How Do You Apply Sublimation Transfers Full Process

How Do You Apply Sublimation Transfers? Full Process

Have you ever wanted to make your own custom t-shirts, mugs, or other items with full-color images and designs?

It’s cool! The process is called sublimation printing. It uses special paper and ink to transfer images permanently into fabrics, ceramics, and more.

In this article, I’ll explain ‘How do you apply sublimation transfers?’. It might sound complicated, but I’ll break it down so it’s easy to understand.

You’ll learn what equipment and supplies you need to get started and the step-by-step process for applying sublimation transfer.

I’ve also got some pro tips to help you troubleshoot problems and make sure your transfers turn out perfectly every time.

So get ready to unlock the secrets to making your own incredible custom bags, apparel, decor, and more! Let’s get started.

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Supplies needed for applying sublimation transfer

Applying sublimation transfers requires heat and pressure to bond the dye to the substrate.

sublimation ink printer

Here’s the key equipment you’ll need:

  1. Heat press: You’ll need an actual heat press to apply enough precise pressure. Home irons and heat presses like the Cricut EasyPress aren’t suitable.
  2. Sublimation printer and ink: To print your transfers onto special sublimation paper, you’ll need a professional dye-sublimation printer and ink. Many affordable Epson and Ricoh models work well.
  3. Sublimation paper: There are a few types of paper to choose from. Make sure yours is compatible with your printer and the material you’re transferring onto.
  4. Polyester blank item: Sublimation only bonds well to synthetic fabrics like 100% polyester or specially-coated ceramics and metals.
  5. Heat-resistant tape: Used to secure the paper transfer in place.
  6. Teflon sheet: For protecting your heat press and transfer from direct contact.

How Do You Apply Sublimation Transfers?

With the right blank items, paper transfers, machinery, and supplies, you’re ready to start applying for transfers. The basic technique is straightforward once you know the steps.

Here is the complete process broken down:

1. Print transfer

If designing your own, create the graphic on your computer (remember to flip/mirror it since the transfer reverses the image). Print onto sublimation paper using your professional inkjet printer filled with sublimation ink.

Allow printed transfers to fully dry before application, so the still-wet ink does not bleed or distort when pressed. Drying overnight is ideal, but a heat gun can speed things along if you’re in a rush.

2. Prepare the item 

If using a fabric like a polyester t-shirt or cutting board sleeve, take a minute to pre-press it first. Quickly run the item through your heated press for 5-10 seconds before adding your transfer.


This both removes wrinkles and any moisture in the fabric which can prevent ink from absorbing evenly. Use a lint roller as well to remove stray fuzz or debris.

3. Secure transfer 

Trim around the printed transfer paper closely without cutting into the actual design/image. Leave just 2-3mm of blank border.

Then take your heat-resistant tape (pieces already pre-cut for speed) and carefully attach the back of the transfer paper to the front of your shirt/item so the design itself faces down against the surface.

Image Credit: Zindee

Avoid bubbles, overlap, or leaving parts of the transfer unsecured, as heat and pressure can cause unsecured sections to distort.

4. Heat press 

Ensure your heat press is already fully pre-heated to the right consistently maintained temperature which again varies based on things like material thickness and transfer paper type (usually somewhere around 400° F is needed).

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Place your item with transfer taped face-down onto the bottom platen of your heat press. Then take your Teflon protective sheet and smoothly sandwich it over the top covering both the item and the hottest upper heating element.

5. Apply pressure 

The pressure and time duration vary based on things like your substrate/garment type and thickness, the brand of transfer paper being used, the size of your transfer design, etc.

Typical application time can be anywhere from 40-90 seconds at high-medium pressure around 400°F. Start conservatively based on paper and item recommendations then adjust as needed. 

Press Using Heat Press
  • Tip: Too much time over too high temp risks charring, damaging, or melting synthetic materials.

6. Remove The Transfer

Once the timer expires, disengage the press lock and slowly lift the heated upper plate up and away leaving the lower plate in place. This allows residual ambient heat in the lower plate to continue curing without risk of scorching.

After a few seconds, you can carefully remove the still-warm item and peel away just the now-empty transfer paper to reveal your image transferred onto the polyester or hard good surface.

Image Credit: Zindee

Throughout the process, be very careful handling the hot press and follow all manufacturer safety guidelines. With good transfers and the proper equipment and technique, your results should be stunning!

Tips for Successful Transfer Success

Follow these tips and best practices when transferring:

  • Carefully follow the temperature, time, and pressure recommendations for the specific transfer paper and substrate you are using. Going overboard could damage the materials.
  • Make sure your heat press is evenly calibrated to apply uniform heat and pressure. This prevents faint or uneven transfers.
  • Always pre-press fabric substrates to remove moisture and lint that can interfere with ink bonding.
  • Allow printed transfers to fully dry before application, or the still-wet ink may bleed and blur.
  • Use sharp scissors or a cutting machine when trimming around transfers before pressing to prevent squared edges on your finished product.
  • Work carefully when layering multiple transfers for precise alignment. Heat-resistant masking tape helps.
  • Store unused transfers in a cool, dry place away from direct light to preserve print quality over time. Refrigeration can extend life further.
  • Always test! Experiment with scrap materials when trying new papers, fabrics, temps, and times to perfect your technique before moving to final items.
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  • Pro Tip: Keep a sublimation notebook tracking your settings, materials, issues, and results to improve over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still, have some questions about applying sublimation transfers. Here are answers to some common FAQs:

Do you need a heat press for sublimation transfers?

Yes, you absolutely need an actual heat press for sublimation. Home irons and mini presses like the EasyPress do not get hot enough or apply even pressure to properly transfer sublimation ink. You need an affordable clamshell press that reaches ~400°F.

How is sublimation applied?

Sublimation is applied using heat and pressure to convert the solid dyes into gas form temporarily. The gas permeates into poly fibers or polymer coatings and then solidifies into permanently bonded images as it cools.

How long do you press a sublimation transfer?

Typical sublimation press times range from 40 to 90 seconds at ~400°F. The specific time and temp vary based on the fabric or material type and thickness.
Always check specific recommendations for your transfer paper and blank substrate.

Wrapping up

Like any craft, mastering sublimation transfers takes some practice as you hone techniques and settings for different materials.

But once you get the hang of it using the steps and tips above, the vibrant and durable results are well worth it.

Experiment with different graphic designs and blank substrates from t-shirts to phone cases and ceramic tiles. Just be sure you always have the right tools and protective equipment when handling the heat press.

Thoroughly research your specific printer, transfer papers, blanks, temps, dwell times, etc. to avoid wasted materials from bad transfers. Take notes and test frequently as you refine your process.

With a little patience, creativity, and persistence, you can churn out all sorts of customized and personalized sublimation projects to sell or give as special gifts.

Bella Williams

I'm Bella, a mom of 3 cuties. With 7 years of sublimation experience, my blog focuses on all things sublimation and printing. Join me for tips, tutorials, and inspiration to enhance your sublimation journey. Let's create and thrive together!
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