There are many ways that sublimation separates itself from other conventional methods of t shirt printing like screen printing and heat transfer. Almost the entire process of sublimation is different from those of these other methods. The shirts you order are different, the ink you buy is likely different, and the shirts come out different! So, it is important to know the “different” that you are doing is the RIGHT different.
Plain and Simple
The simple way to answer the question of “Is sublimation possible on cotton shirts?” is not really, with some exceptions. Since sublimation creates a chemical bond to polyester fibers embedded in the shirt, it obviously is not a good idea to use a shirt with 100% cotton material. Now there are some exceptions like the fact that there are some sublimation coating products for purchase out in the market, but some people say that the colors do not come out as well even when this coating is applied. Even though the worlds of cotton and sublimation seem like Tom versus Jerry, there are some ways to try to get around this.
A big priority of polyester t shirt makers is to make an extremely comfortable shirt with high performance that is related to the polyester content. A big part of what defines a polyester shirt is how it feels on someone’s skin and its related comfort levels.
One t shirt that changed the game of sublimation printing and polyester shirts as a whole is the Jerzees 21M. The whole reputation of this shirt is that it looks and feels as if it is 100% cotton, but is actually made entirely of polyester. This shirt quickly became a staple in the sublimation community and demand has skyrocketed ever since. Even Jerzees has trouble making them fast enough!! But if you are looking for a shirt that combines quality, comfort, and performance, you can’t go wrong with the 21M.
Another reason why this question about sublimation on cotton is so popular is because of the price difference between cotton and polyester shirts. It doesn’t take very long to figure out that polyester shirts often come at often above the double the price of that of a standard cotton shirt.
A4 created their version of a sublimation performance tee (the A4N3402) to help sublimation printers like yourself achieve higher profitability. We all know how tough it can be to profit off a small order, especially if you have to pay $5-$6 for every individual polyester shirt. Thanks to A4 you can now get your sublimation shirts for a little over $3 a pop. These make those orders of a few shirts still worth your time and even come in handy if you just want to practice your craft on a few blank ones on your own.
Similar to this A4 model, Port & Company has an awesome budget sublimation tee but for youth.
Using Color to Your Advantage
One of the main reasons sublimation is so coveted in the printing industry is the fact that it allows the colors to come out so well and that it doesn’t fade off in the wash.
If you want to maximize this benefit along with cost, sticking to white shirts is often a good idea. Not only do they typically come cheaper than the colored options of the same shirt, but you can print literally any color that you want on white... except white of course. Also, a common complaint of polyester shirts is that they can “shine” and reflect a lot of light off of them and this can take away from the design that you printed on it. This problem isn’t as common with white shirts since it is much harder to tell if the shirt is cotton or polyester if you are not the one wearing it.
Your Path to Success
Sublimation can be a complicated concept to start out, but just like anything else it takes time to perfect and experience is the best thing to have. There are many ways to get your questions answered such as Facebook groups (check out AllDayShirts group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/alldayshirts), blog posts, and tons of other online resources.
A great way to keep growing as a printer is to focus on one skill every week and practice it. Whether this is the graphic design side or the application of it, both will make your creations that much better. Even asking your customers for honest feedback about their order will open you up to so many things you didn’t know about your printing. William James, a famous psychologist reminds us that “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.”