It's very important that the material you are transferring the sublimation design to is sublimation ready. The material, sometimes referred to as "substrate" needs to be able to accept the sublimation ink. These materials have been prepared with a polymer coating or are made from a synthetic material that accepts sublimation in. Polyester shirts for example work well, cotton does NOT. More on that below. Sublimation ready materials are now widely available and come in a good variety of items such as:
T-shirts (65% polyester or better)
Acrylic that can be designed into earrings on the laser cutter
Stainless steel tumblers
Limitations: Cotton and dark colors!
Sublimation ink does not adhere to cotton fibers. There are sprays and coatings being developed that claim to prepare cotton to accept sublimation printing. The quality of the print will begin to fade after washing as the cotton fibers can't hold the ink. A 100% polyester shirt will never fade.
A quick article on cotton sublimation fading vs. polyester with pictures : Why doesn't sublimation work on cotton?
Sublimation ink is transparent, which means the base color matters. A white or light base materials is going to show the ink much better than a dark one. As long as your design is darker than the material surface it will show. A white design on a black shirt will not be visible with sublimation, a grey shirt with black font will be visible.
Wood & Metal Lamination
The creative marketplace has developed methods of increasing the surfaces that can accept sublimation. One method is to add a lamination layer to wood, metal and tiles to name a few.
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