Sublimation vs heat transfer paper,which one do you need?

The sublimation process and heat transfer paper process are very similar, though there are differences that may not be apparent upon first glance.

What is heat transfer paper?

Heat transfer paper is a special paper that transfers printed designs onto shirts and other materials when heat is applied. This process involves printing a design onto the sheet of heat transfer paper and using either an inkjet or laser printer. To transfer the design to the fabric, you place the printed sheet on your fabric and press it with a heat press. Once you have pressed it, you can peel away the paper and the image adheres to the fabric.

Transfer paper

Sublimation transfer paper
The sublimation process uses sublimation papers to transfer the design to the fabric, resulting in the image becoming a permanent part of the fabric.

Heat transfer paper
Heat transfer paper is a special paper used to transfer printed designs onto a fabric with the application of heat. While sublimation results in the image becoming a permanent part of the fabric, heat transfer results in the image becoming an added layer on top of the fabric.

Printing fabrics

Sublimation printing fabrics
The sublimation process can only be used on 100% polyester material or materials with a special polymer coating. Sublimation is best for white or light colored fabrics. This may seem like a limited option, but polymer coated products can include coasters, mugs, mouse pads and more.

Heat transfer paper fabrics
The heat transfer paper process can be used on both cotton and polyester fabrics as well as both dark or light colored fabrics.

Cost

Sublimation
The sublimation process can be quite pricey when you add up the cost of materials involved. Not only do you need to invest in sublimation paper, essential software, and products that you can sublimate, but you also need a heat press.

Heat transfer paper
The heat transfer paper process is one of the least expensive methods for starting out. You’ll need access to an laser or inkjet printer, a heat press (an iron can work), heat transfer paper, and the products you’d like to use.

Color capabilities

Sublimation
Sublimation can print full colors which is great for transferring images or logos with specific colors.

Heat transfer paper
With heat transfer paper, you are restricted to the capabilities of the printer you use. Your final image may not be as vibrant as it would be with sublimation.

Durability

Sublimation
With the sublimation process, the ink becomes part of the fabric as opposed to a layer on top of it. The resulting transfer lasts much longer than heat transfer paper results.

Heat transfer paper
Heat transfer paper results in the image creating another layer on top of the fabric. You can feel the additional layer and it can become faded and cracked over time, especially with washing.