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Are you a sublimation hobbyist and wondering what cannot be sublimated? The simple answer is that certain materials like 100% cotton fabrics, non-poly-coated ceramics, and dark substrates resist the sublimation process. Make sure to read on as we discover why these items aren’t suitable for sublimation and what alternatives exist for your creative projects.

Key Takeaways

  • Sublimation printing is material-specific, requiring compatible substrates like polyester and poly-coated items for vibrant and lasting prints.
  • Busting myths: sublimation can’t be done with regular inkjet printers, nor on any surface – you need a dedicated sublimation printer and specially coated blanks.
  • For non-sublimatable items, alternatives like Heat Transfer Vinyl, Printable HTV, and Cricut Infusible Ink offer creative solutions for vibrant and durable designs. I have separately discussed the concepts of sublimation and heat transfer vinyl.

The Limits of Sublimation

Picture of cotton fabric

Despite its impressive capabilities, sublimation printing isn’t without its limitations. Just as a racing car requires a specific type of fuel to roar to life, the sublimation process thrives on compatibility. What does this mean? Well, your sublimation project’s success leans heavily on using the right materials.

There’s more to consider. Have you ever noticed how a colored glass pane can change the hue of sunlight passing through it? Similarly, the color of your substrate can affect the outcome of your final design, thanks to the translucency of sublimation ink.[1]

Incompatible Materials

Imagine this: your sublimation printer is ready, your design is set, but you contemplate using your favorite 100% cotton shirt. Hold on a sec! Cotton fabrics, while great for a sunny day out, are not quite suitable for sublimation printing. The dye ink will not react with natural cotton fibers, causing your beautiful prints to fade faster than a sunset.

You might be wondering about poly-cotton blends. These can be used, but they often lead to less vibrant colors and images compared to their polyester-based counterparts. Even ceramic and metal items need a specialized poly-coating to ensure the transfer is durable and permanent.

Color Limitations

Color is both intriguing and complex within sublimation printing. Sublimation ink, despite its vibrancy, becomes near-invisible when applied to dark-colored or black materials, leading to designs that are not vivid or visible. It’s like trying to see a star in a brightly lit city – near impossible!

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The color of the substrate can also add a unique twist to your design, as it shows through the transparent sublimation ink. This can make your colors appear darker after transfer. Plus, sublimation inks don’t print the color white, which can affect the appearance of designs that incorporate white elements on colored backgrounds.

Common Misconceptions About Sublimation

Inkjet printer in a storage warehouse

Having explored sublimation’s limitations, it’s time to dispel some myths! Misconceptions about sublimation printing are as common as seashells on a beach, largely due to its specialized process and the perceived complexity of equipment and material requirements.

One of the most common misconceptions is that you can use a regular inkjet printer for sublimation printing. Another is the belief that you can sublimate on any surface. These myths, while widely believed, are as misleading as a mirage in the desert. Let’s clear up these misconceptions, shall we?

Using a Regular Inkjet Printer

Consider the absurdity of attempting to bake a cake in a microwave. That’s because each appliance has its purpose, and the same applies to printers. Regular inkjet printers, while great for your office documents, are not designed for sublimation printing. Furthermore, don’t miss my guide on the possibility of using regular printer paper for sublimation projects. You can also read my article if you are starting out with your sublimation journey and looking for a great sublimation printer for beginners.

Sublimation printing requires specialized dye-sublimation inks, which regular inkjet printers cannot handle. That’s why using sublimation printers is essential for this process. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – it just doesn’t work!

Sublimating on Any Surface

It’s time to tackle the second myth. Can you sublimate on any surface? The answer is a resounding no. Sublimation requires specially coated substrates that can withstand high temperatures and are designed to bond with sublimation inks. Some common substrates that can be used for sublimation include:

  • Polyester fabric
  • Ceramic mugs
  • Aluminum panels
  • Phone cases
  • Mouse pads

Using the right sublimation blank material is crucial for achieving high-quality sublimation prints on your chosen sublimation blanks substrate.

Hard substrates, such as glass, metal, and ceramics, must be compatible with sublimation and able to endure the necessary heat and pressure. Similarly, sublimation transfers may fail on materials that are not suitable, particularly those that cannot endure the required heat or lack a poly-coating.

Alternative Methods for Non-Sublimatable Items

Heat transfer vinylapplied to a t-shirt

Suppose you have a 100% cotton shirt or an uncoated ceramic mug ready for decoration, but sublimation isn’t an option. What do you do? Well, crafting is all about creativity and finding innovative solutions. There are several alternative methods for decorating non-sublimatable items, such as Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV), Printable HTV, and Cricut Infusible Ink.

Each of these alternatives offers unique advantages and can be used to achieve stunning results on a variety of materials. So, don’t be disheartened if sublimation isn’t suitable for your project. Exploring these alternatives could unveil a plethora of crafting possibilities! Some alternatives to consider are:

  • Heat transfer vinyl
  • Screen printing
  • Direct-to-garment printing
  • Embroidery
  • Iron-on transfers

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)

Kicking off our list of alternatives, we have Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV). Think of it as a chameleon, versatile and adaptable, able to be used on a variety of materials and colors, including cotton, polyester, and even poly blends.

While the HTV decoration process involves a bit more hands-on work than sublimation, it’s an affordable and accessible decoration method. Plus, HTV can be applied to non-fabric materials such as:

  • nylon
  • neoprene
  • wood
  • canvas
  • metal

This expands its versatility beyond just textiles.[2]

Printable HTV

Our next contender is Printable Heat Transfer Vinyl. This option is like having a personal rainbow at your fingertips, allowing the creation of full-color designs and photorealistic images that can be transferred onto a variety of substrates.

Printable HTV offers several advantages over other heat transfer methods:

  • It brings multi-colored and photorealistic designs to life.
  • It exhibits superior durability, with designs maintaining their integrity against chipping, peeling, fading, or cracking.
  • It can extend the life of the design beyond the lifespan of the garment it is affixed to.

With correct application, printable HTV is a great option for creating long-lasting and vibrant designs.

Cricut Infusible Ink

Cricut Infusible Ink rounds out our selection of crafting solutions. This innovative product opens up new possibilities for creating vibrant, long-lasting designs. This system includes ink transfer sheets or pens, allowing you to heat-press your designs onto compatible substrates without needing a printer. It’s like a magic wand for your crafting projects!

Despite its advantages, Cricut Infusible Ink does have more limited color and pattern options compared to traditional sublimation printing. But in the world of crafting, limitations are just opportunities for creativity, aren’t they?

Tips for Successful Sublimation Projects

Polyester fabric with vibrant colors

With the limitations, misconceptions, and alternatives of sublimation under our belt, it’s time to concentrate on perfecting this craft. As with any skill, the beauty of the final product is often in the details. Choosing the right materials, mastering heat press technique, and maintaining an organized workspace can significantly improve the quality of your sublimation projects.

Whether you’re a seasoned crafter or just starting your journey into the world of sublimation, these practical tips will help ensure that your projects are successful and your creations are as vibrant and lasting as they are in your imagination.

Choosing the Right Substrate

Selecting the appropriate substrate for your sublimation project equates to picking the perfect canvas for a painting. It’s fundamental to the success and vibrancy of your final piece. Polyester fabric is optimal for sublimation, due to its heat-responsive fibers that allow for effective dye bonding.

For a balance between comfort and print quality, a blend of polyester with natural fibers can be used, with a minimum of 40% polyester to ensure sufficient ink transfer. On the other hand, substrates not made from polyester should have a polymer coating to ensure the sublimation ink bonds effectively.

Proper Heat Press Technique

Perfecting the heat press technique resembles mastering a dance routine – timing, pressure, and temperature are key. The fabric’s pores open up when heated, allowing the ink dye to change into its gaseous form and bond with the fabric upon cooling.

Consistent and even pressure is essential during the sublimation process to ensure that the sublimation transfer is properly executed without deformation or uneven coloring. So, whether you’re sublimating on:

  • shirts
  • stainless steel tumblers
  • sublimation mugs
  • aluminum panels

It’s crucial to tweak your heat press settings to suit the substrate.

Troubleshooting Sublimation Issues

Image of sublimation colors that are faded

As with any craft, sublimation presents its own set of challenges. From fading colors to incomplete transfers, these issues can sometimes seem as elusive as a needle in a haystack. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Let’s troubleshoot some common sublimation issues so you can keep your crafting journey on track.

Remember, problem-solving is an integral part of the crafting journey, and every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. Ready to confront these problems head-on? Let’s get started!

Fading or Dull Colors

The disappointment from fading or dull colors in sublimation prints can rival that of a washed-out rainbow. Often, this issue may be caused by incorrect application of time, temperature, or pressure during heat transfer. It’s like baking a cake – the wrong oven setting could result in a less-than-ideal outcome.

Pre-pressing the substrate to remove any moisture is a crucial step in enhancing image clarity and vibrancy. Similarly, using specialized sublimation ink and paper and applying the correct pressure is crucial for achieving vibrant prints and preventing faded or dull colors.

Incomplete Transfers

Incomplete transfers can elicit frustration akin to that felt when dealing with a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. Often, the culprit is not enough heat, making an infrared temperature gun your new best friend to ensure accurate heat press temperature setting.

Pre-pressing fabrics to remove folds and moisture before sublimation helps in achieving an even transfer across the substrate. Further, securing the sublimation paper to the substrate with heat-resistant tape and allowing the item to cool down after pressing can prevent ghosting and unintended image shifts.


Polyester based substrates for sublimation

Embarking on the journey of sublimation printing, we’ve navigated through its limitations, debunked common misconceptions, explored alternative crafting methods, and dived into practical tips for successful projects. We also tackled common sublimation issues, ensuring you’re well-equipped to handle any bumps along your crafting journey. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity for creativity and growth. So, keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep creating!

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials can you not sublimate on?

You can’t sublimate on materials like cotton, as the ink will wash away after the first wash. Stick to printing on polyester and blends for best results.

Can you sublimation print on anything?

You can sublimation print on anything as long as the item is either “sublimation coated” or “sublimation ready,” meaning it has a special polymer coating or contains polyester. Just make sure the product meets these requirements for successful printing.

Can I use a regular inkjet printer for sublimation printing?

No, regular inkjet printers are not suitable for sublimation printing because they require specialized printers and inks designed for the process.

Why are my sublimation prints fading or dull in color?

It’s likely that your sublimation prints are fading because of incorrect heat transfer application, such as time, temperature, or pressure. Using specialized ink, paper, and applying the right pressure is essential for vibrant prints.

Why are my sublimation transfers incomplete?

It seems like your sublimation transfers might be incomplete due to insufficient heat during the transfer. You can use an infrared temperature gun to ensure an accurate heat press temperature setting.


  1. Ltd, N. Y. D. C. (2023, July 14). DTF Printing vs. Sublimation Printinghttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dtf-printing-vs-sublimation-nanjing-yiqia-digital-cp-ltd/
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2023, October 11). Heat transfer vinyl. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_transfer_vinyl
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