If you are just starting out in Sublimation or already have experience under your belt, there are always things to remember to make sure that you get the most out of the entire process.
Regardless, it’s always important to go back to the fundamentals since they are the foundation of the creation and execution of any design.
Of course one of the most important things to get right is the t-shirt itself. It makes sense. The t-shirt is literally the item that you are using as a canvas for your creation so you might as well start off on the right foot by using the correct one. So, without further ado, here are some handy t shirt tips for all you sublimation enthusiasts out there.
The Archenemy of Sublimation is Cotton
Some of you may know this and some of you may not, so let’s set the record straight. SUBLIMATION AND COTTON DO NOT GET ALONG! Think of that one popular kid you always wanted to be friends with in middle school but it never seemed to work out; that’s the relationship cotton and sublimation have. As much as you want it to work, chances are it won’t.
Sure you may be able to get some results out of cotton by spending extra money on special solutions to treat it with, just like how you can pay for that popular kid’s movie ticket to form somewhat of a friendly relationship with him/her. But you’ll never get the exact results you want.
Okay enough of the metaphor. Yes we are aware that there are certain pre-treatments and transfer papers out there that allow Sublimation on cotton. However, the first issue with these treatments is that they cost extra money on top of what you are already paying for in terms of the shirt and equipment.
If you’re sublimating just for fun this may not be an issue, but if you’re trying to make a profitable business out of Sublimation these are important costs that you must take into consideration.
Applying one of these treatments is typically going to cost around $2 or more per shirt which is why in our book you’re much better off just buying an affordable 100% polyester shirt like the Jerzees 21M or Team 365 TT11 which already have that cotton feel to it.
In addition, applying one of these treatments creates a hand and texture on the front of the shirt that takes away one of the special features of Sublimation, it’s smooth texture-less feel.
How Sublimation works is a special ink is heated that turns directly into a gas from a solid. This gas is then absorbed by the fibers of the shirt and resolidified. As a result, no ink is on the surface of the shirt which preserves the original soft feel of the material.
Lastly, these treatments will limit what designs you can put on your cotton shirts. For example, a common transfer paper for Sublimation on cotton called Subli-Light really only works with bright, bold colors. This means brown, gray, and a lot neutrals/earth tones cannot be utilized properly in your designs.
Overall, you cannot go wrong using polyester for Sublimation. Polyester is truly the best material as the Sublimation printing process is literally designed for synthetic polymers such as polyester. With polyester, your designs will be as vibrant, durable, and smooth as one can get.
Picking the Right Polyester Blend for Sublimation
Now that you know why polyester shirts are the best for Sublimation, the question is what blend is the best? The easy answer is the more polyester the better, but there is a time and place for lower polyester content t-shirts as well.
Let’s start by addressing when you would want to use a lower polyester content t-shirt. Although one of the main benefits of sublimation is that you can achieve super vibrant and bold designs, if you’re going for a more faded or vintage look it can be very hard to get a good end result.
This is when you would use a lower polyester content shirt. You cannot achieve legitimately faded designs with a 100% polyester shirt since the maximum amount of ink gets absorbed and retained. The designs are always going to come out vivid and bold.
With a 65% polyester shirt, the designs are going to achieve that vintage faded look, especially after a few washes. Just don’t go any lower than 65%, you won’t make it past a few washes.
However, in pretty much all other cases you’re going to want to use a higher polyester content shirt, ideally 100% polyester content. Your designs are going to be super vibrant and the shirt will pretty much last forever.
If you’re looking for what specific shirts to use for Sublimation, here’s our take on the best value Sublimation shirts.
The Jerzees 21M is undoubtedly the most coveted sublimation t shirt. If you ask anyone what shirt they recommend for sublimation, the most popular answer is going to be the 21M.
What makes this shirt so unique is that while it is made of 100% polyester, it has a nice soft cotton feel to it as well. While some believe that the shirt is a tad thin, it provides maximum comfort as a result of this soft cotton-like feel. This shirt also has a long sleeve version if you are looking for that (the Jerzees 21ML).
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with Jerzees 21M and there are going to be few better options, if any.
If the Jerzee 21M is the Coke of the Sublimation world, the TT11 from Team 365 is Pepsi. Very similar to the 21M it’s a 100% polyester shirt with the same soft cotton feel. It typically runs a bit cheaper than the Jerzee 21M so consider it as a more affordable option if you don’t have a preference between the TT1 and 21M. The t shirt also has women’s (TT11W), youth (TT11Y), and long sleeve (TT11L, TT11WL) options.
The N3142 from A4 is perfect for wearers who prefer that silky dri-fit feel on a t shirt. It has moisture-wicking properties as well as odor and stain resistance so consider it a great t shirt for activewear. If you’re looking for a soft cotton feel then this is not the way to go. It usually runs at around the same price point as the Jerzees 21M.
This is one of the highest quality t shirts offered in the t shirt marketplace. It’s 40 single fabric has unheard of fineness and delicacy for maximum softness and comfort. If you’re looking for a soft cotton feel out of a high polyester shirt, the 6200 will give you that and much more.
The one unfortunate drawback of the shirt is that it’s not 100% polyester, but rather a 65% polyester and 35% cotton blend. You can sublimate on these shirts they just won’t have maximum vibrancy. Consider using this for vintage designs or designs that are intentionally faded.
We hope you found or Sublimation t shirt tips useful whether you learned something new or got a quick much needed refresher. Hopefully next time you order a t shirt for Sublimation you know exactly what you are doing.