If you are printing shirts with dye sublimation, finding the best shirts for sublimation is a vital part of the process – because if you aren’t using suitable shirts, you’ll find that your design fails to transfer correctly or you end up with a print that fades out in the first wash.
The best shirts for sublimation printing or sublimation transfers are polyester shirts or polyester blend t-shirts. These will take the transfer well, and you can make any blank shirts look amazing when you use sublimation designs on them. One of the top brands is Jerzees 21M. These are 100 percent polyester and take colors beautifully.
Based on years of experience printing t-shirts, I’m going to share my thoughts on sublimation shirts and what works well, so you know how to ensure your products come out perfectly every time. I’m going to look at what the best shirts are for sublimation, how to deal with blends, whether you can print on cotton, and more.
Disclosure: This post contains one affiliate link for Sublimation Printers. If you click through and purchase, I may receive a commission. I only recommend products or services that will be helpful to my readers. There are no affiliate links for the sublimation shirts I will be recommending.
The Best Shirts For Sublimation
When it comes to sublimation printing, polyester garments will invariably provide you with the best and most consistent results. If you print on a white shirt, you’ll get the absolute best colors and hues, but you can print on much darker shirts as long as they are polyester, and your colors will still show up.
I am currently creating a set of new designs that are sublimated on 100% polyester shirts. I am printing on short sleeve and long shirts for now.
Because my shirts are 100% polyester, the colors are vivid, as you would expect. While sublimating on polyester blends is feasible, the print output is different.
Sublimation ink will not look as vibrant or bold if you use it on any other fabric. Mixed with cotton, rayon, silk, or anything else, there’s a high risk of the design fading or completely failing to transfer.
Occasionally you might want to opt for cotton blends because you might be looking to achieve a more vintage, distressed look. If you want your design to be faded, softer, and less vivid, a blended shirt might give you just the aesthetic you want.
However, you should be aware that it may not last as well because the sublimation dye will not cling to the fabric in the same way. You might find that the design washes away much more quickly than on a pure polyester shirt.
Many people also prefer the way that polyester feels, and this might encourage you to choose pure poly shirts for your business too. They are the best materials for sublimation prints, but they also look and feel great. They will last well, giving your brand an association with high quality, and they are a fantastic option all around.
The Best Colors For Sublimation
The color of the shirt is also important to pay attention to when you are choosing what shirts you will use. Strong-colored shirts can be eye-catching and are often popular, but they can make it much harder to get your sublimation design to show up properly. It’s generally best to use light-colored shirts or white ones.
What is the Best Color T-shirt for Sublimation?
White is the best color t-shirt for sublimation printing. A white, 100% polyester shirt gives you the best chance of a high-quality sublimation print.
You should also remember that there is no way to print white ink on a shirt; sublimation printers make their colors using primary colors and cannot, therefore, create white ink. There is no white option, and the only way to include white in a design is to use a white shirt and leave a negative or transparent area that the white shirt can fill.
Furthermore, you should know that some bright shirt colors will fade when applied heat. You should always test a shirt in your heat press before applying a design to see how it responds to the high temperature.
Which Brands Should You Choose For Sublimation?
Many brands carry polyester shirts, but I’ve narrowed these down to my personal favorites based on their quality, customer reviews, and my personal experience with these brands.
What is My Favorite Shirt for Sublimation?
Today my favorite shirt to sublimate is a generic brand under Printify’s AOP Clothing section that includes t-shirts, hoodies, bags, and more.
I use Miami Sublimation for the print-on-demand sublimation shirts I am working on right now. They use the AOP generic, 100% polyester shirt with a great feel, the design looks great, and the shirt’s fit is excellent.
So my favorite right now is this t-shirt. For larger orders and sublimating your own shirts in your home or office print shop, I recommend the following shirts…
The Jerzees 21M is our top 100% polyester tee, and it will give you great results for sublimation printing, especially if you choose to print on white. It is light, and the polyester is super soft, so it’s very comfortable for the wearer.
I know several people who sublimate that love the Jerzees 21M. Most also have this shirt ranked #1, with the Gildan 42000 at #2.
This brand makes a whole range of tees, including some with long sleeves, and they are known for both looking and feeling great. Make sure you’re choosing one that is 100 percent polyester and your garments will be of superb quality.
The Gildan 42000 is my 2nd favorite all-around sublimation t-shirt. Gildan has been around for a long time, and for good reason. These shirts are high quality, fit well, and last long. They are slightly thinner than the Jerzees 21M.
They come in various colors but I always stick with “white” as my color of choice for sublimation.
I have screen printed several styles of Gildan shirts over the years, including the Gildan 64000 and the heavy cotton Gildan 5000. I will tell you that my customers love Gildan shirts. For sublimation, this is a great option that I highly recommend.
Next Level 6200
If you want to sell simple shirts with a casual crew neck and soft fabric, the Next Level 6200 is another good option. They do contain some cotton (35 percent ring-spun), which makes them a little less suitable for sublimation printing, but the polyester content is high enough to ensure that your design will still look great.
They have that soft cotton feel and there is plenty of space on the front of the shirt for your design.
Go with the color White only for the best results.
For shirts that have moisture-wicking properties and odor resistance, the N3142 is ideal, so you might want to consider this option if you’re thinking of selling any activewear. These aren’t as comfortable, but they are high quality and could become a favorite shirt for customers who are constantly on the move.
A4 has been a brand I have seen for several years. When I was looking for polyester shirts to heat transfer, I came across the A4. I have not used these for sublimation, but I always recommend ordering a few (they are cheap enough) and trying them out. You don’t know what’s perfect for your brand unless you have several options to compare.
Team 365 TT11
This option is very similar to the Jerzees 21M. It’s 100 percent polyester but retains the soft cotton feel, and it’s generally a bit cheaper, so it might be a great option if you’re working on a budget. It should take sublimation printing extremely well, and you can choose your color to make sure your image turns out vibrant and beautiful.
This is another one that I have never printed on. But the Team 365 has a great reputation and customers (apparel brands and their customers) have a lot of great things to say about this t-shirt, so I wanted to include it.
What Happens If You Sublimate On A Blended Shirt?
You may have noticed that some of the shirts recommended above are blended material, and you can print on these reasonably well using a sublimation printer as long as the polyester content is high enough – so it’s important to check the label. If the shirt has a low polyester content, you will probably find that the image doesn’t take as well.
This may result in a blurry appearance or a distressed look, which might not be what you’re aiming for.
Can You Sublimate On Cotton Shirts?
You can’t use sublimation printing on a cotton t-shirt, no. The cotton will not respond to the sublimation dyes in the same way that polyester does, preventing the dyes from bonding with the fabric properly. If you try to print onto a fully cotton shirt, you will find that the dyes don’t take.
The higher the percentage of cotton, the harder it will be to get a design to transfer and look good. You need a high polyester content to ensure that the inks get into the fabric and stay there. Many people, therefore, choose blends like 35 percent cotton, and 65 percent polyester, but you shouldn’t try to print on pure cotton shirts.
Can You Wash Sublimated Shirts?
Sublimation shirts wash well, as anyone who has owned one can attest – they are one of the most durable printed garments and they should stay bright, sharp, and vibrant pretty much until the shirt is worn out.
You should be aware that if you have chosen a blended material, some of the colors could fade in the first wash. I would wash a blended sublimated shirt in cold and hang it to dry. Otherwise, a sublimated polyester shirt will last for a long time. Wash it in warm or cold, and like other polyester shirts, hang it or dry it on low.
The best sublimation t-shirts are 100% polyester ones. AOP (from Printify) and Gildan 42000 are my two favorites to sublimate right now.
If you have your own equipment and will be doing the sublimation from home or in your shop, I always recommend buying “samples” of several different shirts you would like to sublimate. Print the same design on each type of shirt. See how the shirts look. Make sure to order your size and see how you like the feel.
Then, and only then, can you know which t-shirt works best for your sublimation designs, and which ones your customers will love.
Bryan E. Robinson is the former owner of TshirtGrowth. He has sold t-shirts since 2006 through dropshipping, screen printing, vinyl printing, DTG, Print on Demand, and more. Bryan has created his own t-shirt designs through Photoshop, Canva, and other platforms, as well as worked with freelancers to create many of his designs. Besides t-shirts, Bryan has over 18 years of experience in online marketing with eCommerce, B2B SaaS, B2C products, and more.