Sublimation has taken over the industry of digital printing by storm with fabrics like denim and many others being heat treated to get beautiful designs printed on them.
So yes! You can definitely sublimate on denim but there is a condition. If you’re sublimating on denim that contains polyester, you can directly sublimate on it.
But if it’s on cotton denim then you’ve to first do sublimation coating on it. After that, you can simply print on it using a heat press machine, by setting up the right temperature for the right amount of time. This gives you long-lasting, vibrant results on the fabric!
How To Sublimate On Denim?
Let us walk you through the process of sublimation on denim!
1. Select a Suitable Denim Fabric For Sublimation
Sublimation is characterised by the transfer of dyes to the fabric by using heat so that the ink dyes get infused into the fabric threads and exhibit longevity instead of superficial digital printing that wears off with time.
Now the question arises – which kind of denim allows a thorough infusion of dyes? The answer is the one which has polyester or other polymers in it!
- Denim comprising 100% polyester – Polyester is a synthetic fibre that works best with sublimation dyes. The final results are excellent with the prints all vibrant and long-lasting! The reason is the incredible infusion of dyes into the polyester fibres without resistance which stays there in spite of multiple washes.
When heat is applied, it turns the sublimation dyes into vapours and simultaneously opens up the polyester fibres which allows the gaseous dyes to infuse well into the fibres. Later, when it cools down, the dye turns back to solid forming a strong chemical bond with the polyester fibres. This is why the colours do not fade away when subject to water exposure!
- Denim comprising 100% cotton – the natural cotton fibres are the worst material to sublimate on! Such kind of fabric reacts poorly to sublimation dyes and does not let them get infused properly hence resulting in a faded, bland image. The results get worse on washing the fabric later, with the dye coming off on each wash.
Natural cotton fibres do not open up on heating but tend to absorb liquids. Hence the gaseous dyes get well absorbed into the cotton fibres giving a temporary, bright look. But as soon as the cloth is washed, the superficial dyes fade away because of the absence of a proper chemical bond.
- Denim comprising 50% polyester and 50% cotton – the denim clothes comprising 50% polyester and the remaining 50% cotton do not show as vibrant results as the ones with 100% polyester but still exhibit glossier results than the ones with 100% cotton only. Such a type of denim forms the majority of the fabric we encounter and hence is commonly used for the sublimation process.
So, denim comprising at least 50% polyester is a great cloth to sublimate on and gives promising results as compared to one without polyester at all but I will suggest going with a minimum 70% if you want to achieve the best results.
2. Prepare Your Denim For Sublimation
As you now know that denim comprising polymers preferably polyesters is the best material to sublimate on, make sure that your denim comes with full fledge information about the kind of fibres it comprises.
If you are going for 100% polyester denim, bingo! You are in for incredible sublimation results. If you have chosen denim with 50% polyester and 50% cotton, you still are going to have bright images sublimated on it but less vibrant than the ones on denim with 100% polyester.
On the other hand, if you have denim that is made of purely natural fibres of cotton, you can treat it in different ways to allow better bonding of dyes with the denim. But in what ways? Read on to learn about some of them!
Methods To Apply Coating Before Sublimation
- Using a Vinyl Coating – Heat Press vinyl is one of the commonly used methods to coat the cotton surface of denim before sublimation.
- Using HTV Glitters – the benefit of using HTV Glitters is that the glitter particles contain polyester in them which is an excellent material for sublimation dye to bond to as mentioned previously.
- Using Sublimation Fabric Sheets – there are certain fabric sheets especially used for the purpose of coating a cotton fabric for sublimation to allow better acceptance of dyes.
- Using Synthetic Sprays – is another successful way to coat the cotton surface before sublimation.
3. Start the Sublimation (Different Methods Explained)
Once you are done coating the surface of pure cotton denim with a suitable polyester-containing coating, it is time for sublimation to begin!
Denim with polyester does not need to be treated beforehand so you can start sublimation instantly. First, print the design on sublimation paper using a sublimation printer. Then place the design upside down on the denim whichever way you want and use the heat press at about 360-400°F temperature for about a minute or so.
Heat Press Vinyl Coated Denim
In this method for sublimating on denim jeans, we use a heat-press vinyl sheet and directly print the design on it via a sublimation printer. Next, we use a clear masking sheet to carefully lift off the vinyl design and place it on the denim. Then we cover it with a Teflon sheet before heat pressing it at a lower temperature than what is usually required – around 300-350°F.
Glitter Vinyl Coated Denim
This one is a bit different. In this method, you first heat press the glitter vinyl on your denim at about 400°F for a minute. After doing so, carry out the usual sublimation steps which include getting the sublimation design out on a sublimation paper and heat pressing it at about 400°F for a minute at least.
Synthetic Spray Coated Denim
Using a Synthetic coating spray, spray the liquid all over your cotton denim and place some parchment paper on the top before heat pressing the fabric for about 30 seconds at 330°F until steam comes out. Next, spray another coating over the fabric and heat press for another 30 seconds at the same temperature. Carry on with the usual sublimation process but do not forget to place parchment papers both under and above the sublimation design before finally heat pressing at around 370-380°F for a minute.
Synthetic Fabric Sheet Coated Denim
Like the others, this method is also widely accepted and employs a synthetic fabric coating sheet for the sublimation design to get printed on using a sublimation printer. Meanwhile, the denim is heat pressed for half a minute before applying this sheet on the top to transfer the design. A parchment paper is placed on the top of this sheet and is then heat pressed for 30 seconds at about 360-380°F. It is finished off by using a finishing paper immediately after the design is transferred for a smooth, nice finish!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you only sublimate on white denim?
Yes. White is considered to be the best colour to sublimate on because lighter shades get you the best results.
2. What is the ideal temperature to heat press denim on?
There is no ideal temperature but rather an ideal range of temperatures to heat press denim on. It is about 360-400°F depending on the kind of pre-treatment of denim before sublimation.
3. How long do sublimation inks last on denim?
The longevity of sublimation inks depends on the type of denim. If it comprises polyester, the chemically bonded dyes will last for years and will not fade away. The case is vice versa for cotton denim.
Sublimation can successfully be carried out on denim provided it is made of polyester. Even if it is not, you can always treat the material with various coating methods to allow chemical bonding of the sublimation dyes and the fabric!