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.
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.
The sublimation ink simply will not look as vibrant or bold if you use it on any other kind of fabric. Mixed with cotton, rayon, silk, or anything else, there’s a high risk of the design fading, or completely failing to transfer.
Just occasionally, however, you might want to opt for cotton shirts or at least blends, because you might be looking to achieve the 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’re after.
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.
You should also remember that there is no way to print white on the shirt; sublimation printers make their colors using the 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 that area free from ink.
You might not want to use white shirts, but if you don’t, you cannot easily use white in your images. Any negative space that you leave will show as the same color as the shirt, and you need to make sure that you are happy with this. If you print on a blue shirt, your white color will become blue – which could make some designs look odd.
Furthermore, you should be aware that some bright shirt colors will fade when heat is applied to them. You should always test a shirt in your heat press before applying a design, to see how it responds to the high temperature. If the shirt fades, darkens, or shrinks when heat is applied, it’s no good for sublimation dye and you will have to find another option.
Which Brands Should You Choose For Sublimation?
There are many brands that retail plain polyester shirts, and you may want to choose from one of the following options.
As mentioned above, the Jerzees 21M is one of the top options and it should give you the best results for sublimation printing, especially if you choose to print on white. It is thin and light, and the polyester is super soft, so it’s very comfortable for the wearer.
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.
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.
You need to choose carefully with Gildan because the company makes a whole range of shirts, but their 42000 is 100 percent polyester. They come in various colors and they are high quality and look superb. Your style choices are limited, but these are a cheaper way to purchase shirts, especially if you want to bulk buy them for promotional products.
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.
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.
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 react to the sublimation dyes in the same way that polyester does, and this stops 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 will come out in the first wash. The cotton fibers will not take the dye, so this will simply come away when it goes through the machine. There is nothing you can do to prevent this, so make sure you wash shirts or warn customers to do so.
The best sublimation t-shirts are therefore polyester ones, but you can use a blended garment if you prefer. Be aware that your image may lose a little of its sharpness, and may not last as long, because only some of the shirt’s fibers will hold the dye. Don’t use less than 65 percent polyester shirts, or you’ll find they don’t look good.
Bryan E. Robinson is the 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 18 years of experience in online marketing with eCommerce, B2B SaaS, B2C products, and more.