Printing on dark fabrics successfully and easily is probably one of the holy grails of garment decoration, and decorators are always searching for new solutions. One of the questions we get asked quite often is whether or not sublimation can be done on dark fabrics. Since sublimation has a lower cost for entry than other forms of printing, many people are eager to sublimate on light and dark fabrics but, as of right now, it doesn’t work that way. Sublimation can only be done on light colored polyester fabrics or poly coated items.
There are two reasons that sublimation doesn’t work on dark colors. The first is that sublimation ink dyes the fibers of the garment. Sublimation is a process by which a solid turns into a gas without going through a liquid state. Through the use of heat, the gas bonds with the fibers of the garment, or the poly fibers in the coating on the sublimation blank, and dyes those fibers. There is no coating and no underbase, the ink literally dyes the fibers and becomes part of the fabric. Using this process on darker fabrics doesn’t work because, although you can dye the darker fabrics with the ink, you won’t be able to see the resulting design.
The second reason that sublimation won’t work with dark colors is the lack of a white underbase to make the colors stand out. Any type of printing that is even moderately successful with dark colors, whether it’s screenprint or direct to garment printing, requires laying down an underbase of white before the colors are applied. Sublimation ink only works on polyester, so laying down an undercoat of white would require something that had polyester fibers in it, which may not even be possible when it comes to ink.
Currently, sublimation only works with lighter colors. It is recommended primarily for white, as white will not interfere with the colors of the ink. If you do choose to sublimate on a light color, please understand that the color of the fabric will have an impact on the color of your ink. Oftentimes the tone on tone color contrasts are attractive, but the fact that garment color can alter ink color slightly should be kept in mind.