If you have used sublimation, you’ve undoubtedly heard-repeatedly-that this decoration process will not bond to cotton.
Truthfully, sublimation prints were normally used for polyester and similar synthetics, but if it contains more than 20% cotton, it is difficult to use thermal transfer, because cotton is not colored at high temperatures. Thermal transfer is a physical response to polyester fabrics. It is the fiber molecules that open up pigments at high temperatures, while the cotton molecules do not open at high temperatures.
But sublimation on cotton is possible by a special treatment before. The first option is to use a special polyester surface coating on cotton. The second one is, you can print on a specially treated transfer paper, which can be transferred in a second step on cotton. But the printing results (rubbing, washing fastness) are not that good.
The only suitable fabric for dye sublimation is 100% polyester, nylon, lycra. spandex (elastane). The general rule of thumb is man-made materials. The material absorbs the ink through a gas transfer process under pressure and heat. Generally around 280 degrees at 1.5 minutes for best results. Some run higher heat and quicker times but results vary based on the time you give the ink to release from the printed paper to absorb into the man-made fibers. Dye-sub inks will not adhere to the cotton fibers. You can print a blended shirt but keep in mind if you dye sublimates a 60/40 poly/cotton blend the print will look faded and when you wash it the first time it will fade even more as the portion that is applied to the cotton fabric will come off.
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