What’s the Difference Between Screen Printed and Sublimation Transfers?

As a garment decorator, you may have heard the terms screen printed transfer and sublimation and wondered what the difference between the two is.

While they are both used to decorate apparel and products, they each have their advantages and limitations. The type of ink, the fabric and application are all considerations when choosing between screen printed and sublimation transfers.

Using transfers requires that you learn about heat printing first.

This process involves a heat-sensitive material that is applied to an item with a heat press. New to Heat Printing? Where to Begin is a guide we created to help you get started.

Heat applied transfers, whether screen printed, sublimation, vinyl and more, are all used for a variety of applications.

Maybe you are printing on cotton t-shirts, polyester athletic uniforms or even a polo shirt in a cotton/poly blend, then you’ll need to determine which transfer type is best to use.

Screen Printed Transfers

Like the look and feel of screen printing but hate the mess and expensive setup costs to get started?

Screen printed transfers are simply ink printed on a release paper for easy application. All you need is a heat press to decorate apparel and accessories.

Using screen printed transfers gives you versatility, because you can apply them to a variety of fabrics. There are transfer types to suit your customers’ needs if you are printing on nylon jerseys, cotton and poly athletic wear or 100% cotton t-shirts.

With more than 50+ ink colors to choose from, including custom mixes, screen printed transfers can produce a vibrant look in as little as one or two colors.

Also, the application can take as little as a few seconds per transfer, depending on the fabric and transfer type. Following the transfer application instructions ensures that each screen printed transfer wears properly. And with proper care, it will last the lifetime of the garment.

Sublimation Transfers

Sublimation is a process that allows ink to go directly from a solid to a gas permeating itself into the fibers of polyester fabric. Sounds amazing, right?

Sublimation transfers are created using this same process but the design is printed onto paper and then, like other heat transfers, applied to a garment using a heat press. Again, like above, the design is embedded into the fabric to create an image with a natural look and feel.

So where’s the catch?

Well, this transfer type, like sublimation, only applies on 100% white polyester fabric.

That’s right. While you are able to achieve a realistic looking image that is breathable and durable, there is only one type of fabric and color you can use.

Because of this, sublimation transfers are limited in their applications for garment decorators whose customers might require 100% cotton to be used. Also, they might cause dye migration if they are not properly cared for during laundering.

So which transfer type is the best choice for you to use?

It depends.

If you are only printing on polyester and are looking for a full color image with a lightweight feel, then maybe sublimation transfers are the choice for you.

But if you want the flexibility to print on a variety of fabrics, not just polyester, then screen printed transfers should be your go-to. And if you are looking to use full-color designs, try CAD-PRINTZ® Digital Transfers.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 15 comments
Dealer Services

Hi Brenda,
We do not offer sublimation transfers. We do screen printed, digital, and rhinestone transfers.

Dealer Services

Thank you!

Lisa Della Croce

Do you do sublimation transfers that can be heated onto ceramic ornaments?

Dealer Services

Hi Lisa,
Sorry, we don’t do sublimation transfers.

rachel g spann

Do you offer sublimation transfers that are ready to press? Like for mugs?

Dealer Services

Hi we offer custom screen printed and digital transfers you apply with a heat press to apparel. I’m sorry we don’t carry mug transfers


Nice information to read about screen printed and sublimation transfer.

Max Jones

Thanks for the info about screen-printed shirts. I want to make a few shirts. I’ll think about getting screen printing for the custom shirts I hope to make.

Rao Huzaifa

Awesome, thanks for sharing.


The biggest difference between the two methods is that with sublimation printing the dyes are transferred into the fibers of the garments and with screen printing, the ink is transferred onto the garment. … Anything that you can design digitally can be printed on a garment.


You have discussed about heat transfer, so for t shirt printing is a heat transfer machine or a sublimation printer which one is must?

Dealer Services

For both you will need a heat press. Sublimation typically only applies to white polyester, our screen printed transfer can be applied to any color and any fabric. So the question becomes what is your business model? What do your customers want? I think most want t-shirts and hoodies in cottons, and poly/cotton blends. But perhaps your customer base is different.


Can you apply screen print transfers to polyester acrylic blend? Could you for a ribbed polyester material?

Dealer Services

Hi DeJa,
Screen printed transfers will apply to polyester and acrylic, but acrylic is super heat sensitive, so the apparel will most likely scorch.
Polyester is usually heat sensitive as well, but there are transfers that apply at a lower temperature like Elasti Prints.

Alwan Silk Screen

Great knowledge you shared with this article, and very well written and structured.


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