How to sublimate on cotton? An A – Z guide for beginners

Have you ever tried to sublimate on cotton, only to realize it doesn’t work that well? Traditional dye sublimation processes primarily bond with polyester, leaving cotton enthusiasts in the lurch.

This article aims to resolve this issue by providing an in-depth guide and effective techniques for successful sublimation on your favorite cotton items. Get ready – we’re about to transform the way you approach printing on cotton!

Can you sublimate on cotton?

Sublimation on cotton, contrary to popular belief, is actually not directly possible. This may surprise some in the sublimation industry since it’s a widely known fact that dye sublimation primarily bonds with polyester.

The molecular structure of cotton does not allow for direct adherence of the specific dyes used in the sublimation process. However, there are innovative techniques and workarounds today that can make this seemingly impossible task feasible.

One such workaround involves using products like sublimation coating sprays or heat transfer vinyl as an intermediary between the cotton fabric and your design. These materials effectively create a surface suitable for dye sublimation to take place.

Even though you’re not technically performing direct ‘sublimate on cotton’ printing, these solutions prove extremely effective for creating eye-catching designs on our beloved cotton garments.

Such innovations have broadened horizons in digital printing on cotton while also expanding potential product lines for many businesses – making them continue exploring about how to encapsulate their creativity into vibrant custom-made prints even onto ‘cotton’.

sublimate on cotton

Materials needed for sublimation on cotton

Before embarking on the sublimation journey, gather all necessary materials to ensure a smooth process. A significant caveat in attempting to sublimate directly onto cotton is that dye sublimation only bonds with polyester.

Therefore, traditional methods of direct application won’t work effectively.

You’ll need a special heat transfer vinyl or coating spray designed for dye-sublimation applications on cotton. This workaround offers an indirect solution to print your designs onto cotton fabrics successfully.

Among popular choices is the SubliCotton Transfer Paper, providing excellent results when properly used with a heat press machine and producing richly vibrant color imprints.

In addition to this paper type, you need a well-calibrated heat press machine capable of achieving high temperatures needed for successful dye-sublimation – typically between 350°F (175°C) and 400°F (205°C).

Additionally, you must have quality sublimation ink or dyes which are known for their transparency—crucial in yielding clear prints on your fabric item. Do not overlook the availability of ready-to-use garments or fabric items ideally white or light-colored composed primarily of cotton but may also contain small amounts of other fibers like rayon or polyester.

To sum up, prepare yourself adequately with essential materials such as SubliCotton Transfer Paper specially designed for cotton fabrics, a powerful heat press machine, transparent sublimation ink/dyes, and suitable clothing items mainly made from cotton before setting out to execute flawless sublime printing projects on cotton goods.

Tools required for the process

Getting your tools in order is the first critical step for successful sublimation printing on cotton. A high-quality heat press that provides consistent pressure and temperature is essential for this process.

Consider investing in a digital model to precisely set required parameters.

Alongside the heat press, make sure you have sublimation blanks made of either 100% polyester or polycotton blend items as these yield vibrant results due to their ability to bond well with sublimation dye.

Despite what research shows about bonding only occurring with polyester, don’t worry- it is indeed possible to perform sublimation transfer onto cotton thanks to the use of specific products like a white HTV for sublimation or a quality sublimation coating spray designed for cotton fabrics.

Next up – good quality ink; opt for specifically formulated Sublimation ink which will deliver best-in-class performance and extended durability after washes. For cotton garments especially dark colors, consider using darker transfers though remember dyes are transparent and may not show up clearly on dark color fabrics.

Finally, you need an arsenal of design software where you can perfect your designs before putting them into production. Utilizing such digital tools ensures minimal errors during final output thereby saving time and resources.

Remember—proper preparation prevents poor performance!

How to sublimate on cotton?

To achieve sublimation printing on cotton, you will need to follow a specific process. Here are step-by-step instructions for successfully sublimating on cotton:.

Step 1: Start by choosing the appropriate fabric

While it’s true that sublimation works best on polyester, you can still achieve great results on cotton blends with at least 50% polyester content.

Step 2: Prepare your design

Create or select the design you want to transfer onto your cotton garment using graphic design software. Remember that when sublimating, lighter colors tend to show up better on darker fabrics.

Step 3: Print the design onto sublimation paper

Load your sublimation printer with specialized ink and high-quality sublimation paper. Ensure that your printer settings are optimized for vibrant color reproduction.

Step 4: Preheat your heat press

Set the temperature of your heat press according to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the specific type of transfer paper and fabric you’re using.

Step 5: Position and secure the garment

Lay your cotton garment flat onto the lower platen of the heat press and ensure it is smooth and wrinkle-free. Secure it in place using heat-resistant adhesive spray or thermal tape if necessary.

Step 6: Place the printed transfer face-down

Take caution while handling the printout so as not to smudge or damage it. Lay it face-down onto your garment, ensuring proper alignment based on your desired placement.

Step 7: Transfer with adequate pressure and time

Press down firmly but evenly on top of both layers (transfer sheet facing down) with a hot pressing pad placed between them to protect delicate surfaces from direct contact with extreme temperatures; Follow recommended pressure and timing specifications provided by both equipment manufacturers’ websites

Step 8: Remove transfer paper once complete

Open up 81e lever or lid then carefully peel off transfer paper leaving transferred image behind;

Techniques for sublimating on cotton

Sublimating on cotton can be achieved using different techniques to ensure vibrant and long-lasting results. One technique involves applying a sublimation coating spray on the cotton fabric, while another method involves sublimating over a heat transfer vinyl.

These techniques allow for the transfer of sublimation inks onto cotton garments without compromising the quality and durability of the design.

1. Using sublimation coating spray

To expand your sublimation possibilities on cotton, one technique you can utilize is using a sublimation coating spray. This specially formulated spray helps to create a polyester base on the fabric, allowing it to bond with the sublimation ink during the heat press process.

By applying this coating spray onto your cotton garment, you are essentially transforming it into a suitable material for sublimation printing. This opens up a whole new range of possibilities for creating vibrant and durable designs on cotton fabrics.

So if you’re looking to experiment with sublimating on cotton, using a reliable sublimation coating spray can be a game-changer in achieving professional-looking results every time.

2. Sublimating over a heat transfer vinyl

Sublimating over a heat transfer vinyl opens up a whole new world of possibilities for sublimation on cotton garments. By using this technique, you can achieve vibrant and detailed designs on cotton fabrics that would not be possible with direct sublimation.

First, apply your design onto a heat transfer vinyl using sublimation ink and printer. Then, use a heat press to transfer the design from the vinyl onto the cotton fabric. The high temperatures and pressure applied during this process allow the sublimation inks to penetrate into the fabric fibers, resulting in long-lasting and vivid prints.

This method gives you more control over your design placement and allows for intricate details without worrying about color limitations on dark-colored cotton or polyester blends. It’s important to note that when choosing a heat transfer vinyl, opt for one that is compatible with sublimation inks to ensure optimal results.

Tips for Successful Sublimation on Cotton

Proper temperature and pressure settings are essential for successful sublimation on cotton.

1. Proper temperature and pressure settings

To achieve successful sublimation on cotton, proper temperature and pressure settings are crucial. The right combination of these factors ensures that the dye is transferred onto the fabric effectively, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting prints.

When setting up your heat press, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for temperature and pressure. Generally, a temperature range of 380-400°F (193-204°C) and medium to high pressure works well for sublimating on cotton.

This allows the dye to turn into a gas and bond with the polyester fibers in the fabric.

Maintaining consistent pressure throughout the entire transfer process is essential as it ensures even ink distribution across your design. Make sure that you are using an accurate pressure gauge or adjuster on your heat press machine.

Additionally, consider using a Teflon sheet or silicone-coated parchment paper to protect both your garment and heat platen from any potential damage during pressing.

Remember that different types of fabrics require different temperature settings due to variations in their composition, so always check if there are specific recommendations for sublimating on blended fabrics like polycotton blends.

By closely monitoring and adjusting these variables based on your individual setup, you can optimize results when sublimating on cotton garments or other cotton textiles.

2. Preparing the fabric for sublimation

Before sublimating on cotton fabric, it is essential to properly prepare the material to achieve the best results. Start by ensuring that the cotton fabric is clean and free from any dirt or debris.

Pre-wash the fabric without using any fabric softeners as they can create a barrier between the ink and fabric, affecting the sublimation process.

Next, make sure that the cotton fabric is dry before sublimating. Moisture in the fabric can interfere with ink absorption and result in a less vibrant transfer.

It’s also important to pre-press or pre-heat your cotton garment before applying sublimation. This step helps remove any wrinkles or moisture from the fabric surface, providing a smooth canvas for better ink penetration.

One effective method for preparing cotton for sublimation is using a polyester coating spray specifically designed for this purpose. Apply an even coat of this spray onto your cotton garment and allow it to dry completely before proceeding with sublimation.

3. Testing designs and colors before full production

Before diving into full production, it’s crucial to test your designs and colors when sublimating on cotton. This step allows you to ensure the quality and accuracy of your final product. By testing different designs and colors beforehand, you can identify any potential issues or adjustments that need to be made.

One important factor to consider is that sublimation dyes are transparent, which means they may not show up well on dark-colored cotton sweatshirts. Therefore, it’s essential to experiment with different color combinations and determine which ones work best for your desired outcome.

Additionally, by testing various designs before embarking on full-scale production, you can evaluate their appearance once transferred onto the fabric. This process helps you ensure that all details in the design are visible and vibrant enough while maintaining high-quality standards.

Remember, thorough testing will allow you to make necessary refinements in terms of color accuracy, design resolution, and overall image quality. Ultimately, this preparation stage ensures a more successful sublimation process when working with cotton garments.


1. Can you sublimate on 50 cotton 50 polyester?

Sublimation printing on a fabric blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester can be a bit tricky. As we know, sublimation only bonds to polyester fibers, so the cotton portion of the fabric will not absorb the sublimation ink.

However, since this is a blended fabric, you can still achieve some interesting effects by taking advantage of the polyester content.

When sublimating on a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend, keep in mind that the colors may appear more subdued compared to printing on 100% polyester. The dye-sublimation process works best with lighter colored fabrics since the dyes used are transparent.

This means that if you try to print on dark-colored cotton-polyester blends, the colors may not come out as vibrant as desired.

To get better results when using this type of fabric blend, it’s recommended to use designs or images that have a vintage or faded look because these tend to work well with muted colors. Additionally, consider pre-treating your fabric with a sublimation coating spray specially made for cotton blends before applying heat and pressure during sublimation.

Remember that experimentation is key when working with different fabrics and blends. It’s always advisable to test your designs and color combinations before going into full production to ensure optimal results for your specific project.

2. Can you sublimate on 60 cotton 40 polyester?

Sublimating on a fabric blend of 60% cotton and 40% polyester is possible, but it’s important to note that sublimation works best on fabrics with a high percentage of polyester content. The reason for this is that the dye sublimation process requires heat to convert ink into a gas that bonds with the polyester fibers.

In garments with less than 100% polyester, such as the 60 cotton 40 polyester blend, only the polyester fibers will absorb and bond with the sublimation ink. This means that when you sublimate on this type of fabric, you may experience some variations in color intensity and overall print quality compared to using 100% polyester garments.

To achieve better results when sublimating on a fabric blend like 60 cotton 40 polyester, it’s recommended to choose designs or patterns where slight variations in color and print are acceptable.

Additionally, using lighter colors or white as your base can help minimize any potential color discrepancies.

Remember that proper temperature and pressure settings are crucial for successful sublimation printing. Also, testing designs and colors before full production is always recommended to ensure desired outcomes.

3. Can you sublimate on 50 polyester 25 cotton 25 rayon?

Sublimating on a blend of 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon can be a bit trickier than sublimating on pure polyester. While sublimation works best on polyester fabric, some polyester blends can still produce good results.

The important thing to note is that the higher the percentage of polyester in the blend, the better the outcome will be.

When working with a blend like 50/25/25, it’s crucial to keep in mind that only the polyester fibers will fully absorb and retain the sublimation ink. The cotton and rayon fibers won’t hold onto it as well.

This means that your designs may not appear as vibrant or as sharp as they would on pure polyester fabric.

To get better results when sublimating on this type of blend, I recommend increasing your temperature slightly during pressing and extending your press time. This helps ensure better penetration of the ink into the synthetic fibers while maximizing color vibrancy.

While you may encounter some limitations when sublimating on blended fabrics like 50/25/25, experimenting with different settings and techniques can help you achieve decent results. Just keep in mind that for optimal outcomes, pure polyester fabrics are still preferable for sublimation printing.

4. How long do you sublimate on cotton?

Sublimating on cotton requires a specific time frame to ensure the best results. The sublimation process typically takes around 45 seconds to 1 minute when using a heat press at the recommended temperature.

It’s important to note that each heat press may have slightly different settings, so be sure to refer to your manufacturer’s instructions for precise timing guidelines. Proper timing is essential in achieving vibrant and long-lasting designs on cotton garments.

5. Do you sublimate on cotton or polyester?

Sublimation is a popular printing technique in the world of garment decoration, but when it comes to choosing between cotton and polyester, there’s a clear winner. Sublimation works best on polyester fabrics.

The reason for this is that sublimation dyes are transparent, and they need a solid base to bond with – something that only polyester can provide. Cotton does not have the necessary fibers for the sublimation ink to adhere properly.

While some may try techniques like using sublimation coating spray or heat transfer vinyl over cotton fabric, these methods often yield less than satisfactory results. It’s important to remember that sublimating on cotton is an indirect process that requires additional steps and materials.

So if you’re looking to achieve vibrant and long-lasting prints through sublimation, it’s best to stick with polyester fabrics rather than cotton. With proper temperature and pressure settings, along with prepping your fabric correctly before applying the dye-sub ink, you’ll be able to create stunning designs on polyester garments.


In conclusion, while sublimation printing has traditionally been limited to polyester garments, there is a workaround for those who want to sublimate on cotton. By using sublimation coating spray or heat transfer vinyl, you can achieve vibrant and long-lasting designs on cotton fabric.

With the right materials and techniques, sublimating on cotton can open up new possibilities for creative customization. So go ahead and explore this alternative method of sublimation to bring your designs to life on cotton garments.

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