Custom apparel orders are a great way of getting your unique design or brand onto a garment or accessory. When it comes to making them, you have two main choices: sublimation and screen printing. Both have their advantages, but which one is best for your project?
Sublimation And Screen Printing
Screen printing is the older technology of the two, but it has survived since ancient China for a good reason. The screen printer pushes ink through a stencil on a mesh screen, transferring the design onto the base material being decorated (this is also called "substrate"). A stencil that prevents ink from getting through certain parts of the screen is made of the design; it's made in the negative image of the design to be printed, as the open spaces on the stencil are where the ink will be on the material. A squeegee or "fill blade" is moved across the screen stencil, pushing the ink through the mesh openings so that it transfers onto the material with each stroke. It can be done either by hand on a manual printing press or with an automatic screen printing machine.
Sublimation, on the other hand, works more like an inkjet printer. A mirror image of the design must be printed onto special transfer paper, which is then applied to the fabric with a heat press. The high heat lets the ink go directly from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid, a process called "sublimation." As a gas, the ink penetrates the material being decorated, dying it directly into the fabric.
Which One Should You Use?
Screen printing is the more versatile of the two methods. It can print on virtually any type of fabric or garment material, and it's ideal for high production numbers. The larger the screen printing order, the cheaper the final cost. Dye sublimation only works on polyester or synthetic blends, meaning cotton shirts aren’t a suitable option. However, sublimation delivers high-quality prints and is especially fitting for outdoor projects like flags and banners.
One drawback to screen printing is that it's labour-intensive and not ideal for small orders or one-off items. You can only apply one colour to the material at a time, meaning designs using more than colour require multiple screens and inks. The screens must then be properly aligned so that each layer lines up correctly in the final print. Dye sublimation allows you to customize individual designs more readily than screen printing. All you have to do is edit the artwork file and print a new transfer on the machine.
That's not to say dye sublimation is easier. Like screen printing, it is time-consuming, but it's also more expensive and very impractical for large orders. The final product might be more fitting for wear, though: because the dye permeates the material, the final print gives no discernible extra weight to the shirt, leaving you with a more comfortable garment. While you can still get a soft finish with screen printing, the design is on top of the fabric, not in it.
Both sublimation and screen printing have their pros and cons, but your choice should be made based on the size of the order, the type of design, and your preference for t-shirts. If you like cotton, screen printing is for your project; but if you prefer the design to be more comfortable, sublimation is ideal.
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