Sublimation is among the most popular methods used to print designs, artworks, and logos on t-shirts, apparel, or accessories. However, sublimation is a durable and wash-proof option when working with polyester. So, will sublimation wash out of cotton tees, sweatshirts, or cotton clothes?
Sublimation will wash out of cotton unless you use a polyester coating to bond it with the fabric, thus preparing the substrate for the ink to fuse to. Also, sublimation may wash out of cotton and polyester blends to varying extents, subject to the fabric blend.
Like cotton, sublimation inks and papers come in many varieties, so the precise effect of washing any printed design will vary. Read on to learn everything about using sublimation to print durable designs on cotton clothes. I’ll give you all the details and teach you how to keep sublimation on your cotton fabrics for a permanent print.
Why Will Sublimation Wash Out of Cotton?
Sublimation will wash out of cotton because the special inks used for this method cannot bond to natural fabrics. Hence, 100% cotton is less likely to retain sublimation ink after washing. However, sublimation is less prone to fading on cotton-polyester blends.
Sublimation inks are not the same as the pigments used in printing designs on garments.
The pigments used for designs form an imprint on the surface of a fabric, such as cotton, and they are wash-proof. However, sublimation inks work differently and do not have these attributes.
Sublimation Inks Are Soluble in Water.
Sublimation inks are waterproof and wash-proof only after undergoing the sublimation process on polyester materials. So, if the ink can bond to fabric and undergoes the sublimation process, the eventual product is waterproof and wash-proof.
However, sublimation inks don’t stick to cotton and other natural-fiber fabrics like linen and hemp well. Thus, the process of sublimation is technically incomplete. The ink remains water-soluble, and it can wash out of cotton and other fabrics.
The only exception in this context is poly-cotton blends. If the material has more polyester than cotton, it may stick to the sublimation ink well enough to give you a waterproof print.
Sublimation Inks Aren’t Only on the Surface of a Fabric
After sublimation, the inks become an inseparable part of a fabric or substrate. They seep into the material, grabbing onto the porous fibers. However, these inks do not adhere well to fabrics like cotton since they cannot get deep enough into the fibers to hold onto them.
In other words, sublimation ink does not have anything to hold on to in the case of cotton. In addition, the ink is washable due to its solubility in water following incomplete sublimation. So, whatever sublimation ink you see remaining on cotton after washing is a faded stain.
How Soon Will Sublimation Wash Out of Cotton?
Sublimation will wash out of cotton after one wash, although several factors may influence how long the ink lasts. A 100% cotton shirt may have the design fade after a wash. Cotton-polyester blends, especially 30:70 or 40:60, can endure washes, but the design may sport a vintage faded aesthetic.
Also, the effects of washing and the resultant fading depend on the following:
- Color saturation
- Ink quality
- Type of cotton
Some cotton apparel may retain sublimation ink for one or several washes. Thus, you may not witness much fading for days or weeks.
Furthermore, the wash-out or fading effect varies among cotton-polyester blends. If a t-shirt is 50% polyester and 50% cotton, it will likely disappear sooner and more extensively than a blend of 60% or 70% polyester and 40% or 30% cotton fabrics.
Besides, the washout or fading effect may or may not be consistent throughout the design. You may have some parts of the design fade more prominently, while a few portions still appear bright and clear. In rare cases, a print may remain vibrant and colorful after many washes.
Uneven fading may be due to the design, color saturation, and other factors, such as the blend of the fabric.
Polyester-cotton blends do not necessarily have the two fabrics uniformly spread out in the area of the garment that you choose to sublimate. Thus, the fading may be more visibly evident in the cotton-rich parts, while the polyester portions might retain the ink better.
How To Prevent Sublimation From Washing Out of Cotton
To prevent fading, consider using 70:30 or 60:40 polyester-cotton blends. The least you may settle for is a 50:50 proportion.
However, suppose you must use 100% cotton for sublimation. In that case, the only way to prevent the ink from washing out is by applying a coating to prep the material.
You need a sublimation coating spray, which will create a permanent layer of polyester, to form a substrate for the cotton fabric. The bonded design will be reasonably wash-proof with a base layer of sublimation coating spray.
You can check out the Dyepress Poly T Sublimation Coating on Amazon.com. This 4 oz (118 ml) concentrate makes a diluted spray of around 8 oz (236 ml), which should last for a few more than a dozen t-shirts.
Now, some coatings or sprays may advertise that they dry quickly, or you can get a glossy finish. Ideally, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions and tweak the specific procedures based on your selected fabric.
For instance, you can use a roller brush to ensure the uniform application of such coatings. Some poly sprays or coatings may need a few seconds in the heat press to fuse correctly with 100% cotton fabric.
These poly coatings or sprays are the best substrate materials for 100% cotton or blended fabrics. If you use them as an interim step in sublimation, the inks can fuse with the poly coating and thus become waterproof and wash-proof.
Unfortunately, you may still witness some fading after using such substrates. However, the inks will not wash out entirely, even after numerous cycles, or nearly as much as you will witness with sublimation on 100% cotton and blends.
There is also a caution you should pay mind to when using these types of sprays and solutions. Not all are safe to use, most are toxic and can cause skin irritations and other health issues. Please make sure you are reading through and making sure you are getting a safe product before selling or wearing anything.
Another, more reasonable solution is to use clear HTV or Dye Sub HTV. These two products will give a light HTV feel but will give you that sublimation vibrancy you are looking for on a cotton shirt. There is also Siser EasySubli which is very highly recommended as you can print on it right from your Epson printer!
Here is an easy tutorial on these hacks:
Sublimation will wash out of cotton with noticeable fading since sublimation inks stick best to polyester. Numerous washes can lead to significant fading beyond the vintage aesthetics you may like. The only way to prevent this issue is to use a poly coating or spray as a substrate for cotton fabrics or opt for a material with high percentages of polyester.
Be sure to check out some other nifty functional craft ideas through our other posts here on Craft-ILY as well as checking out some videos on DIY and How To’s over on YouTube. Look for “Crafting Unedited” or just click the name in blue to see!