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What's the difference between sublimation printing & screen printing?

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

First lets start with some facts...

Sublimation Printing is computer printer which uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, paper or fabric.

It works well on light shirts or fabrics but it's costly to produce. Overall the customer ends up with a professional shirt done by experts.

Dye sublimation is perfect for printing on polyester however they are unforgiving when you use cotton fabric because the dyes, officially called “disperse dyes,” need to bond with an oil-loving molecule like polyester.

Due to the heatpress used at the end of printing the dye dries instantly and there's no chance of a smudge once it's done.

Screen Printing is known by many names such as serigraphy or silk printing.

This process isn't digital like sublimation because the printing is done by hand using a squeegee and a screen.

The screen is just mesh that the ink is pushed through but the mesh needs to be prepped by blocking out the areas of the design that you don't want printed, like a stencil.

Fabric ink is used for this process and it comes out very clearely but you can only do one colour at a time. If multiple colours were needed it would mean multiple screens would need to be prepped for one design. If it were the same design that needed to be printed but in a different colour then the screen that was just used would need to be washed thoroughly.

Ink can leak from the previous print and show up on unwanted substrates if the screen isnt cleaned properly & if too much ink is used in the screen print, inks can run or become splotchy.

So all in all they are two very different styles of printing. Both look brilliant once finnished but there are some big advantages with using sublimation.

- A screen printed image may crack over time because of the type of ink used unlike a dye sublimated graphic print. To truly saturate the material with ink, dye sublimation is the best printing option as it won't bleed, run, fade or crack over time.

- The amount of time it would take to create 10 dye sublimation prints on garments & 10 screen prints on garments varies hugely. Time is money after all and if you spend 2 hours on one t-shirt while screen printing, you'll surely be losing money quickly!

- Although sumbilation printers aren't cheap, they will save you & earn you money in the long run. There's much less chance of a sublimation print going wrong unless something on the digital artwork is incorrect whereas there are so many variables with screen printing it's much more likely to go wrong!

Both printing methods are unique but sublimation is better for clothing and screen printing is better for canvas'.


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