Printing t-shirts at home is a great way to update a wardrobe and create unique items for friends and family. There are two popular processes available with at-home heat presses: heat transfer vinyl and sublimation printing. Sublimation printing has its benefits and keen fans, but you need to be sure you use the best polyester shirts for sublimation.
In this guide, you will learn more about choosing the best polyester shirts for sublimation printing. We start by looking at the process more generally and why you need a polyester shirt. This is followed by a trio of products in interesting styles. Then we turn to Cricut and the pros and cons of using Cricut t-shirt infusible ink blanks. There are then two examples from their range. By the end, you should have a better idea of how to find the best t-shirts for sublimation printing at home.
What is Sublimation Printing?
Sublimation printing is a form of transferring designs onto materials with direct contact. You create a design for your products, upload this to your sublimation printer, and then use the use press to transfer the compatible inks to the base. Brands often use this approach instead of heat transfer vinyl when printing shirts and other items of clothing. While the vinyl method relies on a secondary layer of material between the garment and printer, this removes that step for direct infusion of inks. This process is now possible at home with Cricut printers and similar machines, which opens doors for a different form of t-shirt printing at home.
Is Sublimation Printing Better Than Heat Transfer Vinyl?
Some people prefer heat transfer vinyl and others prefer using sublimation printing with ink. There are benefits to opting for the sublimation approach. You should be able to get a nice clean and permanent image with some great colors. The downside is that you don’t get to overlap your designs in the same way and there aren’t as many compatible blanks for the ink. If you are used to heat transfer but want to try this alternative approach, you can get some ink sheets, a good t-shirt, and play with designs.
Good Sublimation Printing Needs a Good Sublimation Shirt
You can’t create a great home-printed t-shirt without the right garment. All printing processes need a good base that will take the ink without it distorting or losing saturation. You want something that will look and feel great when the recipient of the shirt wears it. So, it is important to keep the following points in mind.
Why Should You Use Polyester for Sublimation Printing?
This guide focuses on the best polyester sublimation shirts simply because this is the best material for the job. Sublimation with inks requires a strong synthetic base for the polymers to fuse to.
The higher the percentage of polyester the better and users say that 50% should be the bare minimum. The more polyester fibers there are, the better the transfer. Still, you don’t necessarily want a 100% polyester product. A comfortable shirt with a good fit often has a little elasticity so, 5% elastane or spandex can make a big difference.
What Happens If You Print onto Cotton?
Some first-time printers will take any old shirt from a bargain pack and use this for printing. This is fine for testing processes but not for a final image. Shirts that are 60% cotton and 40% polyester have too little polyester for the ink to bond properly. A 100% cotton shirt won’t take the design at all. The same is true for any other natural fiber.
Do Sublimation Shirts Have to Be White?
Color is important here because it has a big impact on the look of the design. It is rare to find white and pale inks for sublimation printing, which could limit your options on darker materials. There are reports of people using special silver inks on black, but this is risky.
The better option is to go for a white t-shirt. This provides a nice clean background where your chosen colors will have the intended tone and saturation. This is perfect for really graphic prints with lots of fun colors and for text that has to be legible.
Can You Print onto Hoodies?
There are lots of questions online about the types of clothing you can use with sublimation and heat presses. As long as the material is compatible and the right color, there shouldn’t be much issue with all kinds of shirts, socks, and even hoodies. However, it is best to start with t-shirts because they are so versatile and easy to use.
Just because you use a t-shirt for your first projects, that doesn’t mean you have to stick with a boring style. There are lots of simple cuts that suit various wearers, which are great for mass printing for the family. But there are some examples below that are a little more interesting.
Some Polyester Shirts For Sublimation
1) JenPen 5 Pieces Toddler White Blank Sublimation T-Shirt
This set of shirts stood out to me for many reasons. They tick a lot of the boxes highlighted above with the material, color, and style. The shape is one of the more basic options with the ribbed round-neck collar, but this makes it more versatile. The material is 95% polyester for that strong bond, but also 5% spandex for a bit of stretch. There is also the fact that these kid’s shirts come in different sizes, and you get 5 in a pack for added values.
There aren’t too many negative comments about these shirts as they fit well and feel good the majority of the time. Some struggle to get the result they want, but this could be down to their error more than the shirt.
2) Kate’s Craft Store Blank Sublimation T-Shirt for Girls
This is another option for printing kid’s clothing. What stood out to me here is the shape. It is nice to see these more feminine designs for kids that want a girlier design to match the print. The ruffles on the hem and sleeves are great and most parents seem happy with the fit. There is also nice pale base color and you get a spare in the pack if you make a mistake the first time.
Just be aware that this is a 100% polyester shirt. While this should be perfect for printing clean designs with your heat press, it may mean compromising on comfort. There isn’t the same stretch found in the shirts above. Still, this could be worth the risk to get that more unusual design when everyone else is in a unisex shirt.
3) Monag Toddler Sublimation Shirts Raglan Sleeves
Finally, for this section, we have a cool design for kids of different ages. The Raglan sleeve look always goes down well and helps create a nice contrast of colors. Here you get the deep black sleeves against the white base for the print. You can choose between different sizes and create something that is a lot of fun. There are also positive comments about the quality of the sewing and the shape. There are strong seams and a nice collar.
However, what you need to be aware of here is that there is a lot of cotton in this blend. For a start, there are questions over the percentage of polyester in the white front. There is enough to hold a design, but not as well as expected from a 100% polyester piece. The sleeves are 100% cotton for comfort so even if you were to get a contrasting pale ink, it wouldn’t hold.
Cricut and Sublimation Printing
Sublimation printing is one of the processes that you can enjoy playing with when you get a Cricut Machine. In a previous article, I talked all about Cricut Infusible Ink and the benefits of this product compared to their more traditional heat transfer vinyl methods.
Infusible Ink is a great way to transfer images directly onto a shirt. It should allow for a more permanent and clean finish without the texture and peeling you get from vinyl. You can use pens or sheets of color to transfer designs onto a compatible blank via the heat press. One of the potential downsides mentioned in this guide was the need for a suitable compatible blank. Shirts, mugs, coasters, and more need to have the right properties to take the ink. So, what does Cricut have to offer?
Does Cricut Have Its Own Sublimation Shirts?
The good news for those pretty loyal to the Cricut brand is that there are some Cricut shirts available. You can get products in a range of styles and sizes that offer a blank material with enough polyester to hold the design. You can search for men’s, women’s, unisex, and youth shirts to match your project. However, there are pros and cons to this approach.
– Cricut branded sublimation shirts are made for Infusible Ink so should allow for a good result
– You can browse styles and colors – although white is still the most effective option
– The material has a high polyester count and should be comfortable for most wearers
– There are comments about these products being thicker than expected. This may be as a way of holding the ink better. But it also makes them less suitable for hot summers.
– There is a lack of stretchy fibers compared to other brands mentioned above
– Some find that the sizes run small so it helps to order a size up
With this in mind, here are a couple of products from Cricut that you may be interested in. They may not be the best polyester shirts for sublimation, but at least you are guaranteed compatibility.
1) Cricut Youth T-Shirt Infusible Ink Blank
This is one of the more basic designs that should give it greater mass appeal. I like the shape of this one because it is such a standard white tee with a crew neck. This makes it suitable for fashion shirts, more practical shirts for charity events, and more. Users have experienced some of the issues mentioned above with the fit and feel. But the sublimation process with the Infusible Ink tends to work really well. Also, although this is listed as a youth shirt, there are options for men and women. It is worth trying out if you are new to using a Cricut machine and aren’t so worried about style.
2) Cricut Grey Men’s T-shirt Infusible Ink Blank
This product is a great alternative option because of its color. As I mentioned before, the best results occur with white fabrics. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try a nice dark print on a piece of grey fabric. The heather-grey tone makes this look like a homemade shirt too. Again, there should be great results when used with the compatible Infusible Ink and there is the promise of a nice soft texture. Opinions will vary regarding the fit and feel, but there is a good chance you will get the result you are after.
Which Sublimation Shirt Should You Use?
To summarize, there are pros and cons in using any form of sublimation shirt, regardless of the brand. The comfort, fit, and beauty of the finished piece are subjective and we will all have our own experiences. Working with compatible Cricut blanks has its advantages. However, there are still some great products from other brands that can handle designs pretty well. You may find that it takes a few tries to find a brand that meets your expectations. But, that is part of the learning curve when making your own shirts with sublimation printing.
As long as you are careful to check the specification for the color, the polyester percentage, the size of the garment, and the number of pieces, you can’t go too wrong. Find a shirt that you know will look good and suit the project, then you can worry about getting the design on there.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.