operation printing t-shirts at home, sublimation transfers offer impressive results.

It’s an excellent method for graphic designers seeking new and innovative ways to showcase personalized content and ads. Using various materials, such as dark shirts, cotton shirts, or polyester shirts, your creations are sure to be memorable and unique.

Reasons You Need to Learn How To Make Sublimation Shirts

In a world where unique and personalized apparel is increasingly in demand, mastering the craft becomes an invaluable asset. By learning how to create your own sublimation shirts, hats, totes, and more, you’re stepping into the fashion industry and unlocking doors to niche markets.

This skill set allows you to breathe life into your creative vision, customizing color schemes, designs, and graphics onto fabrics, resulting in truly unique pieces.

Teach yourself how to sublimate a shirt, and you’ll gain a competitive edge that opens up infinite potential outcomes and exponential growth opportunities.

Take this leap, learn the art, and watch your business reach new heights with the following steps.

Step-by-Step Instructions to Make Sublimation Shirts

Man who learned how to make sublimation shirts

Just a quick heads up. This post will walk you through each step of the process to create sublimation shirts. To formulate this guide, we consulted with industry experts and successful businesses.

The following steps ensure that even if you are new to this technique, creating beautiful and professional-looking designs will be much easier.

We’ll start with finding the proper materials, setting up your design, printing process, and even tips and tricks to ensure that you have excellent results.

Plus, we’ve included links to credible resources to make this process transparent so you can get started quickly. So, let’s dive right in!

1. Understand the Sublimation Process

Sublimation designs have redefined custom shirt-making. Unlike traditional methods, this technique transfers ink from a special sublimation paper to the shirt’s fabric at 400 degrees or higher. The ink transforms into gas and infuses directly into the fibers, making designs durable and long-lasting.

The beauty of sublimated shirts is the superb quality and aesthetic appeal. Designs don’t wrinkle, crack, or peel, maintaining a vibrant and smooth finish.

Unlike conventional methods, sublimation prints are almost undetectable to touch, merging flawlessly with the fabric. Additionally, sublimation allows for vibrant and versatile color representation, accommodating intricate designs in many colors and shades.

Whether you’re learning these steps for personal use or business, once you understand how to make a sublimation shirt, it opens up endless creative possibilities.

2. Gather Materials and Equipment

Before you dive headfirst into the exciting world of sublimation shirt-making, you’ll need to gather some crucial tools and materials.

Start with high-quality sublimation ink; it’s your ticket to vibrant, lasting designs. Next, invest in a reliable sublimation printer (Epson EcoTank or Sawgrass are reliable options) for precise, consistent results.

The paper you use matters too. Avoid laser paper, as it can dull your designs. Instead, opt for sublimation paper for optimal color transfer and clarity. Next up is your heat press. A machine or something like the Cricut EasyPress will do the trick.

Cricut Easy Press With Special Sublimation Ink

Remember to protect everything with white cardstock or butcher paper for safety during operation. The choice of shirt directly affects quality. Go for a poly blend shirt with a higher count (65% or higher) for professional-grade results.

Higher polyester percentages equal brighter, crisper designs. Higher polyester percentages equal brighter, crisper designs. But avoid 100% cotton; it’s not ideal for sublimation t shirts.

Lastly, keep scissors and heat-resistant tape handy for perfect transfers. Armed with these essentials, you can start your sublimation shirt-making adventure confidently.

3. Design Your Sublimation Shirt

With your toolkit ready, it’s time to let your creativity shine and design your sublimation t shirts. Whether your computer runs on Mac or Windows, a multitude of design software exists to suit your specific needs and level of expertise. For those new to design, Google Docs is a cost-free and effective tool that offers user-friendly features to jumpstart your design journey.

Another commendable option is 99 Designs, renowned for its custom freelancer services for personal brands that simplify the process. If you’re keen on crafting unique masterpieces, Adobe Photoshop is the go-to software for a one-of-a-kind printed design.

It offers the ability to work with layers, providing a high degree of creativity and customization. Plus, it’s incredibly affordable, making it a worthwhile investment for aspiring sublimation designers. When designing your sublimation shirt, consider the placement and sizing of your design carefully.

Different shirt sizes will require corresponding print dimensions and design sizes to ensure an aesthetically pleasing outcome. Experiment with layouts and proportions until you find the perfect balance that flatters the shirt’s contours.

Here’s a breakdown of recommended sizes:

Adult Shirt Design Sizing Recommendations

Shirt Size  Design Width x Length
Adult Small10″ wide x 12″ long
Adult Medium10″ wide x 12″ long
Adult Large10.5″ wide x 12.5″ long
Adult X-Large11″ wide x 13″ long
Adult 2X12″ wide x 14″ long
Adult 3X13″ wide x 15″ long
Adult 4X14″ wide x 16″ long

Youth Shirt Design Sizing Recommendations

Shirt SizeDesign Width x Length
Youth X-Small8″ wide x 12″ long
Youth Small8.5″ wide x 12″ long
Youth Medium10″ wide x 12.5″ long
Youth Large10.5″ wide x 12″ long
Youth X-Large11″ wide x 13″ long

4. Prepare To Sublimate A Shirt

Your design process starts with your sublimation printer imprinting your chosen design onto a sheet of special high-release paper. You must adjust your design’s size and resolution to ensure it fits perfectly on the shirt and maintains clarity during transfer. Mirroring the design before printing on the sublimation paper is also crucial, as this step ensures the design appears as intended when transferred to the shirt.

Before applying the design to the shirt, experts recommend pre-pressing rather than pre-washing. Pre-pressing, which involves ironing or using your heat press on your shirt before applying the artwork, helps remove wrinkles and moisture and shrinks the material. This step ensures the best adhesion of the ink, creating a smooth surface for printing.

After you properly prepare your shirt, the design can be transferred from the paper to the fabric using the heat press. Adjusting temperature and pressure settings on your heat press machine is vital before printing. The right temperature and pressure are essential for a successful transfer, ensuring the ink thoroughly permeates the fabric fibers.

Finally, remember that sublimation printing produces gas during the process, which requires proper ventilation. Open windows and turn on a fan to dissipate all fumes, ensuring a safe and comfortable workspace.

5. Transfer the Design To The Fabric

Blank t-shirts ready for transfer

With your design ready and the shirt prepped, you’re about to venture into the critical phase of the sublimation process – the transfer of your creative masterpiece onto the fabric. First, make sure the surface of your shirt is pristine. To ensure a clean surface, gently use a lint roller to eliminate dust, pet hair, or dander. These tiny particles, if overlooked, could result in unwanted spots or marks on your final design.

Align & Position

Next, align your shirt and preheat it for 10 to 12 seconds. This process aids in eliminating any residual moisture and wrinkles, thus presenting a smooth canvas for your design.

To safeguard the back layer of the shirt from potential ink bleed-through, insert a piece of white cardstock inside, precisely under the sublimation paper. Following this, position the design on the front of the shirt, ensuring it’s ink-side down and situated about 2 inches below the collar.

Securing the design onto the shirt is crucial as it prevents issues like ghosting or fuzzy images. Use heat-resistant tape to fasten all four sides of the sheet. This step is vital, so don’t overlook it!

Protect & Press 

To protect the shirt during the pressing process, place a large piece of white, uncoated butcher paper over it. Stay away from parchment paper, wax paper, or Teflon paper. These materials have the potential to ruin your transfer quality.

Also, refrain from using colored butcher paper to prevent unwanted color transfer. When your heat press machine hits the optimal temperature, it’s time to press your sublimation print. If you’re using a Cricut Autopress, the pressure sets automatically.

However, traditional heat press machines work best at 40 psi. Press your shirt for a duration of 45 to 60 seconds. The pressing time may need adjustments based on the outcome – if the transfer appears dull, increase the press time during the next attempt, and if it takes on a brown or yellow hue, you over-pressed it.

6. Cool and Remove the Paper

Once the sublimation process has finished, allow your shirt to cool down before revealing the final result. Gently remove the butcher paper covering the shirt. But, the garment must cool naturally for a minute or two. This cooling period ensures the transferred design properly settles and bonds with the fabric.

After the shirt has completely cooled, remove the tape and the white cardstock from inside the shirt. Be cautious during this step to avoid causing any harm to the freshly imprinted design. Now comes the most anticipated part – delicately peeling off the sublimation paper from the shirt.

As you do this, you’ll see your vibrant, flawless design that’s now a part of the fabric. Your sublimation shirt is complete, reflecting your creativity and dedication to this craft. Having successfully transferred the design, you can proudly display your sublimation shirt on a hanger, ready to be sold, flaunted, or worn with pride.

Kudos to you for accomplishing this feat in the sublimation printing process! With each new attempt, you’re honing your skills and broadening your creative capacity. So don’t hesitate to create the next one and continue discovering the unlimited potential of making sublimation shirts.

7. Follow Aftercare & Troubleshooting Tips

After pouring your creativity and effort into crafting beautiful sublimation shirts, it’s vital to take steps to preserve their vibrant look and extend their lifespan. Proper aftercare is paramount in achieving this. When cleaning your sublimation shirts, remember to turn them inside out to shield the design from any friction or potential harm. Opt for a gentle wash cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.

Stay away from bleach or any aggressive chemicals that could compromise the colors and vibrancy of your design. Drying your sublimation shirts also requires particular attention. Air drying is the preferred method. Either hang them up or lay them flat to prevent any possible shrinkage or distortion due to the high heat from a dryer.

The way you handle and store your sublimation shirts is just as important. Refrain from hanging them in direct sunlight, as UV rays can cause the colors to fade over time. For storage, fold the shirts neatly and keep them in a cool, dry place, safe from any potential contact with sharp or rough objects.

When you face unexpected issues with your sublimation shirts, troubleshooting solutions can be a lifesaver. If the colors seem faded or lackluster, try adjusting the pressing time for a more vibrant outcome.

For patchy or uneven printing, ensure the heat press applies pressure evenly and that the shirt is in the correct position. To prevent wrinkling or ghosting problems, check if the shirt is completely flat and secure during pressing.

Additional Tips to Master Sublimation Printing

Becoming proficient in sublimation printing, especially when creating sublimation shirts, involves a combination of consistent practice, enduring patience, and a deep comprehension of color management.

Like any skill, your proficiency will naturally improve as you gather more experience. Should you encounter mistakes, there’s no need for distress. Instead, view them as learning opportunities. To ensure your creative designs easily exceed expectations, study color profiles, calibration, and color correction.

Skateboarder wearing a shirt with sublimation images

These elements are crucial for achieving consistent and accurate results. Before you embark on a large printing project, print a few test prints or samples beforehand. That allows you to experiment with various settings, designs, and materials, ultimately refining your technique.

If you’re thinking about turning your hobby in sublimation printing into a business, it’s good to learn about marketing, branding, and how to sell. Building a recognizable brand and reaching the right audience can propel your venture to success.

Wrapping Up

Your enthusiasm and determination to learn about the sublimation printing process will pave the way for high-quality, enduring designs that are truly unique. As a beginner, take advantage of your creative spirit and dive deep into experimentation with various materials, color management techniques, and the different sublimation blanks at your disposal.

Sublimation printing offers unmatched versatility and durability, so go ahead. Be bold, innovative, and create spectacular sublimation shirts that inspire others to explore this exceptional craft. So, don’t be shy about seeking expert advice and refining your methods. Stay abreast of the latest sublimation printing innovations and trends, and always make time for ongoing learning.

Remember, the key to unlocking boundless creativity and top-tier design quality lies in mastering the sublimation printing process and embracing critical maintenance and troubleshooting tips. Happy printing!

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials and equipment do I need to get started with sublimation shirt-making?

To start making sublimation shirts, you’ll need several things: a sublimation printer, sublimation inks, sublimation paper, and a heat press. You’ll also need polyester or polyester-coated shirts (known as sublimation blanks) to get the results you desire.

Can I use any printer for sublimation printing, or do I need a specific sublimation printer?

Sublimation printing requires a specific kind of printer. Regular printers cannot handle sublimation ink. You’ll need a dedicated sublimation printer or an inkjet printer is capable of performing sublimation printing.

Where can I find sublimation blanks (shirts) for t-shirt designs?

Sublimation blanks are available online from retailers that specialize in sublimation printing supplies. You can also check craft stores and select clothing retailers that offer specially coated shirts suitable for sublimation.

What software is best for designing sublimation shirts, and are there any free options available?

The choice of design software largely depends on your comfort level and specific needs. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are popular options for their advanced features, but they require a subscription. Free alternatives like GIMP and Inkscape work well for designing sublimation shirts.

Are there any safety considerations or precautions I should take while working with sublimation ink and the heat press?

Yes. Safety is crucial when working with sublimation ink and a heat press. Always handle sublimation ink carefully to avoid spills and stains. When using a heat press machine for printing, wear heat-resistant gloves to protect your hands from burns. Also, make sure your work area is well-ventilated to avoid inhaling any fumes from the heating process.

Ken Jones Digital Marketing & Blogging Expert

Ken Jones

Ken is a freelance copywriter and digital marketer who started his online journey in 2011. He’s been hooked on internet marketing ever since, and he loves nothing more than helping others learn how to do the same.

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