Sublimation vs Vinyl: Don’t Miss Out The Differences!

Tshirts, coffee mugs, coasters, caps or hats – whatever you want to print your designs on, there are a few different techniques to do so.

They are all different techniques that all give somewhat similar results, but also vary in terms of machineries and tools used, as well as supplies and effort needed. 

It is indeed a matter of debate which technique is the best one; or, which technique gives the best result with the least amount of effort.

However, before going into the debate, it is important to know all about the two most common techniques of transfer: sublimation and Vinyl, or Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV). 

First, let’s learn more about what these techniques require. 

1. Sublimation Printing 

Sublimation printing requires the use of heat transfer paper and special ink for the transfer. This technique gives the best quality print possible on most surfaces of different materials, but they . work the best on fabric. 

A specialty of this technique is that each print needs to be transferred on the garment one at a time. This also means that you can print as many or as few colors to transfer to your design as you want to.

The design can have as many colors as you want, but they all need to be transferred to the fabric one at a time. This is the technique you definitely want to use if you want to print on white fabric, because that gives you the best results. 

You need a very good printer when using the sublimation technique, as well as specialty ink and special sublimation paper. Sublimation printers are actually quite expensive, and can cost more than $1000. This is an expensive method, but can give you the best results, especially when used on white fabric. 

2. Vinyl Heat Transfer Method 

Just like sublimation method works the best for white and light-colored fabrics, this technique works best for darker fabrics. In fact, this technique is perfect for not just black, but any other darker shades where sublimation technique fails. 

Beside dark-colored fabrics, this is a method that can be used on printing personal designs, images and texts on other materials. The special kind of vinyl used in this method is flexible, extremely soft to touch, and also very durable.

This vinyl is a material that can be cut into any shapes or designs using a vinyl cutter, and applied to fabrics, shoes, bags and even wood and glass. 

Now, the technique for both sublimation and vinyl printing are completely different from each other. In fact, it’s not just the technique that’s different between them, but almost all other aspects of production, cost, use and durability.

However, what we are going to discuss in this article is how these two techniques work, and how different they are as methods. 

How do Sublimation and Vinyl Printing Work?

So these techniques, if very different from each other, are quite easy to understand and implement. 

The Sublimation technique, for example, works best on small quantities of an image. Since in this technique, the designs are transferred to the garment one print or one color at a time, it is completely up to the user how detailed or how simple they want the design to be.

The more different colors you use in a design, the more number of times you’ll have to make a print and transfer them individually to the material you want to print on. In fact, this technique is more used to print smaller quantities of images on white- or lighter-colored fabrics

The better quality printer you use, the better your print is going to come out. This is why sublimation printers can cost $1000 and over, up to millions of dollars in fact. The more professional you want your work to be, the more expensive and high-quality your printer needs to be. 

Any design, image, text or logo that you want to transfer to fabric or any other material needs to be printed, one color at a time, to a special sublimation transfer paper using specialty ink using a sublimation printer.

The next step is to place the printed sublimation transfer paper into a heat press machine, and to expose the paper to extremely high temperature. Depending on the material, this high temperature can be anything from 350 to 400 degrees.

Besides the temperature, the material also needs to be exposed to consistent and extremely high pressure for a certain amount of time. 

The combination of heat, pressure and time together transfers the specialty ink on the Sublimation transfer paper from solid to gas. The gaseous form of ink is transferred to the fiber and is locked lastingly with the fiber of the fabrics, and the transfer becomes permanent.

The heat is responsible for not just the ink to turn gaseous, but also to open the pores of the fabric you want to transfer the design to. Once the heat and the pressure is removed, the ink returns to a solid form from the gaseous form, and permanently sticks to the fabric you made the transfer to. The ink is trapped inside the pores of the fabric lastingly, clearly visible from all sides. 

Now, what’s unique about this technique is that the design transferred to fabric is permanent and destroyable. Since the ink is transferred and immersed into the very pores of the fabric, it doesn’t fade over time, neither do the designs peel or break up after regular use.

Although an expensive method, this is the best and the most durable one when it comes to permanency, quality and longevity. 

The Vinyl Heat Transfer Method, on the other hand, is completely different from the Sublimation Method. Vinyl method is actually suggested as an alternative method when dealing with darker-colored fabrics and materials, especially black.

Since Sublimation ink transfer doesn’t work well with dark-colored fabrics, Vinyl printing methods need to be implemented. 

Vinyl transfer methods are considered to be a cheaper alternative to Sublimation method, mostly because it’s results aren’t as long-lasting or permanent as the latter one. Over time, vinyl prints tend to fade off, crack up or even peel off after regular wash and exposure to sunlight.

Vinyl is also a cheaper substitute for embroidery, and isn’t as comfortable as when fabrics are printed using the Sublimation method. In fact, Vinyl Transfer Methods are mostly used in cases where personalized T-shirts, caps or bags are needed for special occasions and events. 

Vinyl heat Transfer method requires the help of a heat press machine, a vinyl cutter, a few weeding and designing tools, and of course, special heat transfer vinyl sheets. Apart from the heat press machine and the vinyl cutter, the other tools and materials needed in this method are inexpensive and easily available. 

This procedure actually requires a piece of vinyl material, in any color or shape, placed on your blank fabric or material. The vinyl cutter machine, connected to your computer, laptop or smartphone, can help in cutting the vinyl material in any way that you want it to.

Beside vinyl material available in different colors, they are also available in various textures and materials, i.e. glossy, matte, shiny, etc. 

The vinyl cutter machine cuts the vinyl into your preferred shapes and sizes, and the heat press machine places it on the fabric of your choice. Vinyls are soft and flexible materials, and they can be easily cut into any shapes possible, even with a pair of scissors.

The heat press machines use heat to force the material to stick to the fabric. After the process is completed, you can feel a thin layer of vinyl on your fabric where the design has been placed, but just slightly. 

Washed properly and used correctly, vinyl designs can last a long time. However, these kind of designs has been known to crack or peel off after several uses and washes. Unlike sublimation method when the ink is embedded into the fabric, vinyl printing method keeps the method above the fabric. 

Therefore, as you can see, both Vinyl printing method and Sublimation method are completely different from each other, but they both give brilliant results when it comes to transferring your designs, images, texts and logos to any material of your choice.  

Leave a Comment