We’ll demonstrate how to create sublimation crafts using only 100% cotton, giving you access to a wide range of new supplies for your work.
Using specialized sublimation printers and sublimation inks, sublimation printing is the process of transferring the artwork onto various textiles used to make clothing. I’ve written a number of articles about dye sublimation, including ones on rayon sublimate, nylon sublimate, and modal sublimate.
Since cotton can now be sublimated, white polyester can no longer be the only substrate for your sublimations. Using heat transfer vinyl between the cotton and the dye is one of the best ways to sublimate cotton.
n this article, you will find out what makes sublimation dyes work. Seven methods for using sublimation printing on cotton will be taught to you.
Can You Sublimate on Cotton?
100% cotton cannot be sublimated on its own, but this limitation can be overcome by giving the cotton particular treatments that enable the sublimation process to take place.
These workarounds include the use of various types of heat-transfer vinyl or the coating of the cotton with a special material before the sublimation process is initiated using a heat press.
Why then does sublimation fail to adhere to cotton? The sublimation dye transforms into gas as a result of heat during the process. At the same time, heat also opens up the polyester’s synthetic fibers, allowing the gas to enter.
The dye and the synthetic fabric remain chemically bonded at the molecular level after cooling because the dye solidifies again and the polyester fibers close. Only between synthetic material and sublimation dyes is this process—the actual chemical sublimation—possible.
The design will initially look fantastic when you try it on pure cotton. Cotton is naturally very absorbent, so the dye will blend in a little and look nice. However, since the chemical bonding process did not take place, sublimation ink will wash out of cotton the moment it comes into contact with water.
Because of this, printers and independent artists were forced to abandon cotton t-shirts and sweatshirts for a long time. However, recent advancements in printing technology have given rise to a number of straightforward procedures for successfully sublimating cotton shirts.
This is wonderful news since cotton fabric frequently feels softer and more breathable than a synthetic material like polyester. For this reason, cotton is a popular choice among small business owners and t-shirt printers.
Here are other kinds of fabrics you can sublimate on:
Different Methods to Sublimate on Cotton
You can successfully sublimate on cotton using a variety of techniques, but the most important thing to remember is that there must be a medium between the dye and the cotton.
Vinyl is a popular medium for this among home artists. A highly effective synthetic spray coating for cotton fabrics is also something you can make or purchase.
Specialized heat-transfer vinyl, like Siser EasySubli, makes fantastic replacement surfaces for sublimating on cotton. But keep in mind that you can’t just sublimate onto any old HTV! In order for the dye bonding process to take place with sublimation, the ideal surface must always contain polyester.
- Select a graphic design program of your choosing, and create your digital design in it.
- Use your sublimation printer to print the image directly onto a sheet of Siser EasySubli. The best results, according to Siser, come from using a Sawgrass printer and EasySubli ink.
- Next, use a Cricut or other cutting device to trace the printed design onto a blank piece of paper.
- Remove the extra vinyl with weed.
- A clear masking sheet can be applied to the vinyl with a squeegee to cover it. By doing so, you can pick up the vinyl pattern and carry it over to your cotton shirt or other items of clothing.
- Set the vinyl design on your shirt in place.
- To protect the design during the heat pressing, cover it with a Teflon sheet.
- Activate the heat press at 311 °F. On the vinyl surface, the lower temperature performs best.
- Just 15 seconds are needed to press the pattern.
This approach has both advantages and disadvantages. Like any other HTV application on cotton, the vinyl does have a slightly stiff, raised feeling on the surface of the fabric. However, after using your heat press to apply the Easy Subli, you can wash the shirt without damaging the sublimation process!
With Glitter HTV
Prior to the release of industry-standard products like EasySubli, home printers had already discovered a method of sublimating on cotton using white glitter HTV.
The cool thing about this method is that the tiny glitter particles on the surface of this heat transfer vinyl contain polyester, allowing the sublimation process to occur, so you do need to like glitter to try it!
- Create, edit, or download your preferred SVG design first.
- To prevent the design from turning out backward, mirror it.
- The design is sent to your electronic cutting device where it is cut out and the extra vinyl is weeded out.
- In accordance with the guidelines on the vinyl packaging, apply the glitter vinyl to your cotton surface. Usually, a heat press will be used to adhere the vinyl to the cotton for about 60 seconds at a temperature of 400°F.
- You can begin this method’s sublimation phase after the cotton has cooled. Print your design onto a sublimation transfer paper if you haven’t already. For this, you will require a sublimation printer.
- To perfectly align with the vinyl cut-out on the cotton, place the transfer paper with the printed side facing down. Use heat-safe tape if you want to help maintain the alignment of the design.
- For another 60 seconds, set your heat press to 400°F.
- Your shirt ought to be covered in a vibrant, glittery pattern at this point!
The drawback of sublimating on HTV is that you need to take the extra step of cutting and weeding the vinyl before transferring the design to the cotton. However, the main benefit of using this technique is that it works with any color of the shirt.
Glitter HT can be applied to black or dark-colored fabric, whereas actual sublimation only works on white or light-colored fabric.
Additionally, you would need to cut out numerous pieces for each color of vinyl if you wanted to create a complex design solely from HTV. This makes it simple to create a multi-colored design by simply smearing ink onto white glitter vinyl!
With Spray Coating
Applying a synthetic coating of some kind to the cotton’s surface before beginning the sublimation process is the most widely used professional method for sublimating on cotton. However, you might find them a bit pricey. Popular coating sprays like Poly T have good reviews.
In order to use this method, you will apply the spray twice. In the first, the sizing is taken out of the cotton shirt, and in the second, a synthetic surface is made for the sublimation transfer.
- Spray the shirt liberally in the beginning until it is damp to the touch.
- If your heat press is a clamshell design, set it to 330°F and lay a cotton towel over the lower platen. Place a cotton towel on your flat pressing surface if your press is small.
- Over the top of the damp shirt, spread a piece of parchment paper.
- As the spray removes the sizing from the cotton shirt, 30 seconds of application will result in the release of steam.
- Apply a second layer of the spray to the shirt after that.
- To set the coating once more, use the 330°F heat press for 30 seconds. When this cools, the fabric should feel plasticky to the touch.
- Lie the cotton shirt on a piece of parchment or butcher paper. Place a second piece of parchment or butcher paper on top of your sublimation transfer to provide protection after you have aligned it on the cotton fabric’s surface.
- The sublimation process can be triggered by setting your heat press to 385°F and applying pressure for 70 seconds.
The spray coating’s propensity to draw dust is one of the difficulties you might experience when using PolyT. Try to work in a dust-free environment because even a tiny bit of dirt or dust will leave a mark on your design.
With Sublimation Fabric Sheets
The most accurate imitation of the look of real sublimation on polyester fabric is possible with sublimation fabric sheets like Forever Subli Light. It appears as though the dye has actually sunk into the cotton fabric because these thin sheets don’t produce a thick barrier like HTV.
Additionally, the difficult cutting-out procedure used on HTV is not necessary when using these special fabric sheets!
- An eye-catching vector design can be made or downloaded. To print the design properly, make sure to mirror it.
- In your sublimation printer, place the fabric sheet with the blank side down and print the image onto it.
- Spend 15 or 20 seconds pre-pressing your shirt to prepare it. This gives your design a surface that is wrinkle-free and smooth.
- Place the printed fabric sheet on the shirt in the desired location.
- You can use a silicone pressing mat or a piece of parchment paper to cover it.
- Press with a temperature of 365°F for 30 seconds.
- While the transfer is still hot, peel it away.
- After pressing for 30 seconds, immediately apply a finishing paper. Finishing papers that help seal the design in place permanently come in matte or glossy varieties.
The only caveat to using these fabric sheets is that you have to use extremely vivid vector designs. You can check their CMYK color value on your printer; it must be at least 150%. For this technique to be effective, you need strong, vibrant colors.
On Dark Cotton
Siser EasySubli and white HTV glitter can be used to produce vivid, vibrant sublimation designs on dark cotton. Read the sections above for step-by-step instructions on utilizing these two techniques!
The cool thing about doing sublimation on a medium instead of cotton is that you can add a white background. This enables the application of colorful designs to dark or black fabric, which is not possible when sublimating directly onto polyester fabric.
It is best to cut out a white glitter HTV shape using a Cricut and then cover the glitter with a sublimation transfer paper to use a Cricut with the sublimation process.
It is probably not a good idea to use vinyl to create a vibrant, multicolored design. To assemble them like a puzzle, you would need to cut out a lot of tiny pieces of vinyl in various colors. For this reason, if a printer wants to use vinyl on a shirt, they typically use one, two, or three-color HTV designs.
However, if you add the step of adding a sublimation transfer on top of the vinyl, you can use any color you like!
Check out these tips to get the best result when using your Cricut for sublimation:
- Use white glitter HTV that contains polyester for a glittery appearance. You can buy glitter HTV designed specifically for sublimation or carefully read the product descriptions.
- Use Cricut’s unique line of Infusible Ink products as an alternative. You will need to purchase supplies from Cricut, but doing so enables you to quickly become an expert at sublimation on HTV.
- Other vinyl products, such as Siser EasySubli, produce excellent results because they are made specifically for sublimation, and they work well with particular printers, such as the Sawgrass models.
You can cut out shapes from heat transfer vinyl to use as a base for sublimation printing on cotton using the Silhouette Cameo line, which functions similarly to a Cricut machine. Electronic cutting machines called Silhouette are made by Brother, who is well-known in the crafting community.
Additionally, you can create your sublimation print designs with a very nice design tool included with them called Silhouette Software.
- After you have your design ready to go, you will create a transparent outline for cutting and leave one image in full color for printing. Utilizing the Silhouette program’s tools will make this simple.
- Be sure to mirror any lettering that appears in your design.
- Using your Silhouette, cut the shape’s outline from a piece of white HTV.
- Use your heat press to apply the vinyl to your shirt according to the instructions on the HTV package.
- Using a Sawgrass sublimation printer, print the colored design onto sublimation transfer paper.
- 400 degrees Fahrenheit should be setting on your heat press.
- With the printed side facing down, gently place the transfer on top of the vinyl.
- Over the transfer paper, spread a Teflon protective sheet.
- One minute of application of the heat press.
The Trick for Sublimating on Cotton
Despite the fact that dye sublimation cannot be used to print directly onto cotton, there is an indirect solution. I discovered that I could combine sublimation with glitter iron-on through research (which for me meant looking up other incredible creators on YouTube and Instagram) and some experimentation.
That’s all I required to know, then! Since I enjoy glitter, this solution worked well for me. I discovered flock HTV to be the same, as well. These are excellent substitutes because they allow you to enhance your designs with additional texture and interest while still using sublimation to add all the colors.
Can You Wash a Shirt Right After Sublimation?
Just be sure to use cold water when washing it. When washing your dye-sublimated cotton shirts in the washing machine, it’s important to keep this in mind. Following the completion of the washing cycle, you must remove them right away and hang them up to dry.
Here is how you can wash a sublimated shirt:
- To reduce damage caused by other items in the load, wash the uniform from the inside out.
- Wash white and colored clothing separately.
- Use water that is cold or warm.
- Make use of a gentle detergent or soap.
- As soon as the laundry is finished, remove the items.
The Bottom Line: Sublimate on Cotton
A good alternative to having to use cotton fabrics is Siser Easysubli, Sublimation On Cotton With Glitter HTV, sublimation using regular heat transfer paper or glow-in-the-dark HTV.
A full-tone project designed on either our standard or glitter transfer media can be printed using a regular sublimation printer for the best results. Just print it, press it to the cotton fabric, and press it again to fix it while also improving washability.
Will Sublimation Wash Out of Cotton?
People cannot wear shirts without washing them. In direct sunlight, sublimation prints on cotton are easily faded. If you wash cotton sublimated shirts, the surface of the image will eventually crack, peel, or fade. What you can do is wash the sublimated image alone, leaving the rest of the shirt intact.
What Happens to Sublimation on 100% Cotton?
In the case of products that allow cotton sublimation, the resulting image will be on the surface instead of in the surface and may crack, peel or fade over time.
How Long to Press 100% Cotton Sublimation?
To keep your design in place, use heat-resistant tape. With the sublimated piece on top, place the pieces on your heat press. Teflon or parchment paper should be used as a covering. Press at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 seconds.
Is Sublimation Better on Cotton Or Polyester?
Polyester is one of the best fabrics to use for sublimation. As a result of heat exposure, the polymers in this kind of fabric expand. Heat causes the ink dye to change into its gaseous state, which allows it to easily pass through the pores of fabric and bond with other materials once the fabric has cooled.
Can You Sublimate on Jeans?
Yes. You can sublimate on jeans.