Heat transfer paper and sublimation printing

Thermal transfer paper and sublimation printing

So, you’re entering the wonderful world of custom t-shirts and apparel, and it’s exciting! This is where you’ll find what you’re looking for. You may be wondering which method of garment decoration is better: heat transfer paper or sublimation printing? The answer is: both methods are good! However, which method you choose depends on your needs and goals. Also, each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s try to understand the details so you can choose the right method for your business.

The basics of thermal transfer paper

What is thermal transfer paper? Thermal transfer paper is a special paper that transfers print designs onto t-shirts and other clothing items when heat. The process involves printing a design onto a sheet of thermal transfer paper using an inkjet or laser printer. The print paper is then place on the t-shirt and press with a heat press (in some cases an iron is also suitable, but the heat press works best). Once press, the paper is remove and the image sticks well to the fabric. Great – now you have a personalize t-shirt! It’s really easy, isn’t it? It was easy, wasn’t it?


Decorating garments with thermal transfer paper is very easy, and the start-up costs in this industry are among the lowest, if not the lowest. In fact, many decorators just use their own personal printer! A few other important points about heat transfer paper: most papers work on cotton and polyester fabrics. As you know, the sublimation method only works on polyester. Also, heat transfer paper is designed to be used on dark or light colored garments, while sublimation printer in Pakistan is used exclusively on white or light colored garments.

OK, but what about sublimation?

The sublimation process is very similar to that of heat transfer paper. Like heat transfer paper, the process involves printing a design on a special sheet of paper – in this case sublimation paper – and then pressing it onto the garment with a heat press. The difference is the science of sublimation. Ready to get to the heart of the matter?


When heat, the sublimation ink turns from a solid to a gas and becomes part of the polyester fabric. When it cools, it becomes solid again and becomes a permanent part of the fabric. This means that no additional layer is add to your transfer design. As a result, there is no sensory difference between the print image and the rest of the fabric. It also means that the transfer is very durable, and under normal circumstances, the resulting image will last as long as the product itself.

Premium! Dye sublimation is not only suitable for polyester fabrics, but for all kinds of mylar-coat hard surfaces. This opens up a whole new world where you can personalize items: coasters, jewelry, mugs, puzzles and more.

Substrates You Can Customize With Sublimation |  Coastal Business Supplies

Thermal transfer paper and dye sublimation paper

By now you hopefully know what heat transfer paper and sublimation paper are. So let’s get down to business and compare these two methods of garment decoration in several important areas.

Start-up Costs and Equipment Requirements

Decorating garments with heat transfer paper is one of the least expensive ways to get start. To get start, you need an inkjet or laser printer (which you probably already have), heat transfer paper, heat transfer paper and T-shirts or clothing to decorate. . That’s it! A DIY heat press typically costs around $300, which is the biggest initial investment. If you don’t already own a printer, we recommend an inkjet printer like the Epson Stylus Photo C88.

The initial costs of dye sublimation are higher than those of thermal transfer paper, but have been reduce considerably in recent years. This includes a dye sublimation printer, dye sublimation paper, the necessary software and a sample of the product you can ink. For the rest, all you need is a hot air press, and a hobby hot air press costs about $300.

For more information and to help you choose your first dye sublimation printer, check out our other blog “Which Sawgrass Dye Sublimation System is Right for You? ”

Durability and feel

With sublimation, the ink is not applly to the fabric, but becomes part of the fabric. The result is a transfer that is unmatched in durability and practicality. Thermal transfer paper, on the other hand, adds an extra layer to the garment. This extra layer is physically noticeable, is not as durable as the sublimation process, and can fade and tear over time due to repeated washing.

It is worth mentioning that heat transfer paper is made in a variety of ways. You will find that some transfer papers are smoother to the touch and more durable than other types of transfer paper. For those new to inkjet printing, we recommend JET-PRO Soft Stretch paper for its soft texture and high durability.

Types of garments that can be embroider

With sublimation, you are more limit in the types of fabrics you can decorate than with heat transfer paper. First of all, the sublimation process is only available for polyester fabrics. There is no such thing as 100% cotton! This is because the sublimation ink only adheres to polyester. You can sublimate some polyester/cotton blends, but the image will not be as bright and vibrant as with 100% polyester. Since no extra layer is applied to the fabric during sublimation, the material must be white or very light for your transfer to be visible.

On the other hand, light and dark cotton, polyester and cotton-polyester blends can be decorate with heat transfer paper.

Sublimation T-shirt vs Colors Heat Transfer Paper |  Coastal trade supplies

While thermal transfer paper is a big winner for the different types of fabrics (materials and colors) you can decorate, don’t forget that sublimation printing can also be use for hard or soft surfaces on a variety of materials. In most cases, this is not possible with thermal transfer paper.

Other factors to consider

The colors you can produce

With dye sublimation, you can print in all colors, which is especially helpful if you want to print photographs or if you have clients who need a very specific color (like a company logo). Depending on the type of thermal transfer paper you use (inkjet or laser), you may not be able to get the same color and photo quality as sublimation printing.

For photo-quality prints on thermal transfer paper, the best options are usually inkjet thermal transfer paper for light-color garments or laser thermal transfer paper for printing on OKI laser printers with white toner. For more information on this topic, see our other blog, ‘3 things you should know before buying thermal transfer paper’.


Heat-sublimation printing is also naturally self-weeding, as only the ink is transfer to the fabric. The process is very simple: print, press, weed! It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Most heat transfer papers are not self-dispensing, with the exception of “two-step” laser transfer papers like FOREVER Laser Dark. With heat transfer paper, the transfer layer brings the print to the garment, unless you want to see the background of the paper shape on the shirt, then you’ll have to cut out the image with scissors or a cutting plotter.

With light-color garment transfer paper, the transfer layer is transparent and almost invisible, so you can choose to cut it out. However, if you don’t cut it out, you can physically feel the transfer layer even though the image isn’t there. With Dark’s ‘One Step’ transfer paper, the unprint area has a white background. Therefore, it must be cut off.

Thermal transfer paper to lined vs uncut tracing paper |  Coastal trade supplies


Thermal transfer paper and dye sublimation are wonderful ways to decorate clothing. Which method you choose will ultimately depend on your needs. I hope this blog helps you continue on your path of decorating t-shirts and clothing!

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