How To Sublimate on 100% Cotton [Yes, It Is Possible!]

A man using a heat press to transfer sublimation image onto a white shirt.

Have you ever been looking for a cool and fun t-shirt but just couldn’t find the right design? There’s a simple way to make the shirt you’ve always wanted. It’s called sublimation. 

With the right cotton t-shirt and the right materials, you can make a dream a reality. 

So, grab your favorite design or create your own graphic design. Once you get that covered, the world is your oyster!

There are three methods we are going to discuss today. First you need the right materials:

Supplies Needed

Good for All Three Methods

Sawgrass SG500 Sublimation Color Printer
  • Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 sublimation printer. Brand new.
  • Sublijet UHD Sublimation Inks CYMK (starter kit ink cartridges).

Method 1: Quick and Easy

Great for beginners, this method has the basic supplies and simple steps. It’s a great introduction to sublimation that gives you an idea of the process and a great product!

In addition to the basic supplies, you’ll also need sublimation solution.

It’s now time get your hands dirty, well, so to speak!

1. Create and Print Your Design 

Get on Photoshop or Gimp and design the best design you can think of!

Using the sublimation printer will allow a colorful design to be printed and be transferrable. You can’t do that with a regular inkjet printer. 

Then you’ll want to trim any excess edges off the design with a pair of normal scissors. This way you are only trandferring what you need and saving some materials.

2. Start the Heat Press

First, you’ll start by heating up your heat press to 400℉. This will be the only temperature setting for this method. Set the timer for 10 seconds.

3. Get Any Excess Moisture Out of the Shirt

You really don’t want a shirt to have any moisture at all when you’re sublimating. This way no bleeding out will occur. Place your shirt on the press and make sure there are no wrinkles. 

Take enough butcher paper to cover the shirt and place is on top to protect your press. Press the shirt for 10 seconds.

4. Get Ready for the Transfer!

Place some butcher paper in between the front and back of the shirt. This will protect the back of the shirt from any of the design bleeding through.

Next, you’ll take your sublimation solution and spray over the area where the design will go. 

You don’t need to get it too saturated. Just make sure the shirt is damp where you want your design to go.

Change your timer on your heat press to 60 seconds. This is the time setting you’ll use for the transfer. It’s just long enough to make sure that the design transfers just right.

5. Apply the Design and Press!

Now the fun part! Place the design face down on the shirt. Make sure it is centered and right where you want it, while still being on top of the solution you just applied.

We definitely don’t want a partial design to come out. 

Place that butcher paper back on top of the shirt to protect your press from any ink or paper getting attached to it.

Once you’re happy with the positioning, use some heat transfer tape to secure the design to the shirt.

You’ll want to avoid ghosting, which is a mirror of the image of the design if it moves around at all. Once secured, lower your press, and let it work its magic!

6. Remove the Design and There You Have It!

Once your press timer is up, lift the press and give it a few seconds to cool. Remove the butcher paper.

Remove the tape from the bottom, and pull the design off from the bottom to the top. 

You want to do this somewhat quickly as the t-shirt is still warm and that could allow for ghosting. There will be a starchy feeling from the solution. Just wash it to remove. 

A white t-shirt freshly printed with an Idea graphic.

Method 2: Enjoy the Process

This method takes a bit longer, but for those who want to really get into the process, this one’s for you. It’s all about the journey, not the destination!

In addition to the basic supplies, you’ll also need sublimation solution.

1. Heat Up the Press

Just like the quick and easy way, you need to heat that press up before you can get to work. For this method you’ll want to start the heat press at 330℉ with a 30 second timer.

2. Prepare Your Shirt

Lay out the shirt, and make sure there are no wrinkles. Place a sheet of butcher paper between the front and back. This will prevent the back of your shirt from getting saturated with solution. 

Take your design, and place it on the shirt. Make sure to center it. Place heat transfer tape at the four corners of the design to mark the transfer area.

3. Spray It

Spray your sublimation solution in the area where your design will go. Take a paint roller and go over the solution to press it into the fabric.

Spray the shirt again until the area saturated. Follow that up with more rolling.

4. Do a Preliminary Press

Remove the butcher paper from between the shirt. Lay your shirt on the press, again making sure there are no wrinkles.

Cover it with your butcher paper. Make sure the entire press area is covered. Press for the full 30 seconds. The fun is just beginning!

5. Spray, Roll and Press!

Spray the area lightly. Finish it up with one more pass with the paint roller. Change the timer to 20 seconds.  Cover it with the butcher paper again, and press it again.

Leave the butcher paper, increase the temperature to 385℉, and change the timer to 10 seconds. 

While your press is heating up, trim the edges. Once heated, add the butcher paper, and press for another 10 seconds

6. Attach and Transfer

Remove the butcher paper, and lay your design face down on the shirt. Secure the image with the heat transfer tape placed earlier. 

Cover with the butcher paper, change the timer to 70 seconds, and press.  

Once the timer goes off, remove the butcher paper, and make sure you can see the color of the design coming through the back of the transfer paper.

Remove the design quickly to avoid any ghosting. Let it cool, and throw it in the wash to get rid of the starchy feeling. 

Method 3: The Vinyl Approach 

This approach is similar to the other two we’ve talked about, with one major difference. There is no sublimation solution needed.

Instead, you’ll use heat transfer vinyl to affix your design to your shirt. 

If you’re looking for a way to make a t-shirt without any possibility of mess, then this is for you. This is also a pretty simple way to create a great shirt. 

In addition to the basic supplies, you’ll also need:

VinylRus Heat Transfer Vinyl-12” x 20ft White...
  • 【EASY TO CUT & WEED & TRANSFER】VinylRus iron-on vinyl is designed for custom garment decoration....
  • 【DURABLE & MACHINE WASHABLE】Our htv vinyl has premium stickiness, they adhere seamlessly to the...
Silhouette Cameo 4 with Bluetooth, 12x12 Cutting...
  • Built-in roll feeder allows you to easily load and cut rolled materials like vinyl and heat...
  • Full 12-inch cutting width (when using a cutting mat). Cut up to 10 feet in length (with select...
Famomatk 23PCS Weeding Tools for Vinyl, Craft...
  • 【Paper Cutter for Scrapbooking】Craft Basic Set for Vinyl which include carving knife,hook...
  • 【High-quality Materials】 Most of the accessories are made of stainless steel, which is not easy...

1. Heat the Press and Get Prepared

Heat your press to 375℉. Just like the other two methods, create and print out your design. Trim your edges, and get it just the way you like it.

2. Cut Out Your Heat Transfer Vinyl

Grab your roll of heat transfer vinyl. You will need to cut out a piece that covers your design but not much else. You can use a vinyl cutter or the vinyl cutting toolset.

Trim the vinyl the way you’d like, and place it on top of the design to confirm it’s the correct shape.

3. Press and Press Again

Fold the shirt, remove any wrinkles, then press it for five seconds. Once that’s done, unfold for a center mark.

Place the matte side of the heat transfer vinyl face down on the shirt. Place butcher paper over the shirt, and press for another five seconds.

4. The Final Press

Remove the butcher paper, and peel the glossy side of your vinyl off. The matte side is now on the shirt. It isn’t visible.

Place your design face down on the shirt. Secure the design with heat transfer tape, and press for 60 seconds. 

Remove the butcher paper, check to see if the color is coming through the back of the design, and allow the shirt to cool. When cool, slowly remove the design transfer paper.

You may see bits of paper stuck to the shirt.  Take a wet washcloth, and wipe it down. Any leftover can be washed out to leave a vibrant design.

That’s A Wrap

There you have it! Three ways to create your very own 100% cotton design t-shirt.

Whether you want the quick way, the longer process, or maybe a dalliance with vinyl, there are plenty of ways to create a sublimation t-shirt that will show off your individuality and your personality. 

You can create some for your family and friends or just keep them for yourself. Who knows, maybe there is a business venture waiting for you!

Happy sublimating!

Last update on 2024-05-26 at 15:59 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print


I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.