Crafting, Crafts & DIY

Sublimation Vs. Screen Printing – Which Is Best?

A great way to express your creativity and personality is by printing your own designs onto various items: shirts, tote bags, cushion covers, and so much more.

There are two key ways that custom design printing can be done: sublimation and screen printing.

However, which is better?

I’ve got plenty of practice with each of them, using both sublimation and screen printing to add my own designs to various items – especially shirts, check out our “How to do sublimation shirts, what to know” article for tips..

As a result, I’ve got the experience to compare the strengths and weaknesses of each process, looking at factors like speed, equipment, flexibility, and more.

You need to read my comparison below, because otherwise you might find yourself using the wrong custom design printing process method for you!

What Is Sublimation?

To put it simply, sublimation is a printing process that works by transferring designs onto material with the use of heat and ink. We have had the question can you use sublimation ink for an inkjet printer, check out our article here for that answer..

What Is Screen Printing?

On the other hand, screen printing is a process that adds a stenciled design to a material through the use of ink, a mesh screen, and a squeegee to then push the ink through.

Sublimation VS Screen Printing – Which Is Best?

I’m going to compare the two printing methods in a range of different areas, so you can decide which is going to be the best one for you.

Which Process Needs Less Equipment?

Both sublimation and screen printing will need equipment to do, a lot of it even specialized.

In order to perform sublimation, you will need: a sublimation ink printer (home and factory versions available), sublimation paper, tape, vinyl, a vinyl cutting mechanism, a type of heat press (used to take the design off the paper and onto the material), and some computer RIP (Raster Image Processor) software.

As you can see, some of these will cost a lot of money, especially the sublimation ink printer. With that being said, if you’re going to be spending that kind of money, then you’re likely going to be using it a lot.

On the other hand, screen printing will need the following equipment: a screen, stencil material, paper, a squeegee, water-based inks specially for screen printing, registration plastic, and a printing table that has hinges. You’ll also want some software for making your designs.

While this may seem like a lot of equipment, a lot of it is much less expensive than with sublimation, because you don’t need a special printer.

Of course, it’s important to remember that you will need to buy some items over and over, like paper, which is used up each time.

Which Process Is Better For Making Multiple Shirts?

Which Process Is Better For Making Multiple Shirts?

If you’re using sublimation or screen printing in order to put designs on shirts, then you might not just be stopping at one.

In fact, you almost certainly won’t be making just one, since you’ve invested in the equipment! This begs the question, then, which process will be better for making multiple shirts?

Without a doubt, I can tell you that screen printing is the definitive answer, because it makes mass printing both easier and quicker.

This is because you can continue using the same design with the screen again and again, printing on as many shirts as you have ink and time for.

I found this very productive, because it meant that I didn’t have to keep going away to produce a fresh design. Instead, I could just re-use my same design over and over, which meant I produced more shirts in less time.

This makes printing multiple shirts an extremely stress-free process, allowing you to focus on the other aspects of screen printing.

The same cannot be said for sublimation. With sublimation, you need to print out a new design for every shirt you want to make.

Since heat helps the design to transfer from your print sheet to the shirt material, the sheet is then irreversibly used up with every shirt you make.

I found this to be a real pain that really slowed down my process, because I kept having to go and print new sheets. This obviously took time, but it also cost money!

If you want to print multiple shirts, this makes the process a time-consuming strain.

Which Process Is Quicker?

Speaking of speed, which process is individually quicker out of sublimation and screen printing?

I found that the definitive answer is sublimation, because it would only take me a few steps to complete. On top of that, the pressing itself is rapid (40 seconds or fewer), and it doesn’t require much preparation beforehand.

With sublimation, you first print the design you want onto some sublimation paper. After that, you turn the paper over and tape it to your shirt (with the design touching it), then you use the heat press.

I found this to be a really quick and easy process, as long as you’re just printing onto one thing and not multiple.

Better yet, the shirt doesn’t even need to dry afterwards, which allowed me to try it on straight away.

On the other hand, screen printing takes preparation beforehand and drying time afterwards.

First, you need to cut the design on vinyl, then transfer it to the printing frame, taping off areas to prevent ink going where you don’t want it.

Next, you have to squeegee the ink. Then, after all that, you have to wait 3 days for the shirt to dry (or use a heat press).

As you can see, there are more steps to this process, and it takes far longer too.

Although it’s really handy for printing multiple items, I had to factor in the added drying time for them, and this was an issue when I had deadlines to send them in the mail.

What Else Can You Print With Them?

Both sublimation and screen printing will allow you to print on plenty of other materials, not just shirts. With sublimation, you can print on things like pillow vases, mugs, and bags.

Similarly, screen printing can be used for custom bed sheet designs, paper bags, and more.

However, sublimation can only print on certain materials, polyester-based ones to be specific.

On top of that, the ink will show up more on lighter materials. Both these factors make sublimation a bit more of a restricted process.

Screen printing, on the other hand, can work with almost any type of fabric. This means that you’ll be able to print on a far wider range of things.

This was a great help for me, because I was printing onto various kinds of material and wasn’t limited as a result.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A Regular Printer Do Sublimation?

If you’ve got a regular printer and you’re wanting to print sublimation, or print vinyl stickers, then you probably won’t be able to. This is because the printer will need to use sublimation ink for the process to work, and most printers won’t be able to do that.

With that being said, there are some printers that can be converted into sublimation printers, because they can work with sublimation ink, check out our what is a sublimation printer article, for more detail. . The Epson EcoTank series are great for this.

How Long Does A Screen Printed Shirt Last

Screen printed shirts are pretty durable, thanks to the thick and penetrative ink. All in all, a screen printed shirt should last 40-50 washes before starting to fade. If you are looking for something more permanent we also have a how to acid wash a shirt guide.  .

Final Thoughts

Both sublimation and screen printing have their benefits, so it’s impossible to say if one is better than the other. Sublimation is much quicker, yet less flexible.

Screen printing is better for mass printing, but takes longer to prepare.

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