Sublimation VS Heat Transfer – Which is the Best Option for You?

There is a wide variety of ways to decorate garments that want to compare the features of heat transfer paper and sublimation. It is a debatable topic which is better as it all depends on your business needs and what are your requirements in terms of decoration. So if you want to explore sublimation vs heat transfer, compare the two processes to help you decide.

What is Heat Transfer Paper?

Heat transfer paper is one of the particular types of paper on which printing is done, and the image can be transferred to any hard surface or onto the garment with the process of heat press. The heat transfer paper comes in two types, inkjet and laser.

For each specific type of paper, you will need a printer according to its specifications, as laser transfer paper cannot be used with inkjet printers and vice versa. Heat transfer paper is a good option for most office-type printers. However, you can get the best outputs with the best quality prints with white toner printers like OKI.

These printers are made explicitly for the garment decoration and laying of white toner to offer full-colour prints and vibrant to be transferred to dark and colored garments.

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation paper printing is the same as heat transfer in the feature; it also needs to print a design or image on a particular type of paper. Then heat is applied to the substrate. However, there is one significant difference in the process as sublimation is a dye-type ink that changes from solid into gas on heating. The gas then dyes the fabric, as the ink dyes the garment’s fibers.

So sublimation is suitable to use on light and white garments.

Sublimation VS Heat transfer

Apart from the science of the transfer of heat, both papers for printing come with many differences. The differences define the range from the type of substrates you can transfer your points to, the durability, feel, start cup costs and weeding.

Substrate and Fabric Type

In sublimation printing, there is a restriction on using light colour and white polyester fabrics or polyester coated with hard surfaces. Sublimation cannot work with other types of materials like cotton. It means that you cannot go to the store and buy a mug or any other item and sublimate on it. The substrate should contain polyester material that can allow the sublimation process.

On the other hand, the heat transfer can be used to print on any fabric. You can decorate with heat transfer on any hard surface without the polymer coating. The heat transfer paper has very low limitations, so you can easily use heat transfer methods.

Garment Colours

One attractive difference between sublimation and heat transfer is the colour of garments or fabrics. With the sublimation process, you can only print in light colours or white due to the scientific reason behind the operation. Since sublimation is dying the fabric in the transfer process, you cannot print on darker colors.

Although there are many workarounds and alternatives like using heat transfer vinyl which you can sublimate after the heat press onto the shirt, it is an excellent restriction in sublimation printing.

On the other hand, with heat transfer printing, there is no limitation regarding the substrate colour on which you want to print an image so that you can print on any dark or light shade.


Depending on the heat transfer paper you use, you may need to weed, cut, or trim your design before transferring the image to the substrate. There is no availability of inkjet self-weeding transfer papers in the market, but there are some options of self-weeding for laser heat transfer paper. Two-step, self-weeding transfer papers are available in the heat transfer paper market.

On the other hand, there is no weeding involved in sublimation. The paper with only sublimation ink is sublimated on the garment or substrate, so no cutting or weeding is engaged.

Durability and Feel

When you heat transfer paper and print an image on the garment’s surface, you can feel the design on the shirt. The heat transfer paper is different in feel and hand of the invention, and it depends on many factors

As the type and brand of heat transfer paper used in the printing process, whether it be RIP software or a T-shirt, the good news is that the printing by heat transfer paper is washable about 30 to 35 minutes before it will fade or get cracks in the design. The shirt’s design can be long-lasting using RIP software, which offers excellent durability and washability.

On the other hand, sublimation can be done when the polyester fabric is dyed, and you cannot feel the pattern or image on the shirt. The prints are more durable than heat transfer paper and will not crack like heat transfer paper that instantly would.

Start-up Costs

Getting started with heat transfer prints is in the lower price range than sublimation. So to start it, you only need a laser printer or inkjet, a heat press, heat transfer paper, and the surface or substrate you like decorating.

You can invest in a standard or OKI white toner printer, as it will be expensive if you opt for the custom apparel market with the white toner printer. However, using a regular inkjet printer or the laser printer will not be an expensive option.

The sublimation printing process comes in a higher price range but is not as expensive as heat transfer with the laser or inkjet printer. For sublimation printing, you should have sublimation paper, a heat press, and a garment or any other substrate to be decorated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sublimation is the best option if your business only involves white and light color options in polyester apparel. While if you want to print on the material type or color option, heat transfer paper you can go for.

The sublimation transfers are a great way to decorate the polyester garments with the heat press machine.

Sawgrass and inkjet printers are the best types f printers that can be used for sublimation.

Sublimation or Heat Transfer – The Best One

You are choosing the right option, whether sublimation or heat transfer. It’s depending on your business type, the color and kind of garments being used, and the substrate you want to decorate. 

One of the most important considerations is how much you want to invest in this aspect. If your business revolves around only light color and white polyester apparel, the sublimation process is the best.

Therefore, your prints with sublimation will be more durable, washable, and long-lasting.

However, if you want to print on any other material despite polyester, heat transfer paper should be your best bet. You can even start with any printer you have. Then, to profit, you can reinvest in the high-quality white toner paper to get the more vibrant and high-quality images.  

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