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If you need to print on fabrics, but you do not know which printing method to choose, it can easily get tricky, you will need the knowledge to choose the right printing method for your fabric. If you are searching for information regarding fabric printing, you came to the right place.

Here at Spandex Warehouse, we will be sharing a blog post discussing the difference between screen printing and sublimation. If you think this blog post will be useful for you, make sure to keep reading below to find out more information. Hopefully, after reading this blog post you will be able to make an informed decision when choosing the printing method for printing on fabrics. 

Screen printing

A type of analog method of fabric printing, screen printing is done by pressing the paint through a print screen (usually made from a steel frame and nylon mesh), which will then create a print on the chosen fabric.

It is a procedure where the paint is squeezed manually on the printing screen or using a machine where the paint will be pressed through the screen, which will then make a print on the fabric. In simple words, screen printing is the process of applying ink to a screen to transfer it to a fabric or garment. The screen used for printing is also known as a stencil. You will need different stencils for each color. 

In screen printing, you will prepare the printing screen the same way that you would prepare a template. The individual parts of the grid will be covered and a specific shape or design will be printed on the fabric. During screen printing, one color will be printed at a time because the colors are separated per layer. That is the reason why screen printing is not usually recommended for designs with multiple colors. Multi-colored designs are usually recommended for digital printing. Screen printing is usually recommended for material beams or readymade clothing items like fabrics, bags, accessories, caps, etc. 

Screen printing has many limitations on what you can print because you have to apply one color using a different screen. It is difficult to achieve smooth tonal transitions when printing. If you want to screen print a two-colored gradient design, you might have a hard time achieving a nice print.

Screen printing is recommended for printing simple designs and shapes with a limited number of colors. When you are considering screen printing for printing on your fabric you must avoid printing designs that have different tones, shading, and accurate designs. Overprinting colored fabrics is allowed; screen printing can be used for printing white patterns on black fabric.

Screen printing is cost-effective if you need plenty of fabrics to print, however, if you only need one or two shirts to print, it is better to choose sublimation. Screen printing can be expensive if you need to print a limited amount of t-shirts. 

What are the different types of screen printing?

Flatbed screen printing

The most commonly used type of screen printing for ready-made items such as t-shirts, bags, caps, etc. It is a semi-continuous process because it is the automated version of the manual screen printing process that has been previously done by printing companies. 

Hand-screen printing

This type of screen printing has been introduced by Andy Warhol and then it was accepted by artists who use screen printing in their shops using homemade constructions. 

Rotary screen printing

This type of screen printing makes use of cylindrical screens that rotate in a fixed position while the squeegee is positioned inside the cylindrical screen. It is recommended for printing on huge rolls of fabric. However, keep in mind that the initial cost to maintain this business is a bit high compared to the other screen printing types. This is due to the preparation of cylindrical screens which can be a bit pricey as it involves a lot of processes. 

The procedure is done with the fabric moving at an unchanging speed between the screen and a roller is placed within the screen. This process is continuous, unlike the previous screen printing types. This makes it preferable for high-volume production, therefore reducing the manufacturing and production costs which can be profitable for your clients. 

What are the pros and cons of screen printing?

Pros 

  • Recommended for high volume orders because it is cost-effective
  • Design placement can be adjusted
  • Print results have clean-cut lines and detailed images
  • Ink binds with the fibers of the fabric
  • Color sticks to the fabric and lasts longer than other printing processes

Cons 

  • Not applicable for multi-colored designs because it is expensive (more stencil or printing screens are needed)
  • Simple shapes and designs are required for printing to be a success
  • Complicated process and can take a long time to prepare the machine, making it an impractical choice for solo printing 
  • Not an eco-friendly process

Sublimation

A type of digital printing method, sublimation printing is a technique that allows images or designs to be transferred to fabrics and other items. It is easy to learn, requires low initial investment costs, and uses different products for printing. Sublimation uses heat and pressure to turn the inks into a gas form allowing them to penetrate the fabric then it will attach to the polymer-based fibers which produce high-quality and permanent printing results. 

The sublimation printing process is done in two simple steps:

  1. Print the preferred design or image using an inkjet printer designed for sublimation printing. It must use a special sublimation transfer paper and sublimation inks for it to work properly. 
  2. Transfer the design or image to the surface of the item (shirt, cap, bag, etc.) prepared for sublimation, and then use a heat press machine to apply pressure and heat to transfer the design accordingly. 

What are the pros and cons of sublimation printing?

Pros 

  • Can be used to print on rigid materials and surfaces (mugs, plates, clocks, wallets, flip flops, t-shirts)
  • A simple and easy learning process
  • Uses different colors using CMYK, you can use thousands of different colors
  • No additional cost when adding more colors to the image or design
  • Recommended for printing designs and photos with multiple colors
  • Does not require a minimum order quantity for printing, the price is the same whether you print 1 or more units
  • During printing, the image or design penetrates the fibers of the fabric and becomes a part of it. The result is unnoticeable, cannot be easily removed or scratched, and will not easily lose its color. 
  • It is a relatively fast and easy process that can produce orders on the same day
  • No need to create print screens which can be expensive and take a long time to process

Cons 

  • The fabric used for sublimation printing must be 100% made of polyester or the minimum accepted is 2/3 polyester
  • Items must have a special polyester coating for the ink to penetrate the substrate successfully
  • Sublimation can be done using white or light-colored print area, darker colors are not allowed for sublimation
  • The color of the print may fade after a few months due to the effect of the UV rays especially if the garment or item is exposed to direct sunlight all the time
  • The inkjet printers’ print heads can be clogged if not used regularly. It is recommended for the printer to be used at all times as it will clean the print heads regularly
  • The size of the printing is affected by the original resolution of the chosen design or image so it will be:
    • dependent on how big its size can be enlarged
    • can be limited to the size and dimensions of the heat press’ lower plate

Direct to fabric or direct disperse dye-sublimation printing

Direct to fabric or direct disperse dye-sublimation printing has been developed recently. This method does not require the use of transfer paper to transfer the ink to the fabric or garment; however, it still requires the printed material to be transferred using the heat press to allow the dye or ink to permeate the fabric. The fabric or garment used for this printing process is required to undergo pre-treatment for the printing to be a success. 

What are the pros and cons of direct to fabric or direct disperse dye sublimation printing?

Pros

  • Easy to set up
  • Can be used for two-sided printing
  • Does not require the transfer paper for the printing

Cons

  • Color bleed can happen
  • The fabric or garment must be pre-treated for the design to transfer accordingly
  • The resulting print is not as crisp and bright compared to the dye-sublimation printing process

If you prefer sublimation printing, you must order fabric for printing from a reliable wholesale company like Spandex Warehouse. If you have any questions or inquiries regarding our products please contact us by filling up this contact form here

If you want to purchase any of our products please fill up this order form here

If you are searching for wholesale fabric for printing and fabric for sublimation, Spandex Warehouse is worth checking out. We have been offering wholesale fabric supplies to our valuable customers for more than 15 years. If you are interested to order please reach out to us.

You can inquire by calling us at 213-629-7416, sending a fax at 213-629-7433, or sending an email at [email protected] Our showroom is available for clients with appointments only, so make sure to make an appointment before visiting us. It is located at 776 Gladys Ave, Los Angeles, California 90021. Choose Spandex Warehouse so we can help you with your wholesale fabric supplies’ needs.