Sublimation vs. Vinyl: Which Crafting Method is Best?

Sublimation vs. Vinyl: Which Crafting Method is Best?

Sublimation or vinyl? Which crafting method is right for your next project?

Here’s a sneak peek of the differences for you:

Sublimation works only on polyester and poly blends of 65% or higher, but you can create photorealistic designs by printing images onto a transfer sheet, then pressing them into any polyester object.

Vinyl requires you to cut out your design from pre-printed sheets, which limits the kind of designs you can make, but it works on virtually any material and any color background.

Keep reading to discover all the differences between these two awesome crafting methods!

Sublimation vs. Vinyl: How Do They Compare?

At their core, both sublimation and vinyl involve transferring designs onto an object with heat. But the way they do it is completely different.

How Sublimation Works

You print your design onto a white sheet of sublimation paper. You tape it onto your item, then apply heat with a heat press or sublimation oven, and the ink vaporizes and embeds itself into your fabric.

The result is a high-fidelity, photo-quality design. There’s no cutting, adhesive, or anything else to worry about. The ink just goes straight into the surface of your item and the paper peels away.

How Vinyl Works

First, you choose the colors of vinyl you want for the design. Then, you cut each vinyl sheet into shapes, usually with a cutting machine like a Cricut. Finally, you use a heat press to adhere each vinyl sheet onto your item in layers until you complete the design.

The vinyl sits on the surface of your item, but it’s secured with strong adhesive, so it’s very durable.

Here are some other differences to know.

Materials You Can Use

Sublimation works best with polyester fabric or poly-coated surfaces of at least 65%. You can sublimate on cotton or other materials if you apply a sublimation coating, but it won’t look as good as polyester.

On the other hand, vinyl works with polyester, cotton, acrylic, wood, nylon, leather, and many other substrates—as long as they can handle high heat.

Designs You Can Make

You can sublimate any design that you can print, and it’ll come out exactly as you designed it. Vinyl works more like color blocking, where you cut out shapes with colors and layer them. (In other words, any design you can make with vinyl can be made with sublimation, but not the other way around.)


A sublimation design is long-lasting as it becomes part of the fabric or surface material. However, it can scratch with rough use. Learn how to take care of a sublimated tumbler here.

A vinyl design, on the other hand, sits on top, making it more susceptible to wear and tear over time.


The cost is about the same, since you’ll either be purchasing a sublimation printer, sublimation supplies, and heat source, or a cutting machine, vinyl, and heat source.

You can use this chart to quickly scan the major differences between sublimation and vinyl.


Sublimation Printing

Heat Transfer Vinyl


Easy to use, can create photorealistic prints, doesn’t leave any texture on the material

Works with a wide variety of materials and relatively easy to use


Works best on polyester and not many other materials, can’t print with white ink

Can’t create detailed designs and must carefully cut each piece of vinyl

Easy to use?

Easy to print and transfer a single image

Easy to transfer, but lining pieces up correctly can be difficult


Can be scratched with rough use

Can peel off with rough use


Around $450 for a printer and supplies, plus $100 or more for an oven or heat press

$200 to $400 for a cutting machine, $100 or more for a heat press, plus $4 or so per color of vinyl

Best for…

Photorealistic prints and designs made on the computer, polyester materials, and white or light-colored surfaces

Simple designs that use blocks of color, non-polyester materials, and dark surfaces

Now that you've gotten a solid overview of both methods, let's dive deeper into each one so you can get all the juicy details.

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation Prints are Photo Realistic

Sublimation printing is a method of crafting that uses heat to transfer a print directly onto the surface of an object.

It doesn’t require adhesive or cutting because the ink lifts off the page and sinks deep into the material.

Learn more in our beginner's guide to sublimation printing.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

The process of sublimation printing, as the name would suggest, involves printing a design onto sublimation paper using special inks.

After that, you transfer the design onto an object using a sublimation oven or heat press machine, which applies heat to the transfer. The high temperature causes the inks to turn into a gas, permeating the fabric and dyeing it from within.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Print your design onto sublimation paper with sublimation ink.
  2. Tape the design down with heat-resistant tape.
  3. Use a sublimation oven heat press to transfer the design onto your product.
  4. Let the transfer cool before peeling it off, and admire your finished design!

Want a more detailed run-down of the process? Check out our guide to sublimating a tumbler next.

What Materials Work With Sublimation?

For best results, stick with polyester materials, sublimation blanks, and polyester blends of 65% or higher. Sublimation ink doesn’t bond with any other type of fabric, so if it’s a 50-50 blend or 100% cotton, it’ll fade away after washing.

What Do I Need to Start Sublimating?

You’ll need a sublimation printer, sublimation paper, sublimation ink (or pre-printed transfers), some sublimation blanks, and a convection oven or heat press to transfer the print. Learn more in our guide to sublimation.

Pros of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation is easy to do because all you need to do is print out a design onto paper, then transfer it with heat. This removes the need for cutting, weeding (removing tiny bits of vinyl after cutting), or applying designs in layers.

Sublimation prints give you full flexibility because you can transfer anything you can print. That means you can make any design, from graphics to photos, and seamlessly transfer it onto your object of choice. Think tumblers, shirts, coasters, and so much more. (In fact, check out more sublimation ideas here.)

Sublimation designs don’t sit on top of the surface of your object like other types of transfers. Instead, each tiny ink particle embeds into the material for a textureless finish.

Cons of Sublimation Printing

Sublimation ink adheres only to polyester materials or polyester blends of more than 65% or so.

Plus, since sublimation ink doesn’t come in white, designs won’t show up on dark fabrics. If you want white parts to your design, you’ll need to use a white sublimation blank.

Additionally, the initial setup cost for sublimation can be higher than vinyl. To get started, you'll need a printer, an oven or heat press, and all the required supplies.

Sublimation is Best For...

Sublimation is the best option for creating products that require vivid, full-color designs that last.

It's perfect for drinkware, home decor, shirts, gifts, and any product where you want the design to be as durable as the product itself. Just make sure the object is at least 65% polyester and isn’t too dark for the design to show up.

What is Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)?

What is Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl, often abbreviated as HTV, is a type of vinyl that can be transferred to almost any object with heat.

How Does Heat Transfer Vinyl Work?

First, you cut the design out of the vinyl, typically using a cutting machine (like a Cricut). Then you weed the design, making sure to remove all the extra vinyl around the shape you cut.

Next, you place it on your object and transfer it with a heat press or iron. The heat bonds the vinyl to your material permanently. You can apply multiple layers of colors and shapes to create a more complicated design.

What Materials Work with Heat Transfer Vinyl?

Pretty much everything! That includes…

  • Cotton
  • Polyester blends
  • Canvas
  • Acrylic
  • Wood
  • Leather

And many more! As long as the fabric can handle the heat, it’s all good.

What Do I Need to Use Heat Transfer Vinyl?

You'll need to buy vinyl, either in pre-printed colors and patterns or printable HTV that you can cut with.

Next you'll want a vinyl-cutting machine. This device allows you to cut intricate designs onto the vinyl without having to do it by hand.

Then you'll need an iron or heat press to transfer your vinyl onto your chosen material.

Pros of Heat Transfer Vinyl

Vinyl is easy to do, as long as you cut out the pieces and place them where you want them. Just apply heat, and voila! No need to worry about printing or getting your colors right.

You can create awesome, colorful designs on any material and any color background.

Cons of Heat Transfer Vinyl

There’s the extra work of weeding your vinyl, in other words, delicately pulling away the excess material so you don’t get ripped edges. And if you don’t place each layer just right, you might not like the final design.

Finally, you can’t create more complicated designs like you would find on Canva—you can only work with shapes cut out of colored vinyl.

Heat Transfer Vinyl is Best For…

If you’re working with simple designs that use text and shapes in different colors, vinyl is a great choice. It’s also a better option than sublimation for dark-colored materials or non-polyester materials.

How Do I Decide Between Sublimation and Vinyl?

Neither of these is better than the other—they simply give you different options for your crafts. Ask yourself these 2 questions to make the choice easier:

  • What kind of designs do I want to make? Would I like to use more intricate designs and photos that can only be done with sublimation, or simple designs that work well with vinyl?
  • What kind of materials do you want to use? Are you okay with polyester fabrics and sublimation blanks, or do you want to have a wider array of materials at your disposal?

Getting Started With Your Favorite Method

HTV and sublimation printing are both solid methods of printing and crafting. Which one are you interested in trying next?

Don’t sweat about making the wrong choice. As you prepare to start a brand-new crafting method, remember to explore, experiment, and, most importantly, enjoy the process.

If you’re interested in trying sublimation, our affordable Sublimation Mini Starter Kit provides everything you need to do so without a printer.

Or, if you’re ready to start making your own designs, our Epson F170 Sublimation Ultimate Starter Kit bundles our favorite true sublimation printer with everything you need to get started.

[product=sublimation-ultimate-starter-bundle]Grab everything you need to start sublimation printing in one awesome bundle![/product]

And if you want more resources on sublimation printing, check out our beginner's guide to sublimation which has everything you need to get started.

Finally, we invite you to join our Official MakerFlo Facebook Community full of fellow crafters experimenting with sublimation, epoxy, engraving, and more.

Have more questions about vinyl or sublimation? Read our FAQs below or leave us a comment with your question, and we’ll be happy to answer it soon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which is better, vinyl or sublimation?

The best choice depends on what kind of crafts you want to make! To figure out which is best for your use case, check out our full comparison above.

What lasts longer, vinyl or sublimation?

Sublimation prints typically have a longer lifespan, especially when you use polyester materials.

Is sublimation or vinyl better for tumblers?

Sublimation creates vibrant, wrap-around designs for tumblers that leave no texture on the cup. Vinyl will stick directly on top of the surface, which has a little bit of texture. You can’t do seamless designs with vinyl but you can create little shapes like words and monograms with it. Both can look great, depending on the desired effect.

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