Essential secrets for sublimated apparel production

An example of ghosting

Shirts. Shorts. Pants. Hats. Socks. Compression sleeves. The list of apparel items that you can decorate with sublimation just keeps growing. Robin Kavanagh, public relations manager for Sawgrass reports.

This is great news for sublimated apparel decorators. However, you’re likely to come across some common production challenges that can cost time and money.

Here are a few trade secrets, so that you can take advantage of these ongoing trends while keeping your production smooth and cost-efficient.

Transfer lines

When you sublimate a print onto a garment, the only thing that transfers is the ink of your image. Yet, sometimes garments also show faint lines that correspond with the edge of your paper. What’s happening here is that during pressing, some of the garment’s fibres are melting along the edges of the transfer paper. Unfortunately, this means the lines are permanent and will not wash out.

There are a couple of things you can do to prevent transfer lines. First, play with the time, temperature and pressure you’re currently using. If you’re pressing at 400°F / 204°C, try lowering it to 375°F/ 109°C. Choose a lighter pressure than you’ve used previously. You can also reduce your press time from 60 seconds to 35 or so. Experiment to figure out which combination works best with your heat press.

Using the foam method for pressing is also a good idea. This involves placing high-temperature foam or a Teflon pillow under the garment fabric area to be decorated. Cut the foam so that it is slightly smaller than the edges of the paper or slightly larger than the image area on the paper before pressing. This will ensure the edges of the paper never press into the shirt, thus preventing transfer lines.


Ghosting is when you have a remnant of an image someplace else on a garment other than where it should be. This happens when your transfer paper moves from its proper placement sometime during the heat fixation process.

One key step to prevent ghosting is to make sure your transfer is securely affixed to the garment before you put it into the press. You can use heat tape or spray a light coating of repositionable adhesive onto the transfer before placing it onto your garment for pressing.

When removing the transfer, you want to pull it off as quickly and evenly as possible, and ensure that it does not touch the garment after. There is still enough heat in the fabric that if it comes in contact with sublimation ink – even the small amount that is left on the paper after transfer – it may pick up what’s there.

The same is true if you are stacking hot or warm garments on top of each other after pressing. Try placing items such as shirts on hangers to cool, and keep them out of contact with other garments. An image from the front of a sublimated shirt can ghost to the back of another if placed on top of the other and heat is still present.

Getting the right colours

There is nothing more frustrating than working on a design, only to have it press out onto your fabric with colours that are not quite what you expected. Using colour management software is a must for sublimation printing as it takes into consideration various factors when converting the RGB colours you see on your computer screen into CMYK.

Getting set up with a good colour management programme for your sublimation system is a first important step toward producing the colours you want. It’s also important to understand a few things about colour and sublimation onto polyester fabrics.

First, sublimation inks are semi-transparent, which means that the colour of the substrate you press the image into will impact the colours you see. An extreme example of this is sublimating a design onto a black T shirt. Your image will transfer to the fabric when pressed. However, the dark colour of the shirt will overshadow the inks, and you won’t be able to see them. Similarly, if you have a pink design you want to press onto a light blue shirt, you will need to make that pink a darker shade for it to show up and understand that the blue will influence how the final pink will look.

A good way to get an accurate assessment of how colours will look on a fabric is to print out colour palettes on specific substrates and then keep them for reference. If you printed and pressed a palette of pinks onto one of those blue shirts, you would be able to choose the exact pink that would look best for your design.

Second, not all sublimation inks can achieve the colours you may be looking to create. Printers are designed to accommodate sets of ink in four, six and eight colour combinations. Within each formulation, there is a range of colours that can be created using combinations of the inks available. This is called gamut. The traditional four-colour CMYK ink set can generate a certain range of colour, while a six-colour set that adds light magenta and light cyan to the mix has a much greater range. Eight-colour ink sets provide some of the broadest gamut available, while new specialty ink sets, with professional photo, fluorescent and expanded gamut formulations, offer even greater colour matching abilities.

One final factor to consider when looking to get the right colours to press onto your garments is to check that the substrate was made for sublimation. Yes, you can sublimate onto polyester. However, not all polyester is created equal.

With these simple adjustments, you should be making apparel that your customers will love and keep coming back to you for more. Remember that trial and error is an important part of any production process, and investing in ink and substrates now to perfect your long-term process will save you time and money in the future.

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