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What is a sublimated t-shirt?

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What's a sublimated shirt?

Alien Sublimated T-shirt

Sublimated t-shirts have recently become all the rage in the t-shirt business and one look at a well done shirt can tell you why.  They look great and can cover the entire shirt body.  The colors and images are potentially photo-realistic and for a real fan you can't broadcast your love louder.  It is a great process for all nerd t-shirts.  The question, however, is what is sublimation and how does it work?

Dye-sublimation is more accurately called dye-diffusion.  It was originally called sublimation because everyone thought  the dye went from a solid to a gas with no liquid state but that has been proven incorrect but the name stuck.  Sublimation printers are similar to laser printers in that the color medium is transported onto a panel the size of the print.  However, rather than use a laser to heat up the printing elements tiny heating elements in the head heat up, causing the medium to adhere to the t-shirt.  The control of the heat controls how much color is applied.

This process is repeated for each color.  In the case of t-shirts this image is printed reversed onto a piece of transfer paper, which is then pressed onto the shirt itself.  A heat press causes the medium on the paper to go into a gas and attach itself to the polyester fibers, permanently dyeing them the colors of the image.  For this reason all sublimated t-shirts have some polyester content (usually at least 65%) and for the best images and color you need 100%.

The Flash T-Shirt

The advantages of this process are tremendous.  First off because the shirt is dyed rather than screen printed the ink does not cake up on the shirt.  It also never peels off or cracks like traditional screen printed t-shirts.  It will not fade and the colors should last the life of the shirt.  Since your are not limited to the size if your screen you can make your image as big as your heat press, thus giving us the ability to have an image that is the size of the entire shirt body (and complete front and back if you wish).  

Star Trek T-Shirt

Furthermore this process allows for a much better gradient of colors, effectively giving us an image that is as photo realistic as you could possibly want.  If you want a shirt with letters or simple block printing (each color in a seperate section like Color Forms) on it go screen printing; if you want something that looks like you are wearing someone else's body go sublimation.  Just check out this great Khan shirt.  The colors can be especially brilliant and appealing, especially on a 100% polyester shirt as pictured in this Flash shirt.  

Bruce Lee T-Shirts

On the other hand there are some disadvantages as well.  For one thing if you are not a fan of polyester these shirts can be rough.  I have a few and as a rule I generally wear a cotton shirt underneath it for comfort.  However that brings us to the next problem and that is polyester does not breath very well, resulting in quite a hot shirt to wear in warm weather.  

The other problem is if there is anything like a crease in the shirt at the time of the heat transfer it will result in a white mark on the shirt.  These typically happen on the sleeves, shoulders, creases, and especially around the armpit.  You can see them in the armpits of the Alien t-shirt at the top of this page.  Fortunately these points are almost always on the periphery of the graphic or hidden by your body but they do occur.  Anyone buying a sublimated t-shirt should be aware of this.  Honestly they aren't that obvious once the shirt is on your body and could be considered part of the unique nature of the shirt.  I speak often with my best sublimated t-shirt printer and they are in the process of developing a new shirt blank that lays almost completely flat with no folds in the fabric, thus eliminating much of the problem.  

Personally I think these sublimated t-shirts are really cool for nerd t shirts and add an amazing range to what can be done in geek t-shirts.  We have also started uploading other sublimated textiles such as blankets, towels, and pillows.  Very cool, although again due to the fact that they are polyester I would probably not use them as anything other than decorative.  I'm not sleeping on a polyester pillow. 

Alien Cartoon Lurking Sublimated T-Shirt

Batman T-Shirts



 

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