How to Sublimate on Black Shirts: Is it Possible?

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Direct sublimation is hard to do on dark fabrics. The design barely shows up, if at all, with colors that appear darker than they should. However, before you give up on transferring that awesome design of yours onto a plain black shirt with this method, there’s still a way around the issue.

We’ll explain how in this article, and also examine why sublimation on black is so difficult in the first place, so stick around to find out everything you need to know.

Tools and Supplies You’ll Need

To get started, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:

Sublimating on a Black Shirt – Step by Step

The following are the steps you’ll need to take to successfully sublimate on a black shirt.

Step 1 – Prepare the Design for Sublimation

You can do this with any design software such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, and the like. Navigate to the print settings menu in the program and adjust the design’s resolution so that it’s the highest quality possible.

Ensure that you check the “boundless print” option if you’re working with a large design so that it can blend seamlessly with any extra paper.

Step 2 – Load the Sublimation Paper Into the Printer

Normally, you’d set the printer to “mirror image” or “reverse print.” However, don’t do this, as you’ll be printing on sublimation vinyl. Also, you’ll need to make sure that your design doesn’t come out upside down. To prevent that from happening, you’ll need to load the vinyl on the sublimation paper.

Some types of vinyl have two sides on them that’ll help you know which side to print on. For instance, they’ll have a smooth, shiny side and a rough one. The latter side is what you want to be printing on, so make sure that side faces the printer when you load the paper in.

Step 3 – Trim the Excess Vinyl

Once the sublimation paper is out of the printer, leave it to cool for about a minute or two. Then, trim the excess media off using the vinyl cutter or some scissors.

If the design has a very irregular edge, your best bet will be to use scissors to make the cut, as they’re easier to make deliberate cuts.

Step 4 – Prepare the Shirt for Sublimation

Spread the T-shirt on a flat surface and iron out any creases on it using the lint roller. Doing this step will also get rid of any lint on the shirt. Once done, pre-heat the heat press to about 360 degrees Fahrenheit and then press the shirt for about five seconds to dehumidify it.

Step 5 – Heat Transfer the Design to the Shirt

Place the shirt under the heat press and put some parchment paper on it. The parchment paper is meant to prevent the vinyl and the heat press from coming into contact.

As mentioned, the heat press temperature should be set to 360 degrees Fahrenheit, while the pressure used should be around 30-40 psi (Medium or 2-3 bar). Press the shirt for roughly 15 seconds. After that, let the shirt cool for a couple of minutes, and your design should be successfully sublimated on the black shirt.

Why Isn’t It Possible to Sublimate on Black Directly?

It isn’t possible to sublimate on black or dark-colored fabrics due to how sublimation works. During sublimation, a solid transforms into a gas without becoming a liquid in between the two states.

As a result, the gas meshes with the fabric’s fibers, dyeing them and essentially becoming part of the fabric. This makes the sublimation ink appear darker, so blues become dark blues, greens become dark greens, and so on.

Most printing that’s done on dark fabrics (screen, direct to garment, etc.) is possible because the design is printed on a white underbase that helps it show up on black. Since the sublimation process forgoes this underbase entirely, the resulting design is hard to see.

Considerations to Make When Sublimating on Black

There are a couple of considerations you’ll need to make to ensure the process goes smoothly. They’re as follows:

Inkjet vs. Sublimation Printer

It’s highly recommended that you use a sublimation printer for your project since it specializes in printing graphics. With that said, inkjet printers can also be used for smaller projects due to their inexpensiveness and high compatibility with most types of paper.

Heat Transfer Method

For smaller projects (a couple of T-shirts), a household iron will suffice. However, if you’re planning on mass-producing T-shirts with various designs, then you’ll need to use a heat press.

Paper Size, Quantity, and Opacity

Transfer paper comes in different sizes. If you end up buying a size that’s bigger than what you need, it may be a nightmare to trim it down to the appropriate size.

Additionally, heat transfer paper is sold in different quantities (10 sheets, 20 sheets, and so on). The purpose of your project will determine how much paper you’ll need. For example, you’ll need to buy in bulk if you’re running a T-shirt sublimation business.

Moreover, you’ll want to choose a transfer paper that’s appropriate for dark colors. The best ones for transferring to black will be labeled as being opaque.

Final Thoughts

Sublimation on black shirts isn’t easy to do successfully because of how sublimation works. For this reason, it’s not done directly on the fabric. As such, you’ll need a workaround that involves transferring your design from vinyl to the shirt.

If you follow the steps outlined in this article, you should end up with an incredible design on your black shirt. Enjoy printing!

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