Sublimation trends for 2018

Sublimated socks

Sublimation printing is still incredibly popular and profitable for all kinds of business owners. Robin Kavanagh, public relations manager at Sawgrass, takes a look at sublimation trends which will be big this year.

As trends and demands continue to rise, technology is also advancing to meet those needs. With fluorescent and expanded gamut inks, more accessible larger format printing and new ideas being born of consumer buying patterns, the sublimation market for 2018 is going to be more creative and popular than ever.

Here are a few areas to explore, which we think will be driving sales throughout the year.


Pillows were very popular in 2017, and we expect this trend to continue to grow. Not only are they easy to decorate, they’re both a profitable and evergreen product that you can offer off-the-shelf and as custom orders.

Personalised cushion

There a lot of different types of pillow cases you can purchase as blanks. Satin, velvet, fleece, peach skin, canvas, faux canvas and sequin are just a few. You can use the natural colour of the fabric as the main part of your design, or print full-bleed to completely cover the pillow with the colours and images that you want. Once the case is complete, place a pre-made insert to fill out the pillow and you have a product that people will absolutely love.

Throw and decorative pillows are always in style. You can offer custom monogramming or designs for an additional charge, or sell off-the-shelf with your own original designs. Sports photos, school photos, birth statistics/announcements, family names, funny phrases, holiday images/sayings and memory pillows are just a few ideas to run with.

Mermaid pillows – ones with reversible sequins – took markets by storm over the past 12 months, and these types of pillow cases can often be personalised and decorated using sublimation. They also command premium prices, especially when you add names and photos to them. Some businesses are even selling them as baby gender reveal and announcement novelties.

Apparel trends

Shirts, hats and jackets will always be a staple of the apparel decorating market, but sublimation helps you branch out into more creative products. It is already popular for poly-performance sportswear and uniforms. Sublimated socks have also risen to the top as an in-demand product for both wholesale and retail customers.

Teams love to add customised socks to their uniforms. Whereas before, athletic socks have been either white or only one or two colours, now, sublimated socks include full-colour logos and team colours – even pictures. They can be made up as full-bleed designs from toe to calf or just offer strategically placed images, words or team numbers.

Athletes and their fans also like customised socks with pictures of their favourite players printed on them. One great idea for kids’ sports is to build a relationship with the local photographers who shoot team pictures, and offer socks featuring each player, along with a complementary pattern in coordinating team colours. These sell especially well among the teams that make it to the end-of-season playoffs and championships.

Baby markets are also a great place to focus on with sublimated apparel. Beanies, in particular, are becoming increasingly popular. These soft, stretchy knit caps offer both comfort and warmth, and are great for babies and small children. You can easily add names, favourite colours, characters and graphics to order, making them both practical and an eventual keepsake for families. Look for seasons or milestones that you can mark with a beanie: first holidays, monthly pictures, first trip to grandma’s, etc. Along with this idea, you can also decorate baby bodysuits and sell as a packaged set!


Printing larger is easier than ever these days with sublimation, which is helping drive demand for flags. Desktop systems give you a maximum print size of 13x19in. This is just right for garden or lawn flags that can be generalised or customised, car flags, desk flags and other, more personal flag applications. So long as people want to celebrate their favourite teams, countries, families and the like, these kinds of flags will continue to be in style.

We are also seeing an upswing in demand for larger flags, as sublimators are finding that taking the step toward larger format printing is more affordable than expected and the creative possibilities are even greater. Today’s 25in sublimation printer is not only small enough to be operated in a home workshop environment, it can accommodate eight colours of ink, which makes offering specialty products both possible and profitable.

Flags are being used as signage and promotional decoration for bricks-and-mortar businesses, as they are easily branded with logos and corporate colours (thanks to expanded gamut ink sets for eight-colour printers). These are used primarily for indoor and soft signage applications, and business owners are finding the colours attract attention, deliver the message and are very cost efficient in comparison to other types of signage.

Decorative flags for home décor are also rising in popularity. These can run anywhere from licensed sports team and country or religious flags, to interesting patterns that match existing décor, reproduced artwork, family names and more. Fluorescent colours practically leap off the fabric and grab attention, making them perfect for this application. These flags can be personalised or customised to-order, adapted for seasonal or holiday-focused purposes, celebrations…the possibilities are endless.


There are more sublimatable bag substrates on the market than ever, and this is in direct response to demand. Non-woven totes are an inexpensive option for corporate customers and take to sublimation with beautiful colour. Heavier polyester or even poly-coated canvas tote bags are more expensive, but show more quality and often favourites among businesses.

Gym bag

Thin cinch sack backpacks are a great seller among school, sports and youth groups. These can be decorated with screen print and vinyl transfers, but as a sublimator, you can offer full-colour and photo printing, thereby increasing the value to your customer. You have both retail and wholesale options for these products. Sports teams, camps, clubs, gyms and other group-focused organisations like these bags as promotional products. Some even look to sell them their members and may come to you for wholesale deals.

There are also a lot of bags available that combine fashion with utility. These include purses and shoulder bags, backpacks, laptop bags, messenger bags, reporter bags, metro bags diaper bags and more. Each generally has a panel that can be imprinted with pictures, graphics, logos, brand colours, etc. These can become promotional products, corporate gifts, teacher gifts, personalised school and/or team gear, baby gifts or essentials…the more creative you get, the more potential you have to sell.

With 2018 freshly minted, now is a great time to think about your markets and plan out some solid sublimation strategy for the year. These trends are a good place to start, and can help you start thinking in new, more creative ways when it comes to growing your business.

Check Also

The expert in Ts

Two years in to her takeover of Huntingdon-based Expertees, Debra Stuart, is making waves and …

The personalised printing revolution

Product personalisation is a growing trend and according to analysts it’s more than just a …