Sublimation Printing Vs Heat Transfer Paper | Which Is Better?

So, you’ve dived into the ocean of personalized garment printing but don’t know which printing method you should opt to kick-start your business. There is no exception that the heat transfer paper method is versatile to allow printing on various types of colored garments but the durable and fine printing method is sublimation.

This stance is not enough for you to get started because both methods have significant differences including utilizing printers, transfer papers, printing inks, and printing texture too. So let’s explore the difference between sublimation vs heat transfer.

Sublimation Printing Vs Heat transfer Paper

Sublimation Printing vs Heat Transfer

The fundamental difference between sublimation and heat transfer paper is that sublimation uses a special type of formulated sublimation ink that infuses into the fabric when it is heat pressed thus eliminating the layer on the top of the fabric.

In contrast, the heat transfer paper forms a layer of ink onto the fabric that can be physically felt by touching it with your fingers. In simple words, the ink will lay down on the top of the fabric rather than be infused into the fabric.

However, their durability and versatility are unmatched. Sublimation printing is one step ahead in durability and washability while the versatile printing method is heat transfer paper to print various types of garment colors and types.

They both require a printer to print the designs but there is a significant difference between their printers. The same thing applies to ink and paper. However, the only similarity is they both utilize a heat press to transfer the image onto the substrate.

More comparison: DTG vs sublimation

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

 Sublimation Process

Sublimation is a dye-based printing process that involves a special sublimation printer equipped with a piezo printhead to print the designs on sublimation paper by utilizing the sublimation ink. First of all, the sublimation print is printed and it turns into a solid.

When the heat press is applied to the printed sublimation paper, the sublimation ink on the paper turns from solid to gas thus completely infusing into the fabric, The dye sublimation becomes a permanent part of the fabric after transferring into the gas. In fact, sublimation ink dyes that part of the substrate but with colorful patterns and images.

Check more about DTF vs sublimation

How Does Heat Transfer Paper Work?

Heat Transfer Paper process

Heat transfer paper also involves a printer but here you can use a regular laser or inkjet printer to produce the prints on the heat transfer paper using any type of inkjet ink or toner according to your printer respectively. However, there will be also differences in heat transfer paper when choosing a laser or inkjet printer accordingly.

First of all, a heat transfer sheet is printed, and then it is heat transferred on the top of the fabric using a heat press although you can use an iron for this purpose but a dedicated heat press is an ideal option. The ink then forms a layer on the top rather than sublimation printing that dyes the fabric.

Check the best sublimation printer for heat transfer

Detailed Differences: Sublimation Vs Heat Press

Now it is crystal clear to you the main difference between sublimation and heat transfer paper. Now we’ll discuss both of them in detail to let you know which is perfect for you.

Detailed Differences Sublimation Vs Heat Press

Utilizing The Equipment


Sublimation involves 3 major pieces of equipment

  • A cheap sublimation printer that is inkjet based but not all types of printers can be used with it. Only piezo printhead printers work with sublimation because they use piezoelectric shocks rather than thermal or laser.
  • Sublimation inks are formulated to adhere to the fabric. They are translucent and can be used with sublimation printers according to compatibility. These inks cannot be used with normal inkjet printers.
  • A sublimation paper is coated with a polymer coat and when the image is printed using sublimation ink, it retains the ink until it is exposed to the heat press.

Other than these 3 main pieces of equipment, a heat press along with that heat-resistant tape and gloves are also crucial. The substrate according to your choice is additional.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer paper involves 4 main pieces of equipment:

  • A laser or inkjet printer can be used for heat transfer printing. Generally, you can use an office printer too. Get the best printer for heat transfer t-shirts.
  • Inkjet or toner ink according to the type of printer you’re utilizing. But the white toner-based ink works best on dark-colored fabric by making a white base for colorful printing. Also, you can use a white base transfer paper with the printer.
  • A heat transfer paper is used to transfer the design onto the substrate. Mainly you can use two types of heat transfer paper and it depends upon your printer whether you’re using an inkjet printer then you should use an inkjet compatible transfer paper and vice versa.
  • A vinyl cutter is also essential to cut the design because you’ll get white sides on the dark fabric if you transfer the whole transfer paper onto the substrate. So cutting is an essential part of heat transfer paper. The alternative is you can print designs that can be easily trimmed by scissors. You can transfer the whole transfer layer along with the design on the white color fabric without cutting the excessive sides. This way the white sides of the transfer paper won’t be visible but can be felt by the hand or finger.

Other than these pieces of equipment, the heat transfer process also requires a heat press to transfer the designs. 

Garment Prerequisite

Sublimation Color and Fabric limitation

Sublimation cannot be utilized on cotton and dark fabrics. First, let’s talk about cotton. Cotton is a natural fiber that doesn’t open its fabric pores when exposed to heat, unlike polyester. And if the pores are not opened, the sublimation ink won’t be able to transfer into the fabric.

When it comes to black or dark color printing, the sublimation ink is transparent that is infused into the fabric and dark color won’t be able to show the actual colors of sublimation ink until the dark is bleached.

So it is essential to utilize only light-color polyester with sublimation. Although you can use poly-blended fabric that contains a high amount of polyester.

Check the best sublimation printer for t-shirts.

Heat Transfer

While heat transfer paper is completely different than sublimation. It doesn’t apply any kind of limitation in terms of fabric color and material. You can use cotton, dark or black color cotton, or any natural and synthetic fiber. Although you should not use those types of fabrics in both methods that are heat sensitive.

Type Of Hard Substrate Required


Sublimation printing’s prerequisite for hard substrates is to have a polyester coat on them because the polyester coat will retain the sublimation ink which will be infused into it. You can use versatile substrates like mugs, tumblers, plates, and much more.

Check the best sublimation printer for mugs

Heat Transfer

While the heat transfer paper doesn’t require any kind of polyester coat onto the substrate so you can use any type of mug, tumbler, or hard substrate to transfer the personalized images.

Check The difference between sublimation mugs and regular mugs.

Durability Test


There is no exception in the durability of the sublimation. Sublimation printing is permanent and more durable than any of the heat transfer processes. The fabric that is sublimated is not prone to any cracking of the design or peeling off. The design on the substrate will remain the same and vibrant until the substrate is worn and torn.

Heat Transfer

On the other hand, heat transfer paper is not durable as sublimation. It doesn’t have a longer lifespan than sublimation. The layer on the top of the fabric or substrate would probably be peeled off or cracked if you wash them with no care instructions.



Sublimation produces more vibrant and realistic colors which are great for printing logos, your own photos, and t-shirts.

Heat Transfer

However, heat transfer is also a vibrant method via which you can achieve photo-quality prints. Additionally, heat transfer will produce more vibrant colors on black color garments due to the white toner ink base which sublimation printing lacks.

Weeding Process

Sublimation is self-weeded so you won’t need weeding tools to make the design visible. The only printed area of the sublimation paper will be transferred onto the substrate. On the other hand, heat transfer paper is coated with a white film that is needed to weed and cut in order to make the design visible and eliminate the whitish layer.

Which Is Cost-Effective

When it comes to starting a business then you should look at your pocket and printing needs. A dedicated sublimation printer itself will cost you around $600+. In contrast, heat transfer doesn’t require any specific printer to get started. You can utilize a normal inkjet printer or laser printer to get started.

Also running cost of the business is another factor to consider. Sublimation has a high running cost because a sawgrass printer utilizes the original sublimation inks which are expensive. But you can get started with the best Epson sublimation printers too that can be used with third-party inks.

Therefore, the cost-effective and affordable running printing method is the heat transfer t-shirt method.

Which Is Better Sublimation Or Heat Transfer

When it comes to starting a business with versatile fabric printing, then heat transfer paper is a clear-cut winner because it will allow you to print on numerous colors including dark and cotton stuff too. But in terms of durability, sublimation would be exceptional with more robustness.

But it completely depends upon your target audience and their needs when it comes to starting a business related to apparel. If your target mainly depends upon polyester or white color garments then sublimation is the best bet. However, heat transfer has no limitation on color and fabric stuff.

Check more How to start sublimation business?

Sublimation Paper Vs Heat Transfer Paper

These papers are similar to each other because they both have coatings but different types of coatings. Sublimation paper has a coat of polymer on the surface that helps to hold the sublimation ink and prevents damping the paper.

On the other hand, heat transfer paper has a powdered coat of wax or pigment that holds the inkjet ink and when the heat is applied, the coat also transfers along with the design creating a layer on the fabric.

Advantages Of Sublimation Printing

  • Longer lifespan than heat transfer paper printing
  • More washable and durable
  • Doesn’t form a layer on the substrate
  • Produce vibrant colors
  • Best for fabrics and mugs

Disadvantages Of Sublimation Printing

  • Expensive start-up cost
  • Won’t be able to print on dark and cotton
  • High running cost

Advantages Of Heat Transfer Paper

  • Allows you to print on various colors
  • Cotton printing is also possible
  • Low start-up cost high-profit margin
  • Produce photo-quality prints
  • Doesn’t require any specific printer

Disadvantages Of Heat Transfer Paper

  • Not durable as sublimation
  • Forms a layer on the top
  • Starts cracking after 30 to 40 times wash


Both printing methods are tremendous but choosing one will completely depend upon your printing needs and budget. They both are heat transfer methods but there is a significant difference between them. In my opinion, the heat transfer press method is the best one for a beginner because it isn’t as technical as the sublimation is. Sublimation has a lot of factors to consider otherwise it will mess with output colors and the printer’s performance.


  • Jessica Warner

    A printing enthusiast is here to serve you the vision of art. I’m working as a printing artist since my childhood and running a successful business online and offline. I inspire you to create beautiful printings via my select products and How-To tutorials. Warner Jessica

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