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Heat Press Vs. Sublimation Heat Press: What's the Difference?

If you’re just getting into the world of custom printing, you might have a few questions about the terminology used to discuss various printing methods and styles. For example, you may not know the difference between a heat press and a sublimation heat press—or even, in fact, whether there is a difference between the two at all!

Here is what you need to know about the difference between the terms “heat press” and “sublimation heat press,” in a nutshell and what that can mean for you as you work to expand your knowledge and experience with custom printing processes.

Is a heat press synonymous with a sublimation heat press?

Technically, yes. Because most heat presses are able to press both heat transfer vinyl (HTV) and sublimation ink, any heat press is fundamentally also a sublimation heat press. However, when you are using the sublimation process to print, it’s not the press itself but the equipment you need that is specialized. For example, sublimation printing requires the use of a special printer, inks, transfer papers and blanks that are designed to permeate the fabric, essentially dyeing it permanently, rather than setting the transfer on top and pressing it on, which is how the heat transfer process works.

What else is different between sublimation pressing and heat transfer pressing?

The sublimation process requires a higher temperature than the heat transfer process. If you are using sublimation ink, you’ll need to set your heat press to between 350 and 400 degrees, which is considerably hotter than the 300 to 325-degree range that is recommended for applying heat transfers. In addition, sublimation pressing requires a longer time than heat transferring.

Which is the better custom printing method: sublimation or heat transfers?

That largely depends on the material you’re using. If you’re mainly planning to print onto cotton T-shirts, bags, hats or any other garment, you’re better off sticking to heat transfers, because sublimation ink only binds to items that are either made from polyester or coated with a special polymer. For this reason, people who create customized branded merchandise either as a trade or as a hobby tend to use both methods depending on the scope of the project. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the similarities and differences between sublimation printing and custom heat transfer printing so you can be sure to know which method is best in different situations.

Custom printing can be a fun hobby that can also turn into a lucrative side hustle or even a full-time job. By understanding sublimation and heat transfers, you can expand your knowledge and experiment with both to arrive at your preferred printing method

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