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If you enthusiasts are debating between sublimation and screen printing for your next project, you’re likely focused on one key aspect: durability. So you ask: “What lasts longer sublimation or screen printing?” Look no further – we got the answers! This article aims to directly compare the longevity of these popular printing techniques, examining how the process, materials, and handling affect the lifespan of your custom prints. While the techniques differ greatly – sublimation embedding the ink into the fibers and screen printing layering it on top – the real-world implications for your choices might surprise you. Let’s explore which method will best endure the test of time for your specific needs. Let’s get right into it!

Key Takeaways

  • Sublimation printing fuses ink into fabric fibers, offering superior durability with prints that are resistant to fading and cracking, especially on polyester materials, but requires precise environment control and high-quality materials to achieve optimal results.
  • Screen printing applies ink on top of the fabric, resulting in vibrant colors but is more prone to wear such as cracking and peeling; factors like ink type, proper curing, and fabric choice (with cotton being preferable) affect its longevity.
  • To preserve the quality of printed items, both sublimation and screen-printed products require proper care including gentle washing, low-heat or air drying, and careful storage to avoid damage to the prints. Read more about the best selling sublimation products here.

Sublimation Printing: Longevity and Durability

A long path in a forest to represent longevity

Sublimation printing has a reputation for superior durability within the printing industry. Unlike other printing methods, sublimation printing integrates the ink directly into the fabric fibers, preventing the print from cracking, peeling, or washing out. This fusion of ink and fabric ensures that sublimation prints retain their vibrancy and resist fading or cracking over time. The result? High-quality photographs and designs that boast superior resolution, color fidelity, and enduring vibrancy without fading, made possible by using a sublimation printer and sublimation ink cartridges. In the realm of sublimation printing work, this process stands out for its exceptional quality and longevity.

Yet, attaining this remarkable print quality with sublimation printing is no simple task. Several factors come into play in determining the durability of a sublimation print. We will explore these factors and share some tips for producing enduring sublimation prints. You can also read more about mastering the concept of sublimation test prints.

Factors Affecting Sublimation Print Durability

At the heart of sublimation print durability is the choice of substrate. Polyester substrates, being most compatible with sublimation dyes, are ideally suited for durable prints. However, fabric type isn’t the only consideration; substrate preparation also plays a role. Light-colored substrates that are smooth enhance dye absorption, contributing to the vibrancy and durability of sublimation prints.

The lifespan of a sublimation print also hinges on the quality of the sublimation inks. High-quality inks ensure good color fidelity and durability over time. Furthermore, the use of specially coated transfer paper improves the overall quality of the sublimation process, affecting both color vibrancy and the print’s longevity.

Another significant factor is the heat press settings. Precise time, temperature, and pressure settings are critical to achieving a vibrant and durable sublimation print. Maintaining a controlled environment with appropriate temperature, humidity, ventilation, and cleanliness is essential for consistent sublimation print quality and durability.

Tips for Ensuring Long-lasting Sublimation Prints

How, then, can you make your sublimation prints endure over time? Here are some tips:

  1. Pre-press substrates to remove moisture and wrinkles.
  2. Properly clean the substrates before printing.
  3. Use high-quality sublimation ink and paper. You can learn more about whether the use of sublimation ink on waterslide paper is possible in my separate article.
  4. Use a heat press with precise temperature control for optimal ink transfer.

Following these tips will significantly improve the adhesion and longevity of your sublimation prints.

When it comes to materials, opt for polyester and polymer-coated substrates as they are optimal for dye sublimation, leading to vibrant and long-lasting prints. Lastly, proper cooling and post-print handling, such as trimming excess paper and washing, are crucial to maintain print quality and longevity.

Screen Printing: Longevity and Durability

Floral design created by screen printing

Moving on to screen printing, the durability story is a bit different. While screen printing can produce vibrant and sharp colors, these can become less durable over time, with the possibility of cracking, peeling, and fading after multiple washes. This is because, unlike sublimation printing, screen printing ink sits on top of the fabric, making it more susceptible to wear and tear.

Yet, the situation isn’t entirely bleak for screen printing. Proper care is essential to maintain the vibrancy of screen prints and prevent rapid fading or cracking. In fact, when done right, screen printing can be effectively applied across different fabric colors, offering design flexibility. What, then, are factors influencing screen print durability, and how can durable screen prints be achieved?

Factors Affecting Screen Print Durability

Screen printing on fabric

Ink type is among the key factors influencing screen print durability. Plastisol inks, known for their opacity and durability, typically cure at around 320° F, influencing the longevity of printed designs. On the other hand, water-based inks provide screen prints with a softer hand and more subtle colors but require careful attention to drying times and curing temperatures to ensure durability.

Likewise, the curing process holds significant importance. Proper curing of screen print ink is verified through a ‘stretch test’, which should show no cracking and maintain the print’s shape, ensuring the durability of the design. For consistently cured prints with extended durability, the use of a conveyor dryer is vital in professional screen printing shops. It’s also essential to keep detailed records of dryer settings for different inks and fabrics to replicate successful curing outcomes for durable screen prints.

Durability of screen prints is also impacted by other factors such as ink layer thickness and fabric choice. Using multiple colors in screen printing can lead to thicker ink layers, which may decrease the flexibility and, therefore, the durability of the print. While screen printing can achieve vibrant colors and a tactile texture on dark materials, the durability may be compromised over time with prints prone to fading, cracking, or peeling, especially after multiple washes.

Tips for Ensuring Long-lasting Screen Prints

For durable screen prints, adequate curing is fundamental. Using high-quality inks that are appropriate for the fabric and screen printing method can also extend the life of the printed design. Also, careful washing is essential for screen-printed items as it helps prevent the ink from cracking, flaking, or fading.

Fabric selection is key in screen printing because some materials retain ink better, leading to more durable prints. Cotton and cotton blends, for instance, better support the ink’s durability and are the most suitable fabrics for screen printing.

Comparing Durability: Sublimation vs. Screen Printing

Glass bowl contains colorful design sublimated on to it

Now that we’ve examined both sublimation and screen printing, let’s directly compare their durability. As sublimation printing integrates the print into the garment, it’s less susceptible to washing and physical wear than screen printing. On the other hand, screen printing is less durable than sublimation printing as it is more susceptible to cracking, peeling, and fading after multiple washes.

Still, the fabric type can have a significant impact on print durability. While sublimation printing provides superior durability especially for polyester fabrics, screen printing can face challenges over time with durability due to its method of ink application on fabrics like cotton. If you are wondering what we mean by a sublimation printer, read my related article!

Print Quality and Lifespan

Example of a high quality vibrant image

When it comes to print quality and lifespan, sublimation printing has an edge. Recognized for its notable durability, sublimation prints are less likely to fade, peel, or crack compared to other methods. However, the quality and lifespan of sublimation prints are susceptible to environmental influences during the printing process, where humidity and temperature play crucial roles.

On the other hand, screen printing may face reduced lifespan due to environmental influences. Vibrant and sharp colors produced by screen printing can become less durable, with the possibility of cracking, peeling, and fading after many washes.

Material Suitability

Material suitability is another factor to consider when comparing sublimation and screen printing. Sublimation printing excels on polyester fabrics such as Oxford, Tactel, Crepe, Lycra, and Polypropylene, achieving maximum ink adhesion and producing high-quality prints. Even fabrics with high polyester content, including Poly cotton knit, Suplex, and Neoprene, are recommended for their durability and are particularly suitable for items like sportswear and swimwear.

Silk screen printing, a popular printing technique, works best on cotton and cotton blends, as they better support the ink’s durability. However, while screen printing can be applied to a broad variety of materials including textiles and non-textile surfaces like metal, wood, and plastic, the durability may be compromised over time with prints prone to fading, cracking, or peeling, especially after multiple washes.

Choosing the Right Printing Method for Your Project

Many printers to choose from displayed in shop

Selecting the appropriate printing method for your project might seem overwhelming. Factors such as design complexity, budget, and order quantity can all influence your decision. Sublimation or screen printing, for instance, can be chosen based on specific needs. Sublimation printing is more cost-efficient for small or custom-ordered items due to lower setup requirements and the ability to cost-effectively produce these smaller quantities. On the other hand, screen printing is often selected for larger orders where the initial labor-intensive setup can be better amortized, making it more cost-efficient for large-scale production.

Yet, order size and budget aren’t the sole considerations. The complexity of your design and the colors you wish to use may also sway your decision between sublimation and screen printing.

Design Considerations

The complexity of the design can largely sway the selection of the printing method. Sublimation printing allows for:

  • Printing fine lines and details in multiple colors
  • Resulting in vibrant and sharp images
  • Effectively replicating digital photos and intricate pattern designs with complex gradients.

Screen printing, on the other hand, excels at producing bold designs with a limited color palette, which comes out strong and distinct. However, running complex multi-colored designs through print complexity screen printing may lead to outcomes that don’t meet the original design expectations. Using a detailed screen print stencil can help achieve better results in such cases, especially when following the proper screen printing process.

Budget and Quantity

When deciding on a printing method, budget and quantity also demand careful consideration. Sublimation printing tends to be more cost-efficient for small or custom-ordered items due to lower setup requirements and the ability to cost-effectively produce these smaller quantities. However, it can be time-consuming and expensive for large orders due to the need for a new print sheet per shirt.

On the flip side, screen printing is cost-effective for bulk orders, allowing the same screen to be used for hundreds of shirts, which is suitable for large volume orders. Thus, the selection between sublimation and screen printing should be influenced by the size of the order and budget, with sublimation printing serving as a versatile choice for any size and screen printing providing cost savings for bulk orders.

Caring for Your Printed Items

Colored t-shirt in washing tub

Irrespective of the chosen printing method, taking good care of your printed items is key to prolonging their lifespan. Protecting sublimation prints from excessive exposure to sunlight and avoiding harsh chemicals can significantly extend their life. Similarly, proper washing of sublimation-printed items contributes to preserving the print’s vibrancy and preventing damage.

For screen-printed items, careful washing is essential as it helps prevent the ink from cracking, flaking, or fading. But what’s the best way to wash and store your printed items? Let’s explore some tips.

Washing and Drying Tips

When it comes to washing, both sublimation and screen-printed items should be:

  • Machine-washed inside-out in cold water on a gentle cycle with mild detergent[1]
  • Avoid fabric softeners and dry-cleaning
  • It’s also best to avoid mixing the garments with heavy materials like jeans to minimize abrasion.

As for drying, both sublimated and screen-printed items should be dried at the lowest heat setting and removed before the drying cycle completes to prevent potential heat damage to the prints. However, air drying is the safest method for their care.

Sublimated shirts can be air-dried in a cool, dry area, while screen-printed items are best air-dried on a rounded hanger to maintain the print quality.

Storage and Maintenance

For storage, follow these tips to keep your printed items in good condition:

  • Keep them in a clean, dry, and dark location to avert fading and discoloration.[2]
  • Avoid areas with extreme temperatures that could harm the items.
  • For sublimation shirts, avoid folding to prevent creases. Instead, hang them on a hanger or carefully roll them up.
  • For long-term storage, seal items in an airtight plastic bag or container to protect against dust and moisture.
  • Roll up printed t-shirts rather than folding them to avoid creases.

Air dry screen printed items rather than machine drying and use thick plastic hangers for hanging. If you need to iron screen printed shirts, do so inside-out on the lowest temperature with a protective towel or cloth. Correct handling and storage of sublimation inks and paper are crucial in preventing degradation and maintaining print longevity.


An example of design by screen printing

In conclusion, both sublimation and screen printing offer unique advantages and disadvantages when it comes to durability. Sublimation printing provides superior durability, especially on polyester fabrics, thanks to its ink integration into the fabric fibers. On the other hand, screen printing may face challenges with longevity due to the ink’s vulnerability to environmental influences. However, with proper care, both printing methods can produce long-lasting prints. Your choice between sublimation and screen printing will depend on your design complexity, budget, order quantity, and material suitability.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does screen printing last longer than sublimation?

Sublimation printing tends to last longer than screen printing, as the plastisol ink used in screen printing can crack, peel, and fade over time, making it less durable in the long run.

How long do sublimation prints last?

Sublimation prints can last a lifetime without cracking or peeling over time as the dyes become embedded in the fabric fibers when heated.

What are the disadvantages of sublimation printing?

The disadvantages of sublimation printing include the requirement for a white or light-colored print area, the inability to print on black or dark-colored surfaces, potential color fading when exposed to sunlight, and printhead clogging if not used frequently. UV rays can cause color loss over time. Like all inkjet printers, printheads can get clogged when not in regular use.

Which lasts longer screen printing or heat transfer?

Screen printing lasts longer than heat transfer due to the ink becoming part of the fabric, resulting in better durability against washing and drying. This makes screen prints hold up better over time compared to heat transfers.

How can I ensure the durability of my screen prints?

To ensure the durability of your screen prints, focus on proper curing, high-quality inks, and select suitable fabrics such as cotton and cotton blends. This will help to prolong the lifespan of your prints.


  1. Chiu, A. (2023d, December 14). Why you should almost always wash your clothes on cold. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/11/29/laundry-cold-water-environment/
  2. Andrady, A. L., Hamid, S., Hu, X., & Torikai, A. (1998c). Effects of increased solar ultraviolet radiation on materials. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology46(1–3), 96–103. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1011-1344(98)00188-2