In this article I will cover:
Screen printing Vs. Sublimation printing
Screen printing is direct-to-fabric printing. It is done using a mesh screen. This screen has to be made for each color you’re going to use. The colors are applied layer by layer, one by one, through the screen over the negative area around your design on the fabric.
Sublimation printing is done on a special paper with a sublimation printer and sublimation inks, and this is then transferred to the fabric using a heat press. For each transfer, you need a fresh sublimation transfer paper and a fresh printing process
Both processes produce prints that are vivid, fade-resistant, and long-lasting- just what you expect from textile printing.
But which is better?
Benefits of Screen Printing over sublimation printing
The principal advantage of screen printing is financial. It is a very cost-effective method to print on a lot of clothes with a single design. Most people start off with screen printing when they start their t-shirt printing business.
It is easy to get started with a low barrier to entry – the equipment needed is available everywhere. You will find screen printing shops wherever you are. The cost of setting up an at-home screen printing equipment is also very feasible and affordable, so you can get started on a very limited budget.
The same setup, including the screen, can be used again and again to print a lot of times with the same design. This reusing of the equipment multiple times is what makes screen printing cheaper than any other method.
The next advantage, which is also a major one over sublimation printing, is that Screen printing can also be used on almost any sort of fabric. Sublimation printing is done only on polyester or polyester blend fabrics. This limits your choices, whereas, with screenprinting, the material is not a limit at all.
You can also choose from a variety of screen printing inks to get different effects. You can screen print three-dimensional-looking graphical prints in any color with a vivid effect.
Drawbacks of Screen Printing over sublimation
Screen printing is cost-effective only for large runs. If you’re only printing on one garment or a small number of garments, screen printing might not be the most cost-effective option. Making screens is a time-consuming procedure, and the expense of supplies soon mounts up.
You’re also limited to only using a few colors and making rather simplistic designs with this method. Each color must also be added separately, which adds to the processing time.
Benefits of Sublimation Printing over screen printing
Sublimation printing requires a special printer and ink, which can turn out to be costly. Even if you have converted your old inkjet printer into a sublimation printer, the ink can be costly.
But when you are printing small batches, or you have different designs which you want to print on different clothes, your best bet is screen printing over sublimation printing. Being cost-effective when small batches are printed- not possible with screen printing
The next advantage is that (this may not be for you if you are solely looking for textile printing methods) you can print on any polymer-treated hard surface with sublimation printing. This means if you have the set up to do this printing, you can experiment on many other things as well.
Drawbacks of sublimation printing
Your initial investment is greater than if you are doing screen printing.
And you are limited in your materials with the stipulation that you can only print on polyester fabrics (or polyester blends)
So can you Print on Cotton t-shirts with sublimation printing? No! Cotton is a natural material that cannot be printed with sublimation ink. The transfer will be washed away sooner than later.
And on top of that, you need light-colored fabrics as the surface for the best results.
So in the final verdict in Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Which Is Better?
Sublimation is a good alternative if you want complex multi-color photo-realistic designs with the full-color spectrum available but in a limited number of lots on light-colored polyester fabrics.
Screen printing is the option to go for if you want a lot of fabric/garments printed in the same design, and you do not mind the limited color options (one-color or limited color design or lettering)