Most times, when people write about sublimation, they write about what you can make. It makes sense, that’s a broader topic, and the goal is to sell you on sublimation and all the wonderful things that can be sublimated. The problem with this approach is that there is a lot of misinformation regarding sublimation out there, and some of that misinformation centers around what can and can’t be sublimated. Since it can be difficult to know what is suitable for sublimation and what is not, I thought it might be helpful to discuss what can’t be sublimated and why.
The first and broadest category of items that can’t be sublimated is anything that isn’t polyester or poly coated. Yes, some people will tell you that garments that are a 50/50 poly blend can be sublimated, and they’re right, they can, if you’re willing to accept a distressed look and that only some fibers in the garment will be dyed. There are also those who will tell you that DIY coating options are available and, they are, but they require meticulous coating and often such coating is best done by machine if it’s going to be even. The hard fact of the matter is that 100% poly garments, and hard goods that are professionally poly coated are the items that work best in most instances.
Another group of items on the list of things that can’t be sublimated is dark clothing. There is no white ink option for sublimation, so there is no base covering over the dark fabric on which you could put an image. You can sublimate darker images onto lighter dark colors, a black design on a brown shirt for example, but the designs most likely won’t pop as they would on a lighter color. The reality is that any color will interfere with the color and visibility of a sublimated design, lighter colors just tend to cause less of a problem. If you are planning to sublimate a color, be sure you take into account the color of the item being sublimated and how that might impact the color and visibility of your design.
Sublimation is also not possible on cotton garments. This fact can be a barrier for some people who tend to think of polyester clothing as the leisure suit their Dad wore in the 70s or the awful pantsuit Great Aunt Millie wore at Thanksgiving. There has been a lot of work done in the area of polyester garments, and some companies, like Vapor Apparel have created performance wear that is both stylish and comfortable to wear. If you are hoping to sublimate on cotton, however, your hopes are destined to be dashed. The best option for cotton is ChromaBlast which produces a colorful design with very little hand, but is still a transfer as opposed to sublimation.
Sublimation can be a very profitable decoration technique for your business and can allow you to offer a wide array of new products, but you must be aware of what can and can’t be sublimated and why. Managing your and your customers’ expectations will help you create great sublimated items that meet the needs of your customers and help fatten your wallet.