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Sublimation vs. Screen Printing: Pros and Cons

Sublimation and screen printing are the most popular ways to customize youth sports uniforms and other athletic apparel. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, so deciding which is suitable for your team depends on various factors. Initial and ongoing cost, durability, and easy maintenance make a difference to youth athletes, parents, and coaches. To determine which type of printing is right for your customized sports uniforms, let’s start with the primary differences between sublimation and screen printing.

What is the Difference Between Screen Printing and Sublimation?

Sublimation printing, or dye sublimation printing, is a printing process that applies a heat press to transfer paper printed with solidified inks. When the ink gets hot enough, it vaporizes into a gas. The vapor permeates the fabric’s fibers and creates an impressive graphic design. 

Screen printing, or serigraph printing, has been used for centuries to apply graphics to various materials. The printing technique involves transferring ink through a rigid screen or screens. The ink is squeegeed through the screen onto fabric or other surfaces, and stencils align the different colored inks to create the desired image. 

The primary difference in the sublimation vs. screen printing debate is the application process. The sublimation printing process uses dyes that are embedded into the fibers of the shirt or uniform. The screen printing process involves transferring ink onto fabric. Other differences include longevity, comfort, and general appearance. Deciding which method is best for you means understanding the pros and cons of the sublimation vs. screen printing decision.

Screen Printing Pros

Screen printing can be used for numerous different types of fabrics. 

As screen-printed designs can be applied to cotton, blends, and many other fabrics, the application is ideal for both uniforms and team apparel for off-field use. 

Screen printing is cost-effective for bulk orders.

When you need a lot of apparel, mass production using screen printing can often be less expensive than sublimated garments. 

Screen printing offers a multitude of ink colors and can be used on dark fabrics. 

Screen-printed transfers can create a vibrant look with a single color, several colors, and even custom mixed colors. 

Screen Printing Cons

Screen printing entails transferring ink onto fabric.

Since screen-printed designs are applied on top of the fabric instead of into the fibers, the design can eventually fade or crack, even with proper uniform care.

Screen printing doesn’t allow for the fabric to breathe.

Breathable fabrics are essential in youth sports uniforms, and screen printing can hinder moisture-wicking properties because it seals the fabric. 

Screen printing setup costs and ordering small runs can be expensive. 

Screen printing with multiple colors can be expensive because each color must be applied individually.

Sublimation Printing Pros

Sublimation printing entails embedding dyes directly into the fabric fibers.

The lifespan of a screen-printed jersey or uniform is limited by the printing process. However, sublimation printed graphics will not fade or crack, so your design looks fresh and vibrant for the life of the garment. 

Sublimation printing doesn’t alter the performance of fabrics. 

Moisture-wicking fabrics used in performance sportswear keep young athletes dry and comfortable no matter how much dye is applied. 

Sublimation printing requires little setup and is cost-effective for any size order.

Since sublimation doesn’t use screens and allows for all colors to be embedded at the same time, ordering a baseball jersey or outfitting your team can be more cost-effective.

Sublimation Printing Cons

Sublimation printing is fabric specific. 

The sublimation printing process only works on synthetic fabrics that are mostly polyester and light in color. As a result, sublimation is not a good fit for cotton t-shirts and similar apparel, but it’s ideal for youth sports uniforms and training gear that need to breathe.

Sublimation printing may take longer and is less eco-friendly.

Screen printing takes more setup, but sublimation printing can be a slower process overall because of the individual steps involved. Some of the waste produced by sublimation printing isn’t recyclable.  

Which Printing Style is Best for Youth Sports Uniforms?

The quick answer: they’re both great! 

Both printing styles are perfectly suitable to be used as methods for decorating youth sports uniforms, and both should be considered when looking to outfit your team this coming season. Though there are distinct differences between the two styles, and each has their pros and cons, both methods have been used, are being used, and will continue to be used by sports programs all over the nation. From there, it’s up to you and your team to decide which method is best for your players this season. 

If, however, the answer still isn’t clear which style of printing you’d like to use this coming season, feel free to reach out and contact a gearUP Representative at any time. We are experts in both styles of decoration and will help you make the best decision for your team. 

Why Choose gearUP in the Sublimation Printing vs. Screen Printing Debate

If you need printing on sports apparel made with the latest lightweight fabrics (like Nike Dri-Fit) and want brilliant color, sublimation should be your first consideration. If you need the flexibility of printing on a range of fabrics like cotton and cotton blends, then screen printing offers the versatility you want. Either way, where you have your youth sports uniforms made makes a difference when it comes to quality. 

We partner with proven sportswear brands like Nike to produce customized youth sports uniforms that game day ready. No matter which printing option fits your needs, we’ll take your design and create that one-of-a-kind look your team deserves. Once your apparel is in the works, we make it easy to order replacement jerseys, fan gear, and more.

For youth sports uniforms that inspire pride and performance, you want superior graphics and quality sportswear — that’s what sets gearUP apart from the competition. Our experienced professionals get youth sports, so they understand how important it is to motivate young athletes by making them look like champions. Let gearUP handle the uniforms while you get back in the game. 

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