Can You Sublimate On Cotton? – A Detailed Guide

If we look a couple of years back, a straightforward answer to ‘can you sublimate on cotton?’ resounded ‘No!’. Fortunately, with the advancement of technology and newer helpful products, it has become possible to print eye-pleasing designs on cotton fabric.

Sublimation works best for polyester fabric or anything with a polyester coating. When it comes to sublimating on cotton, things get a bit different. Transferring the designs directly is not likely to yield the best results. So, you might want to try some indirect methods.

In today’s market, you can find a variety of alternative products such as heat transfer vinyl (HTV) or poly sprays. Such things help to provide an enhanced workaround for sublimation on cotton fabric.

Find out about these amazing products and how to use these for appealing sublimation printing on cotton in this article.

Can You Sublimate On Cotton?

Never stop making your favorite designs no matter how intricate whether on cotton or polyester. Choose the right product for your kind of printing and start making gorgeous designs on cotton fabric.

Generally, the best way to sublimate a cotton fabric is by using HTVs short for heat transfer vinyl or opting for synthetic spray coatings.

Sublimation prints of polyester fabric are highly vibrant and shine bright like a diamond because the dye binds with the natural fibers of the substrate. Whereas, the case isn’t the same with a cotton base. Therefore, you either need HTV or poly coating sprays.

Sublimation on Cotton

How To Sublimate On Cotton? Some Latest Methods

Be it sublimating on cotton shirts, bags, or anything else, you need some indirect fixes between the dye and cotton. While the sublimation prints on cotton don’t embed into the natural cotton fibers in the fabric unless you use intermediary products.

Remember, even after using these fixes, the printed designs won’t be as bright and vibrant as those on polyester. Following are some top ways that tell you how to sublimate cotton items.

1 – Siser EasySubli

Some special kinds of HTVs such as Siser EasySubli work amazingly for sublimating cotton by acting as an alternative to sublimation paper. It is composed of blank white vinyl which has high compatibility with sublimation inks. These are designed especially to offer solid adherence with 100% cotton, 100% polyester, as well as poly-cotton blends.

To get the best results, it is suggested to use EasySubli inks and a Sawgrass printer. Though you can use it with other sublimation-compatible printers too, make sure to only use sublimation ink.

For printing with a Siser EasySubli HTV, insert the sheet into your printer and print the desired graphic. Now cut the excess plain sheet, you can also use a Cricut machine to get an accurate outline. Place the design on the cotton shirt and use a Teflon sheet over it. This will act as a protective barrier between the substrate and ink under high pressure and temperature.

The ideal temperature for the heat press should be 311° Fahrenheit which is lower than the regular sublimation heat press temperatures. It is because vinyl offers excellent performance at low temperatures. Leave the machine for 15 seconds and there you will have an alluring print.

We have a detailed guide on cotton and other T-shirts sublimation, give it a read.

2 – Forever Subli-Light

These are a type of special sublimation paper made to transfer colors onto cotton fabric with full tone. Subli-Light doesn’t require cutting out the excess edges. Furthermore, these are extremely lightweight and mimic the results just as you would get with true sublimation printing on a polyester substrate.

Unlike HTV, these won’t become a barrier between ink and the fabric which gives better and polyester-like results. Create your desired design and mirror it before printing. Now place the Subli-Light sheet face-down on the printer tray and get the design printed. As you get the design on the sheet, perform the rest of the procedure like regular sublimation printing.

One additional step to this method is the use of finishing paper. After you peel off the Subli-Light paper from the fabric, cover it with a sheet of finishing paper and heat press it for 30 seconds. Finishing papers put a permanent seal on the design and are available in a glossy or matte finish.

3 – Glitter HTV

The Glitter HTV’s are just like the other heat transfer vinyl sheets but with glitter particles. The best thing about these tiny glitter particles is that they consist of polyester which offers amazing results. Glitter HTV sheets have been in action for quite a long now even before the advanced products were invented.

These come in numerous colors and produce enthralling results hence, used for decorative purposes too. Start with printing your design in mirror format on the glitter HTV and cut out the extra parts of the paper. Don’t forget to weed it out if required.

After doing it, simply place the glitter HTV on your cotton shirt and use the heat press machine. Usually, these heat transfer vinyl sheets require the same temperature and time as a regular sublimation paper i.e., 400° Fahrenheit for 60 seconds.

Since these are best recommended to use with more vivid colors, you can use glitter HTV for printing on a darker cotton base.

4 – Synthetic Coating Spray

This is the favorite method that the majority of experts prefer. One of the most widely used synthetic coatings is the PolyT spray. For better results, it is advised to use the spray twice. The first coating will remove sizing from the cotton fabric. Whereas, the second layer will make it compatible with sublimation by creating a synthetic layer.

Begin with dampening the shirt using the spray and place a cotton towel under the shirt. Take a butcher or parchment paper and place it on top of the damp shirt. Now apply pressure using the heat press. The temperature should be at 330° Fahrenheit and leave it for 30 seconds.

You will see a good amount of steam coming out of the shirt which indicates the removal of sizing from the fabric. After the press, spray the second layer of the coat and press it at the same temperature again for 30 seconds.

After the shirt cools down, use butcher paper under the shirt so that the ink doesn’t spread to the back side. Just like regular sublimation printing, place your design on the shirt, cover it with butcher paper and apply pressure with the heat press.

The temperature should be 385° Fahrenheit and leave it for 60 to 70 seconds. Peel off the sublimation paper and you will have a beautiful design on your cotton fabric. The only downside to this process is synthetic sprays attract a lot of dust and dirt particles. Therefore, make sure you work in a dust-free environment and perform the steps quickly.

What Happens If You Sublimate On Cotton?

Questions like will sublimation work on cotton or Will sublimation wash out of cotton? are extremely common from the crafters. While true sublimation prints on polyester can last for years and years, those on cotton fabric might not be as long-lasting.

If you sublimate on an untreated cotton substrate, the print will fade immediately after a single wash. However, after two or three laundry trips, it is likely to wash out completely. Such prints are also susceptible to peeling, cracking, and fading when exposed to direct sunlight.

In some cases, cotton sublimation can show signs of fading due to poor printing. This could happen when you didn’t use the right transfer paper or the heat press was out of appropriate calibration. Sometimes, crafters also use an unprepared poly-cotton blend fabric and use the wrong products for it. This ends up in poor sublimation results.

Can You Sublimate On Cotton After Bleaching?

Yes, bleaching your cotton base before sublimating is a great idea. To prevent the bleach from spreading during the heat press, it is suggested to soak the fabric in a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. Let it dry completely and perform sublimation regularly. As a result, the print exhibits much brighter and more vivid colors.

Can You Sublimate On 100% Cotton?

Technically, you can sublimate on 100% cotton but not the untreated one. You should either use a synthetic coating spray on it or use the heat transfer vinyl sheets.

Why Can’t You Sublimate On Cotton Without Treating It?

Even though cotton boasts incredible absorbance properties, it cannot soak sublimation ink that well. If you use regular dyes to color cotton fabric, you will get appealing results. However, using the same piece of cloth for sublimation will give the opposite results.

That said, to save the cotton fabric from washing out after sublimation, you should treat it with intermediary fixes. These include a variety of heat transfer vinyl sheets or synthetic coating sprays.

Frequently Asked Questions

1 – How should I wash my sublimated cotton shirt?

The best way to wash your sublimated cotton shirt is to wash the fabric by hand using soft detergents and leave the areas where the design is printed.

2- What is the best sublimation paper for cotton?

Currently, FOREVER Subli-Flex 202 is one of the best sublimation papers crafters rely on for bringing fascinating designs with vibrant colors on cotton.

3 – What is the best sublimation ink for cotton?

The Sawgrass EasySubli Sublimation Inks work ideally for producing bright colors on cotton fabric.

4 – Can you sublimate on cotton polyester blend?

Yes, with the help of EasySubli Ink, it is now possible to sublimate the cotton-polyester blended substrates.

5 – Can you sublimate on white cotton?

Use the forever Subli-Light to sublimate your favorite designs on white cotton. It creates highly detailed vibrant colors permanently onto the material.


As a crafter, there should be nothing that stops you from unleashing your creativity in whatever way possible. Never stop making beautiful prints only by thinking can you sublimate on cotton or not?

While sublimation works excellently on polyester bases the most, people don’t usually prefer poly apparel due to its thickness and no breathability. Cotton has been the top-most choice for people and creating on-demand designs on it could take you a long way.

So, don’t let anything come into your world of crafting, and use the right products. Check out the various methods and choose to follow one that grabs your interest and matches your requirements.

Make sure to never sublimate on untreated cotton fabric. Also, use the appropriate amount of pressure and temperature when using the heat press. This makes a huge difference in the overall results.

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