Dye Sublimation Printing vs Screen Printing: Comparison of Printing Processes

Both screen printing and dye sublimation are popular methods for producing printed materials.

While both processes have advantages, some key differences should be considered when choosing a printing method.

Dye sublimation printing involves using heat to transfer dye onto a substrate, such as fabric or paper. This printing method is used to create high-quality images with bright, vibrant colors.

It is also a relatively fast and streamlined process, which can be important for meeting tight deadlines.

Screen printing is an older technique that involves using a stencil to apply ink or paint to a substrate. While this method is often slower than dye sublimation printing, it offers some distinct advantages.

Screen printing is very versatile and can be used on a wide range of substrates, including fabric, glass, and metal. It is also possible to create complex graphics with multiple colors using screen printing.

As a result, this method is used for creating custom screen-printed shirts, signs, and other printed products.

Dye Sublimation Printing Definition

Dye sublimation printing is a process that uses a printer, heat press, and dye sublimation ink for transferring dye onto certain materials like fabric or a plastic card.

The dye sublimation printing method uses liquid gel ink printers and special transfer paper to apply color to your desired substrate.

First, an image is printed onto sublimation paper using special inks. The inked image is then transferred onto the substrate using heat and pressure.

Heat and pressure get applied for a specific amount of time, which allows the dye molecules in the sublimation transfer paper to vaporize and bond with the polymer fibers in your chosen material.

The result is a high-quality, full-color print that can be either permanent or temporary.

Dye sublimation printing is often used for applications where you need to have good color fidelity and durability. This includes banners, flags, apparel, and marketing materials.

The technology can also be used to create backdrops, trade show graphics, and POP displays. Sublimation printing is an ideal solution for businesses that need to produce short runs of high-quality prints quickly and affordably.

For more information see our full Dye Sublimation Printing Guide.

Advantages of Dye Sublimation to Screen Printing

One of the most significant advantages of dye sublimation is the ability to produce multiple colors on a single substrate.

This printing method is also more environmentally friendly. With dye sublimation, all the colors are combined into one print run, which reduces waste.

This is not the same for screen printing. Screen printing requires each color to have a separate screen, making it more wasteful, labor-intensive, and expensive. When multiple colors are printed in a single pass, i.e. dye sublimation, production time and cost are significantly reduced.

Another advantage of dye sublimation is its superior image quality. This process gives you a much sharper image with more vibrant colors.

The final product is free of any artifacts or defects that can occur during the printing process because there is no need for screens or other intermediary steps.

In addition, dye sublimation produces richer, more vibrant colors than traditional screen printing techniques.

Finally, dye sublimation offers greater flexibility when it comes to substrate choice.

Disadvantages of Dye Sublimation to Screen Printing

One of the disadvantages of dye sublimation printing is that it generally requires specialized equipment and training, which can make it more expensive than other printing methods.

On top of this, buying a dye sublimation printer can be quite expensive, and the inks and other supplies can also be costly.

Additionally, dye sub-printing may not be ideal for businesses that need to produce large quantities of prints quickly.

Screen printing relies on a mesh screen to apply ink to a substrate, which can often lead to blurry images and colors that are not as bright.

With screen printing, you have to use screens for each color you want to print, which means that if you are using five colors, you will need five screens.

When choosing between dye sublimation printing and screen printing, it is important to consider the specific needs of your project.

Screen Printing Definition

In screen printing, the ink is transferred onto a substrate, usually textile, by the means of a fine mesh screen.

In general, screen printing requires three things: a screen, ink, and a substrate. In professional workshops, you might also find automated screen printing machines.

The type of screen you use will depend on the material you’re printing on, while the ink and substrate can vary depending on your desired results.

Screen printing starts with a stencil or mesh containing the desired design to be imprinted. This stencil is applied on top of the substrate. After that, the color chosen is applied to the top of the stencil.

Then a squeegee will spread the ink throughout the stencil. The openings on the stencil will let the ink go through and be transferred onto the fabric or paper.

The stencil can be used more than once because it’s possible to remove the ink with an appropriate substance.

This is how screen printing works. The process just described has to be repeated for each color.

The key to successful screen printing is to choose the correct materials to make the screen printed transfers. For instance, if you want to print on fabric, you’ll need a screen specifically designed for fabric printing. Likewise, if you’re looking to print on paper or cardstock, you’ll need a different type of screen.

Screen printing is also a versatile method for fabricating a wide range of products such as t-shirts, posters, and banners.

With the correct materials, screen printing can be an effective way to produce professional-looking prints.

For more information see our Screen Printing Guide.

Advantages of Screen Printing Compared to Dye Sublimation

One of the advantages of screen printing compared to dye sublimation is that it is a more durable printing process.

Screen prints are less likely to fade over time than dye-sublimated prints. Additionally, screen prints are less likely to peel or crack when subjected to moisture or abrasion.

Another advantage of screen printing is it’s a relatively affordable printing process. In comparison to other methods such as offset printing, screen printing is relatively low cost.

Dye sublimation is a newer printing method that uses heat to transfer dye onto fabric. It’s much faster and easier than screen printing, making it a good choice for projects with tight deadlines.

Disadvantages of Screen Printing Compared to Dye Sublimation

One of the disadvantages of screen printing is that it generally requires more chemicals, which can harm both the environment and the people printing.

Additionally, screen printing usually takes longer than dye sublimation, which means it can be more expensive in terms of labor costs. To produce large quantities of printed materials, you need several people skilled in using the screens and inking the material correctly.

Screen printing can be messy, especially when applying the ink to the fabric or other material. The printer must use a squeegee to push the ink through the screen. This process can result in streaks and smudges, which can be challenging to remove.

Screen printing will also result in lower-quality prints if the screens are not properly maintained and become clogged or worn.

In contrast, dye sublimation generally uses fewer chemicals, making it more environmentally friendly.

This digital printing method also uses a heat press, making it faster and less labor-intensive.

However, note that dye sublimation does have its disadvantages, such as the fact that it can be less color-accurate than screen printing.

Dye sublimation also requires specialized equipment, so it’s not always an option for smaller businesses or home crafters.

It is essential to weigh all these factors when deciding which printing method to use.

Dye Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Products and Use Cases

There are many substrate options for both the sublimation and screen printing processes:

Dye Sublimation Products and Use Cases

  • Signs and banners
  • Sportswear
  • Flags
  • Table Cloths
  • Identification Cards
  • Keychains
  • Doormats
  • Buttons and pins
  • Glass
  • Wood
  • Aluminum
  • Fabric
  • Ceramic (e.g. mugs, coasters, etc.)
  • Paper (e.g. labels, posters, etc)

Screen Printing Products and Uses Cases

  • Canvases
  • Metal
  • Artwork
  • Any object with a flat and smooth surface
  • Glass
  • Wood
  • Aluminum
  • Fabric
  • Ceramic (e.g. mugs, coasters, etc.)
  • Paper (e.g. labels, posters, etc)

Dye Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Quality

When it comes to printing high-quality images, two methods stand out above the rest: dye sublimation and screen printing. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but which is best for your needs?

Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation uses a special ink that turns into gas when heated. This process allows the ink to penetrate the substrate, resulting in a more durable and fade-resistant print.

Screen Printing

Screen printing, on the other hand, uses a stencil to apply ink to the substrate. It’s a simpler technique that is less expensive and doesn’t require as much specialized equipment.

This method is less expensive than dye sublimation, but the prints are not as high quality. In addition, screen printing is limited to printing on flat surfaces.

So, which method is better? It depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a high-quality, durable print that will last for years, dye sublimation is the way to go.

If you’re on a budget and need something quick and easy, screen printing might be a better option.

Dye Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Speed

Screen printing is a faster process, but it often lacks the precision and detail of dye sublimation.

Dye sublimation is a slower process, but it produces superior results in terms of quality and accuracy. However, it is harder to create any special effects. This is because the ink gets embedded into the substrate in one layer.

For projects that require speed, screen printing is the better option. For projects that require superior quality, dye sublimation is the better choice.

Dye Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Cost

When it comes to choosing the right printing method for your needs, there are many factors to consider. One of the most important is the cost of the printing process itself.

Dye sublimation and screen printing are two popular methods, but which one is more cost-effective?

Dye sublimation is typically the more expensive option, due to the specialized equipment required. However, it can produce highly detailed prints with a wide range of colors.

Screen printing is typically less expensive, but it can be less precise and may require additional colors to be used.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to a balance of cost and quality. If you need high-quality prints that will last, dye sublimation may be the better option. However, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly solution, screen printing may be a better choice.

Alternatives to Dye Sublimation and Screen Printing

Although dye sublimation and screen printing are the most popular methods for printing on fabric, there are a few alternatives that may be more suitable for some projects.

Digital Printing

One alternative is digital printing. This method uses an inkjet printer to apply the design directly to the substrate. This is ideal for small runs or when you need to print complex designs.

Block Printing

Block printing is a traditional printing method that involves carving a design into a wooden block and then applying paint or ink to the block before pressing it onto the fabric.

Block printing is best suited for simple designs or when you want to create a vintage look.


Specifically for fabric, one alternative is using vinyl. Vinyl can be cut to any shape or size, and it can be placed on top of the fabric substrate. Heat is then applied, which causes the vinyl to adhere to the fabric.

This method is relatively easy and affordable.

Thermal Printing

Another option is using a thermal printer. Thermal printers use heat to transfer images onto fabric. This method can be used with a variety of materials, including cotton, polyester, and nylon.

Thermal printers are available in both small and large sizes, making them a good option for both personal and commercial use.