I know the feeling. You just got a new sublimation printer and tons of polyester blanks to make custom shirts.
The creative ideas are flowing and you start designing edgy shirts with cool graphics on black shirts.
Then you make your first test print and…nothing shows up!
Just a faint shadow of your beautiful design.
You soon learn that sublimation only works on light colored fabrics because the inks are translucent.
But don’t despair—there are tricks that will let you print vibrant, customizable designs onto dark shirts. Keep reading to unlock the secrets!
Can You Sublimate On a Black Shirt?
You cannot directly sublimate on a black t-shirt as sublimation printing does not work on darker fabrics but you can easily sublimate on a dark shart also using a white base layer that can be created using Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)
The Ink Has No Pigment
To understand why sublimation ink turns invisible or faded on black fabric, first know what makes it special.
Unlike traditional ink, sublimation ink contains no solid pigments. Rather, the ink is dyed into the polyester fabric at the molecular level when heat is applied.
This is great for permanent, embedded color that won’t crack or peel.
But without solid particles of pigment, the color is see-through.
Sublimation ink acts like a highlighting marker—the color shows well on light backgrounds, but becomes nearly invisible on dark surfaces.
The Need for a Base Layer
Thankfully, there is a solution. While sublimation alone won’t work on black fabrics, adding a white base layer creates the light background needed for the colors to pop.
This is done with special heat transfer vinyl (HTV) that can be cut to desired designs.
There are a few types of HTV films that work well for sublimating onto dark shirts:
- Glitter HTV
- Flock HTV
- Clear HTV
- Glow in the dark HTV
- Easy Subli HTV
Advantages of Using Heat Transfer Viny
Disadvantages of Using Heat Transfer Vinyl
Let’s look at how these can take your sublimation projects from faded to fabulous!
1. Glitter HTV—Dazzling But Rough
Glitter HTV is a white polyester vinyl with bits of shimmering glitter embedded throughout. It makes a perfect base for sublimation ink on dark shirts.
The glitter gives designs extra sparkle and dimension. However, the texture is quite rough.
Glitter HTV feels a bit like sandpaper and tends to be thick and stiff. For some projects the bold effect is perfect, but likely uncomfortable for whole shirts.
Glitter HTV cuts well on cutting machines and the colors stay vibrant.
Just be strategic with placements based on tolerance for texture. Overall a good option for selective dazzling details!
Several brands offer high-quality glitter HTV suitable for sublimation on black shirts. Here are some popular options with links:
Siser Glitter Heat Transfer Vinyl:
- Siser EasyWeed® Glitter HTV: https://www.siserna.com/glitter/
- GlitterFlexHTV: https://mivinylworld.com/heat-transfer/thermoflex/glitterflex-light/
- Stahls’ Glitter Flake HTV: https://www.stahls.com/heat-transfer-vinyl-glitter-flake
How to Sublimate Using Glitter HTV:
2. Flock HTV—Soft and Fuzzy
Flock HTV has a velvety texture from the short fibers covering the surface. It is soft, flexible, and more delicate than glitter vinyl.
However, flock tends to stretch as it’s applied, making it tricky to perfectly align with sublimation prints. And the fuzzy fibers can contaminate your cut lines, leading to blurred details or missed cuts.
For best results, use new blades and go slowly while cutting. While tricky to work with at first, flock HTV makes incredibly soft prints once mastered. The visual effect is more muted by the texture, which can be desired for a vintage look.
Here you can find Flocked HTV at reasonable prices
3. Clear HTV—Sticky And Temporary
At first glance, clear HTV seems like an easy solution. It goes on completely transparent so your fabric shows through while also allowing the sublimation ink to embed color. Just adhere it over your dark shirt first before sublimating.
However, clear vinyl tends to get rather sticky, especially in detailed cuts.
This leads to paper and adhesive residue that requires some scrubbing to remove after pressing. And the durability is questionable.
While vibrant at first, the images under clear HTV become distorted and blurry after several washes.
It works in a pinch but isn’t the best for crisp, lasting looks. You’re often better off with an opaque base layer.
4. Glow in the Dark HTV—Eerie and Fun
For taking your shirts to the next level, glow-in-the-dark HTV adds a super trippy effect.
The vinyl contains phosphorescent pigments that absorb and emit light for an eerie glowing effect in the dark!
Since glow HTV is quite thin on its own, adhere a white HTV base first before pressing the glow layer on top.
This prevents ink migration into the shirt that would muddy your colors and glow impact.
The results are mesmerizing, especially with fluorescing designs!
Just take care when washing inside out and avoid direct sunlight to preserve the glow effect. Your designs will illuminate dance floors for years.
5. Easy Subli—Vibrant, Smooth, Ultra-Custom
My personal favorite HTV for sublimating onto black is Easy Subli.
This polyester vinyl film works as a perfect base layer for the sublimation inks to permanently adhere.
What sets Easy Subli apart is the vivid colors it produces with sublimation printing.
The whites stay crisp and clean to really make your designs pop on black shirts.
And the vinyl feels smooth to the touch, lacking the texture of glitter and flock HTVs.
It is a bit pricier than other options but stands up to 25+ commercial washes.
For custom shirts you’ll love and wear for years, Easy Subli offers excellent quality and performance.
Application Tips and Tricks
To finish with flying colors using specialty HTVs for sublimating dark shirts, follow these pro tips:
- Pre-press the shirt first to remove wrinkles and excess moisture
- Use quality parchment paper like Reynolds brand
- Follow material guidelines for time, temp, and pressure
- Allow shirts to fully cool before removing carrier sheets
- Store finished projects inside-out and out of direct sunlight
With the right supplies and techniques, you will be rocking wildly-customized black shirts in no time! Dazzle on…
FAQ on Can You Sublimate On Black Shirt
Can you sublimate on 100% cotton?
Unfortunately, not directly. Sublimation requires a high polyester content (around 65% or more) for the ink to properly adhere and transfer. While special sublimation sprays exist for cotton fabrics, the results may not be as vibrant or long-lasting as on polyester.
What is EasySubli?
EasySubli is a revolutionary heat transfer vinyl specifically designed for sublimation on dark fabrics. It eliminates the need for a separate white base layer, simplifying the process and allowing for vibrant colors directly on black shirts.
Where to buy sublimation paper for dark fabrics?
Several online and offline retailers sell sublimation paper for dark fabrics. Popular brands include 3G JET-OPAQUE, A-SUB, and HTVRONT. You can also find them in craft stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby.
What temperature do you use to sublimate on black shirts?
The ideal temperature for sublimating on black shirts varies slightly depending on your heat press and materials. Generally, a temperature range of 385°F – 400°F (195°C – 205°C) is recommended. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions for specific recommendations.
How to prevent fading when sublimating on black shirts?
Here are some tips to prevent fading when sublimating on black shirts:
– Use high-quality sublimation ink and paper designed for dark fabrics.
– Pre-wash and pre-treat your black shirt to remove any residues.
– Follow the recommended time and temperature settings for your heat press.
– Avoid over-pressing, which can damage the fabric and cause fading.
– Wash the sublimated shirt inside-out in cold water on a gentle cycle.
By following these tips, you can ensure your sublimated designs on black shirts stay vibrant and beautiful for years to come.
While sublimation alone won’t work on black shirts, layering special heat transfer vinyls creates the perfect light base for vivid ink transfer. Glitter, flock, glow, and other films all produce unique looks.
Match the HTV finish to your desired aesthetic—bold and shiny with glitter or vintage and soft with flock.
Easy Subli provides reliable performance for professional-grade merch.
So don’t shy away from the dark side!
With the right vinyl base layer, you can unleash your wildest sublimation ideas onto black shirts without losing any of the vibrant color and detail.