Screen Printing vs Sublimation: The Differences You Need to Know!

Printing designs on fabrics is both an enjoyable and highly rewarding activity. But when doing so, you will have to choose a printing method.

You can print anything from logos to messages, pictures, all kinds of figures, and much more. And in some cases, you may even create custom mouse-pads, coffee cups, badges, and more.

For that, though, you will need to pick the right method. Both screen printing & sublimation are excellent options – yet they are somewhat different.

Here, we want to explain how they differ and how you can choose the right one depending on your needs & demands. We’re explaining almost everything about each – so there’s no time to lose. Keep scrolling!

What is Sublimation?

The dye sublimation process, as it is also called, consists of printing a digital image on a sublimation paper. This paper is eventually put alongside a blank fabric or object, and using a heat-press machine the image is then transferred directly into the blank.

As you can guess, sublimation takes some time and effort to do right, but the effects are long-lasting and neat. The quality of the printing and the overall resilience is outstanding.

Of course, it demands specialized equipment and proper processes to be followed. But the results are all worth it.

What is Screen Printing?

The screen printing method, also called silkscreen or serigraphy, refers to the process that uses a stencil to print the desired pattern and ink to paint such design. Here, ink is poured over the stencil, and a cotton-like device spreads the ink evenly, so it can penetrate the material.

Screen printing requires a lot of time to be done right, but it can be repeated several times with ease. The results are often vibrant and bright, delivering unique printing quality.

Screen printing does not require the use of sophisticated equipment, yet it is necessary to have the right tools. Still, it offers exceptional results.

Sublimation vs Screen Printing: Factors to Consider

So, what is the difference between screen printing and sublimation? Well, you already learned their concepts and main processes. Now it’s time to go deep into specific factors.

Color Application

The color usage on screen printing is more complicated and mostly works in simple designs. To apply color in screen printing, it is necessary to use one layer/stencil per ink color. That does not only makes it more time-consuming but also increases the chances of messing up the print.

Sublimation offers the advantage of printing several colors at the same time. That means no mess when adding color, not much difficulty, and not much time is necessary to print.

Here, sublimation is the best one due to its ease of use.

Image Quality

You can find both screen printing and sublimation to provide photorealistic images that look amazing. However, screen printing offers a little more complexity, which adds up to the possible effects.

Sublimation uses CMYO, which means cyan, magenta, yellow and overcoat inks. This allows users to print complex designs without spending much effort or time.

Screen printing does not offer such time & effort advantage. But it can reproduce simpler designs using the four-color process. As an advantage, screen printing offers the chance to work with unique types of inks that achieve metallic looks, shimmer, foil, and 3D effects.

When it comes to image quality, they both perform well. But sublimation makes it easier to print complex designs. Yet, screen printing offers additional ink options to achieve unique images.

Speed & Volume

Another considerable difference between screen printing and sublimation is that they offer different speeds & volume capacity.

Here, you will find that sublimation works wonders for small batches and tons of variety. The lack of complexity makes it fast, but still requires some time when it comes to large quantities.

Screen printing is usually faster & better for large batches. Once the stencils are set, and the ink colors figured out, repeating designs becomes a piece of cake.

So, if you have large batches of the same design to tackle – go for screen printing. But if there’s more variety to print in small quantities, then sublimation will be your best bet.

Durability

Another huge aspect to think about when comparing sublimation printing vs screen printing is the durability of the prints.

Serigraphy delivers decently resilient results. However, they are prone to fade and peel over time. Sometimes, the ink may even crack (if it is low quality), or chip away after washing.

Sublimation, on the other hand, is more resilient. The uniform heating process makes sure that every single dye particle is deep into the garment, which prevents chipping, cracking, or even fading over time.

Regarding durability, sublimation is the best choice.

Compatible Materials

Which method is the most compatible with the most materials?

Well, you can find screen printing to work on a wide variety of materials such as polyester, cotton, latex, and similar fabrics. But the real advantage comes from the capacity to print in ceramic, glass, and plastic.

Sublimation does not offer this capacity. It mostly works in polyester garments and objects with a polymer coating – such as shirts, pants, accessories, and several kinds of plastic objects. Apart from that, the materials need to be white or light-colored.

So when it comes to compatibility, screen printing is the most capable.

Costs

The sublimation vs screen printing cost is also worth thinking about.

Here, you will find that sublimation takes a lot of time and effort, and it usually costs a lot. But it delivers complex designs fast & efficiently, especially in low quantities.

Screen printing is also costly and demands a lot of time. However, it works wonders for large quantities and simpler designs.

The costs, then, are relative. If you’re printing small batches with elaborate designs, go for sublimation. But if you’re printing large batches or simple images, then screen printing is the most affordable one.

Potential Problems

You may also experience a few issues when working with screen printing and sublimation. But problems in both are not the same.

For serigraphy, for example, you’re more likely to experience colors going over the other when the stencils are not aligned. Also, if you use too much ink, then the colors may run and stain the fabrics. In some cases, the ink you used in previous designs stays on the stencils and leaves a mark on the new one.

This does not happen with sublimation. However, you may still experience over-heating fabrics, which causes darker-than-normal results. And on dark surfaces, the color may not look bright enough.

Which one has more problems? Clearly, it is screen printing, which makes sublimation the easier to work with.

Limitations

The limitations of dye sublimation vs screen printing are also essential to think about.

Screen printing, on the one hand, needs to be applied using one color at a time. This takes a lot of time and reduces the chance to create complex images.

But sublimation has a few more problems. First, it only works with polyester fabrics and objects with a polymer coating. Otherwise, it won’t stick.

Then, you’ll find that sublimation demands white or light-colored surfaces. Otherwise, the image won’t look too well.

And finally, the colors penetrate the fabric. So once you print the design, it is impossible to get rid of it.

When it comes to limitations, screen printing has fewer– so it is the most practical one.

Screen Printing vs Sublimation: Which One to Go For?

So, how can you know which one will be better for you? Well, we’ve made a few points to consider.

Go for screen printing if:

  • You need to print large quantities of simple designs
  • The designs have little complexity & few colors
  • You need to work with dark colors (black, brown, etc.)

Otherwise, you must choose sublimation. Especially if:

  • The design uses several colors and is very complex
  • You don’t need to print large quantities
  • Want something more durable & resilient

Overall, the battle between screen printing vs sublimation is won by the latter. Sublimation is the best of both – but not in all sense. So, be careful before choosing.

Alex John
 

This is Alex, I have been in tshirt business for the last eight years. This is my blog where I share my work and guidelines for fellows. Keep reading resources from here and I am open to any question.

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