Screen Printing, Sublimation, or Vinyl, what is the best for my Project?

Screen Printing vs Sublimation Printing

It is very common that a customer will visit us wanting 1 or 2 shirts to be screen printed. As sad as it makes us, we have no choice but to recommend either Vinyl heat press or Sublimation printing or Turn them away. We hate having to turn anyone away, but Here’s why.

Screen Printing: Why the Order Minimum, and How it works.

At Abr print, we can achieve extremely high detailed results while printing multiple colors using screen printing. We use the highest quality ink in the industry and, therefore, the print will last. Here at ABR Print we strive to produce consistent quality prints.

Our minimum order amount is 24 garments for the first 2 screens, 36 garments for 3 screens, and 48 garments for 4 or more screens. Why is there a minimum? There’s quite a bit of work that goes into the process of screen printing t-shirts. The most tedious aspect of the process happens before the actual screen printing. This involves the ordering and shipping of blank t-shirts from the wholesaler or manufacturer, the digital preparation of the artwork, the printing and burning of the screen and the press setup process. Because of the amount of technical work and labor involved in this process, the pricing is reduced when several shirts are ordered. When taking into consideration the time and labor involved an order for 1 or 2 shirts would cost as much as an order for 100 shirts.

There are a few other details that factor into the minimum order amount as well. These are based on :the number of colors in your design, each color and location requires a separate screen to be created, whether you want a tag printed inside collar, sleeve or outer hem. Although Screen printing can be done on any color shirt, darker garments will require a white base underlay of ink, which will take up a separate screen to ensure best color brightness.

Sublimation: How it works

Sublimation printing is a process that creates a high quality print using specially formulated inks on heat transfer paper. Because each print is transferred to the garment on a one to one ratio. We can print as few or as many full color transfers as needed. Sublimation is the most efficient for printing small quantities of an image on white shirts.

Quality with a Sublimation printer depends greatly on the printer that is being used. Sublimation printers can vary in price from $1,000 up to millions of dollars. At ABR Print we use a state of the art Roland sublimation printer to produce images on sublimation transfer paper with specialty ink. The sublimation paper is then placed into a heat press with the material and exposed to high temperatures of about 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit under high and consistent pressure for an extended period of time. This is when the ink on the transfer material turns from solid to gas. Once the ink is in a gaseous state, it will permeate the fibers of the material. When the heat is removed from the transfer paper and substrate, the ink that has permeated the fibers solidifies and is locked permanently into place by the transfer material. Not only does the heat release the gas from the sublimation ink, but it opens the pores of the material you are transferring the image to. Once the pressure and heat are released, the sublimation ink returns to its solid state and the fabric pores close, trapping the ink inside.

Some things to consider with Sublimation Prints , This process works best on a white, high Polyester content shirt. White shirts will show the best color transfer, Sublimation ink is translucent and will look muddy or not show up on colored and dark shirts. This is the same reason we suggest a white base layer for full color screen prints. The color of the base the ink sits on will determine if the images will POP! or not.

Vinyl Heat Transfer

We can suggest Vinyl as an alternative for darker shirts that cannot be sublimated on. Like Sublimation Printing, vinyl has no minimum order amount.

Vinyl does have a few drawbacks. Heat pressed vinyl tends not to hold up as well as Screen Printing or Sublimation over time . It can crack or peel off of shirts with heavy wear, washing and sun exposure. Vinyl is typically used to personalize orders as a cheaper alternative to embroidery. IE, We get a request to print 30 Team Shirts and each is customized with a name on the chest or back.

The Process to apply Vinyl to a garment requires that artwork given to the designer. It then must be digitized into a vector. Each color layer must then be separated and traced into a cutpath. The vinyl is then cut, weeded, and carefully lined up on the garment before it is transferred via a heat press.


Screen Printing vs Sublimation vs Vinyl Heat Transfer

Screen Printing

As mentioned above, it is more cost efficient to print orders above 24 garments using screen printing. While setup and artwork prep take a long time, once on press, shirts can be printed quickly.

Sublimation and Vinyl

Small orders less than 12 garments are more efficiently printed with Sublimation  or Vinyl transfer due to a more customizable printing process. Although the set up is much faster, it is much slower to print high volumes,because it  uses different resources and the cost will be higher for larger jobs.

Screen printing , Sublimation and Vinyl Transfer are  all viable options when having shirts printed. It really comes down to the number of shirts you would like to have printed and what quality and price you are looking for.

*Customer Supplied Garments can have no warranty -We will only cover and replace garments purchased through us. Customer supplied garments are run at your own risk. Because previous washing, product materials and quality are unknown, and will effect the final outcome of the product.

We are happy to give you a Quote and help you decide what is best for your project! If you have more questions, feel free to contact

Further Reading:

Best Sawgrass Sublimation Printer – An In-Depth Analysis with Buying Guide by Stacy

A good overview of some of the types of Sublimation printers by Sawgrass .

Roland Dye-Sublimation Printers

ABR Print uses Roland Printers for our Dye Sublimation, Vinyl and Banner Printing proccess.

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