HTV (Heat Transfer Vinyl) VS Sublimation Printing – Which Is Better

HTV and sublimation printing are two routes that lead to the same destination; transferring a design onto a fabric/material for decoration purposes. However, each method has a unique set of characteristics that deem certain applications more or less fitting.

Not only will today’s guide on HTV vs sublimation printing help you understand the differences between these two processes, but it’ll also help you decide which one is better for your projects. Let’s get started!

What is HTV Printing?

HTV stands for heat transfer vinyl, and HTV printing is the process of transferring a design from a special type of vinyl onto a product or material.

What is Sublimation Printing?

sublimation process

Sublimation is a chemical process where a solid turns into a gas without passing through the liquid state. Sublimation printing is the process of transferring a design from a sublimation paper onto a product or material. See here for more on ‘what is sublimation printing?

What are the Differences between HTV and Sublimation Printing?

Now that you have a better idea of the concept behind each of the two methods, it’s time we dig deeper into what sets them apart from one another. Generally, HTV and sublimation printing vary in the following:

Procedure

As you may have already expected, the process of executing a successful print via the HTV method isn’t quite the same as the sublimation process. Let’s take a look at the procedure of each method:

HTV

Compared to sublimation, the principle behind HTV printing isn’t at all complicated. As such, the process is also simpler as follows:

  1. You collect the vinyl material in the colors and textures you want, then start cutting them using a vinyl cutter machine to create the shape of your desired design.
  2. You take the cut design and place it directly on the item. You can also put the cut vinyl on transfer paper first to make positioning the design on the item easier.
  3. You run the product through a heat press to prompt the sticking of the vinyl to the item.

Sublimation

As we mentioned earlier, sublimation is a chemical technique. This is because, during sublimation, a solid matter turns into a gas matter without transforming into a liquid matter first.

This method is also referred to as dye-sublimation because the matter we’re talking about is the ink or the dye. The general procedure of sublimation printing goes as follows:

  1. Using a sublimation printer, you print the design you want on a special type of paper called sublimation or heat transfer paper.
  2. You take the paper with the design and fix it onto the item.
  3. You run the product through a heat press to transfer the design from the paper to the item so that the dye is now integrated into the material.

Quality and Longevity

Two important criteria that HTV and sublimation differ in are the way the final product looks after printing and the amount of time the design stays in top condition.

This can be attributed to the mechanism by which the design is transferred to the item in each method.

HTV

In HTV printing, the design is added on top of the product instead of being integrated into the material. It’s pretty much like sticking a layer of plastic over the item.

When you touch the design after it’s been printed, it’s going to be soft but also slightly raised with the edges physically distinct from the rest of the product.

HTV prints are decently colored but not as vibrant as sublimation prints. Additionally, HTV prints are prone to cracking, fading, or peeling over time.

Sublimation

Since sublimation relies on a chemical process that infuses the design with the fabric/material of the product, it causes the design to literally become part of the item.

This eliminates any layering or raising. It also means you won’t be able to feel an edge to the print.

Additionally, this process boosts the durability and longevity of the print, making it nearly immune against peeling, cracking, and fading with use.

Materials and Items

Another field of difference is the type of materials and products that each method can print on.

HTV

You can use the HTV method to print on a wide range of materials, probably just as broad as the sublimation method.

However, the issue with HTV is the significant lack of durability compared to sublimation. This limits its application to products that don’t really need to stand the test of time such as mugs, t-shirts, tumblers, and decals.

Sublimation

With sublimation printing, you can produce high-quality and durable designs on dozens upon dozens of materials and items. Depending on the type of product at hand, you’ll need an appropriate heat press to get the job done.

That said, you can effectively use sublimation printing on items such as ceramic tiles and frames (home decor products), mousepads, mugs, polyester fabric products (t-shirts, banners, flags, bags, tents, and table covers), non-bendable materials (plastic, glass, fiberglass, and aluminum), as well as shop and building signs.

Initial Cost

The cost of taking up either method of printing also varies, which can be the deciding factor for many people interested in starting a related business. Generally, Sublimation printing is more expensive than HTV as follows:

HTV

The equipment you need to get into HTV printing includes heat transfer vinyl, a vinyl cutter, and a heat press.

The cost of a reliable vinyl cutter is about $250 to $350, whereas a quality heat press is often priced at around $200. As for the vinyl, you can buy it in sheets or rolls, but it’s generally rather affordable.

Sublimation

The equipment you need to get into sublimation printing includes a sublimation printer, sublimation paper, and a heat press.

The cost of a reliable, high-quality sublimation printer can range between $700 to $1800, whereas sublimation paper can cost you around $20 for a hundred sheets. See here for our best sublimation printers.

Also, as we mentioned above, a quality heat press is often priced at around $200.

What are the Advantages of HTV Printing?

advantages of HTV printing

The pros of using HTV printing include:

  • Being a lot more affordable than sublimation printing when it comes to the initial cost of materials and setup.
  • Being a more affordable operation in the long run.
  • Being suitable for projects where you’re printing a small number of items.
  • Being easy to learn for beginners.
  • Offering a wide range of products to work with.

What are the Advantages of Sublimation Printing?

The pros of using sublimation printing include:

  • Creating more high-quality and realistic designs upon transferring.
  • Developing designs that are brighter, more long-lasting, and far more resistant to cracking or fading.
  • Being easy to get the hang of.

What are the Disadvantages of HTV Printing?

The cons of using HTV printing include:

  • Creating designs that aren’t as high on the longevity scale as sublimation printing.
  • Developing designs of lower quality that are more prone to peeling or cracking.
  • Being unable to accurately transfer sophisticated graphic designs; can handle designs with solid color blocks only.
  • The process itself takes a relatively long time, which makes it impractical if you’re looking to tackle a large project or a big batch of orders.

What are the Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing?

The cons of using sublimation printing include:

  • Being limited to materials or fabrics that contain a certain percentage of polymer.
  • Being more expensive than HTV printing when it comes to the initial cost of materials and setup.
  • Being a more costly operation in the long run, especially the required ink.
  • Being unable to properly print on dark backgrounds; limited to lighter shades of garments or items.

Who Should Use HTV Printing?

With all the information we discussed above in mind, you may still be a bit unsure if HTV printing is the right choice for your printing needs.

To help you make the decision, here’s a list of conditions that are more suitable for working with HTV printing:

  • If you’re running on a more limited budget.
  • If your projects are mostly focused on fabric and garments.
  • If you’re a beginner who’s just getting into the design printing world.
  • If you’re looking to effectively print on dark surfaces.
  • If you’re printing as a hobby.
  • If you’re doing small batches of orders.
  • If you’re not too concerned about the longevity of the print.
  • If you don’t mind waiting for a longer time to finish printing.
  • If you don’t have to keep up with tight deadlines for your orders.

Who Should Use Sublimation Printing?

With all the information we explained above in mind, you may still be a bit unsure whether or not sublimation printing is the right process for your printing needs.

To help you make up your mind, here’s a list of conditions that are more suitable for working with sublimation printing:

  • If you’re running on a larger budget.
  • If your projects include a wider array of materials and items.
  • If you’re trying to advance in the design printing world.
  • If you’re looking to effectively print in light surfaces.
  • If you’re printing to establish a professional business.
  • If you’re doing large batches of orders.
  • If you’re looking to create long-lasting, high-quality designs.
  • If you don’t want to wait for a long time to finish printing.
  • If you need to keep up with tight deadlines for your orders.

Wrap Up

There you have it, a comprehensive guide on HTV vs sublimation printing to help you decide which one is better for your needs. It’s clear that each method is more or less suitable for certain uses, so make sure you opt for the appropriate printing method to achieve the best possible results.

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