Sublimation Vs Screen Printing: 13 Practical Difference Between Sublimation And Screen Print [Better Recommendation]

In the vibrant realm of print, two techniques often steal the limelight—sublimation and screen printing. Each method is characterized by its unique dance of colors and designs, catching the eye and sparking curiosity. You’ve likely seen their impact on the world around you, from the dynamic graphics on a skateboard to the intricate designs on a t-shirt. But beneath the visual appeal, what is the exact difference between sublimation and screen print?

Well, with sublimation printing, the ink becomes embedded in the fabric, whereas in screen printing, the ink remains on the fabric’s surface. Also, sublimation is exclusively used for printing on polyester, while screen printing is predominantly done on cotton.

Let’s dive into the more details of the exciting world of sublimation vs screen printing. I’ll break down the differences between both printing methods for you. Get ready for a journey filled with interesting insights and cool discoveries.

difference between sublimation and screen print

What Is Sublimation?

Sublimation is a specialized heat transfer process that is used in the printing industry to transfer dye onto fabric. The process involves printing a graphic or image on special paper using specialized inks and then applying heat and pressure to transfer the image onto the fabric.

The result of sublimation is a high-quality print that becomes a permanent part of the fabric. Unlike other printing processes, sublimation does not leave any residue or film on the fabric’s surface. Instead, the dye molecules bond with the fibers of the fabric, creating a vibrant, long-lasting image.

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen Printing is a popular printing technique that has been used for decades in the personalized clothing industry. This process involves the application of ink onto a shirt or other fabric by pressing it through a mesh screen onto the material’s surface. The printing technique has gained immense popularity over the years due to its ability to create high-quality designs on fabric that are both vibrant and durable.

The screen printing process starts with a stencil created for the design that needs to be printed. The stencil is then positioned on top of the mesh screen, and the screen is lowered onto the fabric. Once the screen is in place, ink is poured onto it, and a squeegee is used to press it down through the mesh onto the fabric. This process is repeated until the entire design has been printed.

What Is the Difference Between Sublimation And Screen Print?

First, quickly examine all the differences before jumping into the details.

Factors to differentiateSublimationScreen printing
Printing ProcessUses heat and inkUses screens, ink, and a squeegee
Quality:Offers high-quality, detailed prints suitable for intricate designs and photographsQuality may be affected by factors like screen mesh, ink consistency, and screen tension
DurabilityMore durableLess durable
ComplexityBest suited for all-over or full-color designs with gradients and photographsGreat for simple designs and solid colors but may struggle with complex artwork
Number of ColorsUnlimitedLimited
Use CasesCustom design (Main)Industrial production (Main)
Special EffectsDon’t allow glittering effectsAllow glittering and flair effects
FabricsSynthetic fabrics, like polyesterNatural fibers, like cotton.
SustainabilityMore sustainableLess sustainable
QuantityBest for small quantity productionBest for large quantity or mass production
On-Demand FulfillmentBest optionLess suitable
CostExpensiveCost effective
Final OutputSofter feel and high-quality printsSlightly rough feel with a vintage appeal

Here are details of all the differences from the printing process to the final output between sublimation and screen printing discussed below-

Printing Process:

Sublimation printing involves printing a design onto a transfer paper using a sublimation printer and transferring the design onto the garment or accessory using a heat press machine. This process uses heat to convert the ink from a solid to a gas, allowing it to bond with the fibers of the fabric.

Screen printing involves creating a stencil of the design, placing it onto the fabric, and then spreading ink over the stencil using a squeegee.


Sublimation printing is renowned for producing high-quality prints that boast vibrant colors, and these prints are resistant to cracking, peeling, and fading over time. On the other hand, screen printing offers a softer feel to the prints, but its quality largely depends on the expertise of the screen-printer.

However, screen printing is not the best choice for designs with extensive use of colors, such as photos. Screen printing can be a great option for designs with one or a few colors.

Remember that, unlike sublimation, the ink doesn’t penetrate the fabric. Additionally, the more colors you print on the garment, the thicker the resulting print will be.


Sublimation prints are more durable than screen prints and can withstand multiple washes without losing their color or quality. Screen prints are also relatively durable but may fade or crack over time. Screen prints are less durable because the ink is only applied to the fabric’s surface and not embedded into it.


Sublimation printing can handle highly intricate and detailed designs with multiple colors and gradients. You can print photo-realistic images with sublimation, making it an ideal choice for complex designs.

On the other hand, screen printing is better suited for simple designs with limited colors. If you wish to print artwork with multiple colors, you should keep it simple. Remember that gradients can be challenging. For instance, if your design incorporates gradients, the final result may not match your initial vision due to the complexities involved in printing them.

Number of Colors:

Sublimation printing can produce prints with an unlimited number of colors with different designs and gradients, while screen printing is limited to a fixed number of colors based on the number of screens used.

Use Cases:

Sublimation printing is mostly used for custom-designed apparel, which the company produces in small quantities. Screen printing is used for larger quantity orders. Big manufacturers and garments usually use screen printing since it’s much more cost-effective.

Special Effects:

If you’re looking to add some flair to your designs, screen printing is the way to go. With screen printing, you can incorporate glitter or other types of inks for unique effects. Want to create captivating textures or eye-catching designs? Specialty inks like gold or silver can do the trick. You can even experiment with inks that produce cracked or cork textures or even a leather effect.

Sublimation printing, however, utilizes the four primary colors – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) – to breathe life into your designs. Regrettably, sublimation printing does not accommodate specialty inks or embellishments like glitter. In such instances, screen printing emerges as the superior option.


Sublimation printing can be used on a variety of fabrics, including polyester, spandex, and other synthetic fabrics. Screen printing is better suited for cotton, fleece, and other natural fibers. With specialty inks, screen printing also applies to wood, metal, plastic, and other materials.


Sublimation printing offers a more sustainable alternative to screen printing, with reduced waste and chemical usage.

On-demand production of sublimated products helps eliminate extra production, while the non-toxic and eco-friendly sublimation ink minimizes environmental impact. Additionally, sublimation requires less water compared to other dye transfer techniques, and waste is kept to a minimum during production.

On the other hand, screen printing often requires bulk orders for better pricing, which can lead to leftover stock and product waste if items don’t sell. Moreover, the commonly used plastisol inks in screen printing are both quite toxic and non-biodegradable.


Sublimation printing is well-suited for small to medium-sized orders, while screen printing is better suited for larger orders. The setup costs for screen printing can be quite high, so it’s best to opt for this method only when you need a large quantity of prints. Furthermore, the more colors you have in your design, the higher the cost will be.

On-Demand Fulfillment:

Sublimation printing is a suitable option for on-demand fulfillment as it can produce prints quickly and without the need for extensive setup time. Screen printing requires more time and effort to set up, making it less suitable for on-demand fulfillment.


Sublimation printing is quite expensive due to the cost of the specialized equipment needed, while screen printing is generally less expensive. Additionally, if you require a large amount of prints, then screen printing may be more economically feasible as it can produce higher quantities at lower prices.

But sublimation includes the cost of ink and paper, so consider all these factors when determining which printing method is more cost-effective. If you have extra funds to spare and intend to create shirts with photo-realistic designs or produce small quantities, I would say sublimation is a reliable choice.

However, screen printing may offer a more suitable solution if you prefer larger production runs or need to customize garments on a limited budget.

Final Output:

Sublimation printing produces a final output with a softer feel and high-quality prints, while screen printing produces a slightly rougher final output with a vintage appeal. Sublimation prints boast deeper color saturation and heat-resistant properties, while screen prints are limited to a fixed number of colors depending on the number of screens used.

For more comparative view of screen printing vs sublimation, checkout the below video.

FAQs on the Difference Between Sublimation and Screen Print

What is better, screen print or sublimation?

It depends on your requirements and budget. Sublimation printing can produce high-quality prints with unlimited colors and intricate designs, but it is quite expensive due to the specialized equipment needed. For small quantities and photo-realistic designs, sublimation may be the best option.

Screen printing is better suited for larger orders and can produce high quantities at lower prices. Screen printing is more suitable for simple designs with a limited number of colors.

What lasts longer, sublimation or screen printing?

Sublimation print lasts longer than screen print as it is more resistant to fading and wear. Sublimation prints boast a deeper color saturation and heat-resistant properties. The ink is seamlessly embedded into the fabric threads, providing a long-lasting result. In contrast, screen printing only applies ink to the fabric’s surface.

What is more cost-effective, sublimation or screen printing?

Screen printing is generally more affordable, but it can lack precision and may require the use of additional colors. On the other hand, sublimation printing is costlier due to the expensive equipment and the added expenses of ink and paper.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider an example. If you were to print a t-shirt using sublimation printing, the cost per shirt would be approximately $10. In contrast, screen printing would cost around $4-$5 per shirt.

However, screen printing can produce prints quickly without requiring extensive setup time, making it a suitable option for on-demand fulfillment. To determine which printing method is more cost-effective, consider all factors, such as quantity, setup costs, and turnaround time.


Now you have a detailed idea of each difference between sublimation and screen print. Both techniques are used to create unique custom garments but require different processes and materials.

Sublimation is ideal for prints with intricate designs, multiple colors, and gradients. At the same time, screen printing is better suited for simple designs and the creation of special effects like glitter or cork textures. Sublimation offers a more sustainable alternative with its non-toxic and eco-friendly inks, but screen printing is more cost-effective when producing larger orders.

Ultimately, it all comes down to your individual needs and preferences. Consider the type of design you wish to create, the number of colors involved, and budget constraints before deciding which method will work best for you.

Tamim Shikder
Tamim Shikder

Head of the editorial team of I have been working as a merchandiser in the apparel-sourcing industry for the last seven years. Over the years, I have gained a strong understanding of the clothing business and have developed skills in product development, quality control, pricing negotiation and customer service. I am also well versed in the latest trends of fashion and retail industry. For any clothing manufacturing needs, please email me at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *