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How to Sublimate White on Black: Sublimation for Dark Shirts

Are you looking for a quick way to brand or customize a t-shirt? Well, sublimation offers a clear-cut process that can save you loads of time and effort. This is especially true when compared to screen printing.

“Can I sublimate directly on a dark t-shirt?”  Well, technically speaking, No! However, you can do it using Glitter white heat transfer vinyl or other sublimation vinyl media such as EasySubli. Heat transfer vinyl papers are a sure-fire of adding all color hues to dark t-shirts. 

They do so by adding your graphics to the surface of the t-shirt as a layer of polyester. That means you can even do white-on-black design motifs with ease! 

Today, I’m ready to share a few proven processes I picked up along my journey. By the time you’re done reading this quick how-to guide, you’ll sublimate on dark cotton and other fabrics like a pro. Yes! That also includes white garments.

How Do I Sublimate on Dark Fabrics?

Sublimation for dark shirts can throw a few learning curves your way. The first time I tried it out was frustrating! (I almost gave up and put my sublimation kit on eBay.)  Fortunately, I found a way to work with Sawgrass Sublimation paper, White glitter HTV, Silhouette CAMEO, and similar heat-transfer vinyl media types. The result has been satisfying.

HTV and EasySubli hold sublimation ink in a polyester layer. This ensures that even white and other lightly colored dyes don’t get leached into darkly-colored graphics.

Here’s a list of the materials you need for dye sublimation printing on a dark shirt or t-shirt:

Materials You Need to Sublimate on Dark Garments

  1. An inkjet printer
  2. A dark shirt or t-shirt
  3. A plotter, scissors, cricut machine, or vinyl cutter of choice
  4. A sheet of Parchment
  5. Heat transfer vinyl
  6. Heat press
  7. Lint roller
  8. A vector design software like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw

I’ll use an iron instead of a heat press in a pinch. Likewise, you can substitute most of these materials with what you currently have in your workshop.

Ready? Set! Let’s jump to step one of this process:

Step #1: Prepare Your Graphics

Fire up Illustrator or your preferred design software and create the design you wish to print to your dark t-shirt. Ensure print settings are set to “High Quality” once you’re done with the nitty-gritty of the design process.

It may be wise to tick the Boundless print settings if you download or design a large image. Trust me. This will save you the heartache I endured while figuring out sublimating on dark fabrics.

Note: you don’t need to mirror your image while using sublimation vinyl, as is the case with most heat transfer (sublimation) media. This is because you’re directly printing on the sublimation vinyl instead of playing with negative values.

Step #2 Loading Sublimation Paper to Inkjet Printer

The last thing you want is to print your image upside down or facing the wrong direction. So it makes sense to load your vinyl onto your sublimation paper. Let’s illustrate this using EasySubli sublimation vinyl paper.

The first thing to note is it’s two-sided. One side is smooth and shiny, will the other side is a tad rough (matte) to the touch. 

So, you’ll want to print your graphics on the matte/ rough side and not the glossy side. So, ensure the matte side faces the inkjets as you load your sublimation paper.  

Step #3: Weed Out Excess Vinyl Media

Give your sublimation paper a few minutes to dry or cool off once it’s out of the printer. After this, you’ll want to weed out excess traces of heat-transfer media before applying a heat press. A vinyl plotter, Cricut, or vinyl cutter of your choice can come in handy.

But, a hobby knife or scissors can also suffice if you don’t have a vinyl cutter. I’ve also found scissors to work better for detail-oriented client tasks. This is because you can make more deliberate cuts to ensure a flawless heat transfer.

Step #4: Prepare Your T-Shirt for Heat Transfer

Lay the t-shirt on a flat surface and use your lint roller to flatten it and remove any traces of dust or lint. Set your iron or heat press to 3600 Fahrenheit.

Once you’re set, pre-press the t-shirt for about 5 seconds. This helps you get rid of any humidity that may affect the quality of your sublimation printing process. 

Step #5: Position Heat Transfer Paper to T-Shirt

Here’s where the shiny/glossy side we touched on earlier matters! In this step, you could either peel it off like a sticker to position it to your garment or leave it on until after the heat-press.

I prefer peeling it off to avoid ghosting. That’s where the final print design has faint outlines. Feel free to proceed as you please to the next step.

Step #6: Apply the Heat-Transfer

Place your dark shirt under the heat-press and a sheet of parchment paper on top. This prevents direct contact between the vinyl and the hot iron, which can melt it into your fabric.

Ensure you have the following settings for the best results:

Temperature: 3600 Fahrenheit

Pressure: 30 -40 PSI, Medium or 2-3 bar (depending on your heat-press)

Press your garment for about 15 seconds. You can use an iron instead of a heat press if you’re working from home or on smaller graphics. I’ve also worked my iron box on large graphics, but it takes a bit of experimentation to get it right.

So, please stick to a heat press before getting the hang of the process. 

Step #7: Your T-Shirt Is Ready!   

Once you take your dark t-shirt out on the heat press, it’ll need a little time to cool off. Otherwise, we’re done with this process, and you can show all your friends the fruits of your design process.

Best Sublimation Paper for Dark Shirts

As mentioned earlier, it’s not possible to sublimate dark colors directly. But, you work your way around this issue using the following types of sublimation paper:

Best of all, you can work your design motif into dark cotton shirts or any fabric. You also get the advantage of a final product that comes with a tactile texture. This is often not the case with typical varieties of heat transfer paper.


1. Can you sublimate on a black polyester shirt?

Sure, you can! You can even do so using basic heat transfer paper. However, the results may vary. This is because you’re using sublimation to apply dye to fabric. So, white and other light colors may fade into the dark backgrounds.

Alternatively, you could bleach it. But, this isn’t part of sublimation printing and warrants an entire article to cover comprehensively. The best way to work around this is by opting for heat transfer vinyl media such as silhouette cameo or HTV.

2. Does sublimation on dark cotton shirts work?

Heat transfer vinyl works by adding your design motif as a polyester layer to the surface of your dark cotton shirt.

3. How long does sublimation ink last on dark shirts?

With proper care, sublimation can last up to 10 years on a dark shirt. The dye retention rate is high because you use a heat press to push the dyes into the fabric instead of laying it on top.

To top it off, you get a wide range of CYMK colors to play with that will never crack as opposed to other processes like screen printing.

4. What’s the most recommended sublimation printer?

Any inkjet printer at your disposal will do the trick. However, my personal preference is the Epson WF-7720. I prefer it over the rest due to its 13″ x 19″ max print area and the 4800 x 2400 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. I can go to town and create design motifs that cover a large area!

So any printer within such a range can help you get the most out of your project.

5. Can I use an iron instead of a heat press transfer?

It depends on the fabric. Generally, you can achieve satisfying results when the fabric is either a polyester blend or cotton.

6. Is it safe to iron over heat transferred graphics?

You can iron over the rest of your dark shirt or garment. But, you’ll need to cover the graphics with a bandana or any other piece of cloth. It may also be wise to avoid exposing the area to high heat levels in the future. 


So, there you have it, everything you need to know to execute the perfect sublimation printing task on a black t-shirt. Best of all, the end product is not only pleasing to the eyes but wash-resistant, light, and comfortable to wear. 

I hope this simple how-to guide gives you the confidence you need to propel your t-shirt business to the next level. You can also use these tips to customize your favorite cotton top, jean jacket, or whatever item of clothing that needs some sparkle.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out there and make something beautiful! And stay tuned to learn more things about the print business. 

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