Unlock Membership Benefits
  • Spend $1, Earn 1 Point
  • 10% OFF on accessories
  • $10 OFF on materials
Unlock Membership Benefits
  • Spend $1, Earn 1 Point
  • 10% OFF on accessories
  • $10 OFF on materials

Screen Printing Vs Sublimation: Which is Better?

by Winnie Li Posted on January 16, 2024
screen printed tote bag

Starting a new shirt printing business? Confused between sublimation and screen printing? Well, that’s a common challenge for most people in the industry.

On one side, sublimation provides an advanced approach where designs merge with the fabric, almost as if they were naturally part of the material. On the other, screen printing, a traditional method, places a distinct layer of design onto the fabric, creating a bold and striking effect.

But, which technique holds the upper hand? To guide you, our article thoroughly explores and compares these two printing techniques. It also provides the specific use cases and effectiveness of each method in different scenarios.

In This Article

  • What Is Screen Printing?
  • What Is Sublimation?
  • Screen Printing Vs Sublimation: A Detailed Comparison
  • Screen Printing Vs Digital Printing: Which Is Better?
  • Screen Printing vs Sublimation: Quick Answers

What Is Screen Printing?

screen printing

Screen printing, or silk screen printing, is probably the oldest method for printing on materials. Despite ages, the method is still popular due to its efficacy in replicating and imprinting designs.

The process starts with a long stencil preparation process, which is made of silk or polyester. The screen is emulsion-coated, exposed to light, and dried. This design stencil is placed on the material. Ink is then put over the screen. A squeegee spreads the ink evenly. The ink goes through the open parts of the screen onto the material, creating the design. The material is then dried to set the ink. For each color in the design, a different screen is used.

Stencil preparation takes the most time in traditional screen printing. An alternative to that is the modern xTool screen printing method. xTool offers a complete screen printing solution with pre-made stencils, a set of screens, inks, a versatile screen printer, and a laser engraver. It just takes three steps to screen print: stretch the pre-coated screen, engrave it, and spread the ink. It’s as simple as that.

xtool screen printer

xTool Screen Printer

Reinvent Screen Printing with Laser

Learn More

Projects Best Suited for Screen Printing

Screen Printings excels in these types of projects:

Vibrant Bold Designs: Screen printing uses thick and opaque plastisol inks that stand out. This makes it ideal for designs that need to be bold and eye-catching, like posters or graphic t-shirts.

screen printed posters

Simple Logos or Decals: With silkscreen printing, single-color patterns are quite simple to create and replicate. You may use that capability to design those sports jerseys that bear numbers and the athlete’s name.

Natural Fabrics: Screen printing works well with all materials, including natural fabrics. The ink sits on top of the fabric, making the design visible, whether the fabric is light or dark.

Bulk Production: Once a stencil is made, it can be used to replicate the designs quickly. This is best for large orders of shirts or caps, where you need many with the same design. The process also becomes cost-efficient in bulk production.


  • Ideal for bold, graphic designs and solid colors
  • Cost-effective for large quantities
  • Suitable for various materials, including fabrics, wood, and glass
  • High-quality, vibrant colors
  • Durable prints; are resistant to washing and fading
  • Versatility in creating different textures and effects


  • More manual effort is required
  • Difficulty in printing detailed images or fine lines
  • Environmental concerns due to the use of certain inks and chemicals

What Is Sublimation?

sublimation printing

Sublimation is a modern printing process used primarily on synthetic (polyester, nylon, neoprene) materials. The method is best suited for colorful, realistic designs and images.

In this method, first, a design is printed onto special transfer paper using a sublimation printer. The printed paper is then placed on the material to be decorated. Under heat and pressure, applied by a heat press, the inks turn into a gas. This gas then bonds with the polyester fibers or coating, transferring the design directly onto the material.

Unlike traditional printing methods, the dye becomes part of the fabric rather than forming a layer on top. As a result, you obtain a print that is highly durable and resistant to wear and fading.

Projects Best Suited for Sublimation

Sublimation is a modern printing technique, well-suited for these projects:

Realistic Full-Color Prints: Sublimation excels in reproducing photos and large color patterns with high fidelity. It is perfect for items where an entire design, like a vibrant landscape or intricate pattern, needs to be printed, such as on bed sheets or banners.

Printing on Synthetic Fabric Like Polyester: The dye inks used in sublimation printing bond exceptionally well with synthetic materials, especially polyester. This makes it ideal for making customized athleisure.

Complex Designs: Digital sublimation printing can reproduce complex designs with ease. Whether it’s detailed graphic art or intricate patterns, sublimation ensures every nuance of the design is captured.

Print-On-Demand Businesses: As each design is printed individually, it allows for a high degree of customization. That means, it could be a great fit suited for custom, on-demand production.


  • Produces high-quality, vibrant, and detailed prints
  • Ideal for full-color, photo-realistic images
  • Prints are durable, and resistant to fading and cracking
  • Best for polyester blends
  • The print becomes part of the material, offering a soft finish
  • Eco-friendly, with minimal waste and water-based inks


  • Not suitable for natural fibers like cotton
  • Limited to light-colored or white fabrics
  • Individual item production can be time-intensive
  • Cannot create raised or textured designs

Screen Printing Vs Sublimation: A Detailed Comparison

After examining both processes briefly, we will now compare them in detail, side by side:

Vibrancy of Colors

Both screen printing and sublimation yield vibrant designs, each with its unique strengths. Screen printing stands out for its bold, clear designs, especially effective with single or low-color patterns. It works well on various base materials, even on darker fabrics.

In contrast, sublimation is renowned for producing sharp, colorful prints that cover edge to edge. It shines brightest on white or lighter shades, where its colors appear most vivid.

Design Complexity

Sublimation leads in the design complexity segment. All sorts of complex designs (digital photos, artwork gradient design, intricate shapes), can easily be replicated on the fabric. Since the artwork is created digitally and printed, there’s no manual effort even when designs get complex.

On the other end, screen printing struggles as the design gets complex. You need to dissect the design into multiple layers, each layer and color needing a separate screen. That demands more manual skill and expertise.

Fabrics and Supported Materials

screen printing on various materials

Screen printing works on pretty much every fabric, whether natural or synthetic. Besides fabrics, it works well on wood, metal, plastics, and paper. The plastisol inks used, adhere well to these surfaces, and the designs are quite prominent, even on darker shades.

In contrast, sublimation is more selective. It uses dyes that fuse best with synthetic materials like polyester or nylon. These dyes don’t stick to natural fibers like cotton. Also, designs only stand out on materials with lighter shades.

Color Range and Matchmaking

Sublimation excels in printing multi-color designs with ease. Each color is digitally created and applied in one pass. That makes complex and colorful prints simple to produce. Whereas, screen printers need a different screen for each color. More colors in a design mean more screens and more effort.

Screen printing offers superior color-matching capabilities. Custom color blends can be created with plastisol inks to match specific Pantone colors accurately. Whereas, sublimation relies on the CMYK color model for digital color blending. While effective, this can sometimes result in slight variations from the original intended color.

Durability of Design

In screen printing, plastisol inks are used. They are quite durable and easily last for years without fading. However, the inks can crack if the fabric is folded improperly. Also, ironing over screen-printed designs can distort them, as the heat affects the plastisol ink.

On the other hand, sublimation printing offers impressive durability due to the nature of the dye infusion process. The dye becomes an integral part of the fabric and lasts as long as the fabric itself without fading.

Special Effects

Screen printing offers more flexibility in creating special effects. It allows the use of special inks to create textured or raised designs, giving a 3D effect.

In contrast, sublimation designs are embedded within the surface of the substrate. So, the surface is plain and smooth as before. Although it’s possible to add visual 3D effects to the design, physically raised designs are not achievable. Glitters can be added, but that means an extra effort after the primary printing and heat pressing.

Equipment Setup Cost

The initial setup cost for traditional screen printing can be significant, as it requires various tools. However, with modern solutions like the xTool screen printer and a laser engraver, the cost can be managed efficiently. The total setup cost for screen printing with these tools stays below $1000. This makes it a feasible option for small businesses or startups.

xtool screen printer

xTool Screen Printer

Reinvent Screen Printing with Laser

Learn More

In comparison, dye sublimation printing requires a sublimation printer and a heat press. The combined cost of these pieces of equipment is comparable to the investment for an xTool screen printer and laser engraver.

In the long run, screen printing becomes cheaper, especially for replicating items. Whereas, sublimation printing is slightly for unit or bulk production.

Setup Time

The setup time for screen printing varies based on the complexity of the design. For simple, single-color designs, once the stencil is prepared, producing a batch of products becomes relatively quick and efficient. However, for multi-color designs requiring multiple stencils, the setup and production time increase significantly.

In contrast, sublimation takes a constant time irrespective of the design. This process is generally more time-consuming than screen printing. The design is first digitally printed onto special paper, and then each item requires individual attention in the heat press. Additionally, a separate paper design is needed for each product, which adds to the overall time.

That’s why screen printing is suitable for bulk production, while sublimation is recommended for small batch or on-demand making.

Screen Printing Vs Sublimation: Which Is Better?

We cannot declare one technique as the best as both have their specific use cases and limitations. For instance, if you want to create bold vibrant designs on caps, make customized sports gear, or print those textured shirts, there’s nothing better than screen printing.

However, if you’re looking to create a very colorful, detailed design pattern or a realistic image, on let’s say shirts or bedsheets, you may go with dye sublimation.

When considering production needs, screen printing is better suited for bulk production – ideal for businesses needing multiple copies of a single item. Conversely, sublimation fits the mold of on-demand business models where product creation is subject to special custom designs provided by the client.

Screen Printing vs Sublimation: Quick Answers

What Is the Difference Between Screen Printing and Sublimation?

The major difference between the two methods is ink application. In screen printing, a plastisol ink is applied through a stencil, where it stays on the top as a separate layer. Whereas, in sublimation, the design (made on special paper) is heat-pressed onto fabric. The ink sublimates and infuses into the fabric rather than forming a separate layer.

Which is Better? Screen Print or Sublimation?

It is subject to your needs. For full-color designs, particularly on synthetic fabrics like polyester, sublimation is a great option. However, to bulk produce simple bold designs on any fabric, you may choose screen printing.

Is Sublimation More Durable Than Screen Printing?

Sublimation is durable in the sense that design is embedded in the fabric. There’s no chance of cracking or peeling over time. Otherwise, the resistance to fading over time is similar for both screen printing and sublimation.

For more questions. Please join our Facebook group to get inspired!

Related Articles