DTG Printer

DTG Printer vs Sublimation – Pros and Cons

DTG (Direct-to-garment) printing is often viewed as a potential rival to sublimation, because it has become noticed lately. However, sublimation remains immensely popular, and has strengths that DTG cannot match. So, DTG Printers vs Sublimation – what are the pros and cons?

The main difference between DTG and Sublimation printer is that DTG works great on natural fibers like cotton, linen, or denim and offers faster printing speed than sublimation printers. However, DTG printers come with a higher setup cost and they are not as flexible as sublimation printers.

T-shirts for sublimation or DTG

This article will explore how DTG and sublimation printing work before further discussing each printing technology’s pros and cons. The article will end with suggesting which printing technology may work better for you.

How Does DTG (Direct-To-Garment) Printing Work?

DTG works by using a modified inkjet printer to print directly on the cloth, usually natural fibers such as cotton, denim, or linen. You must pretreat These fabrics so that the ink can bind and embed itself into the fiber strands of the cloth.

DTG, stands for direct-to-garment printing, but you might also see it called digital garment printing, digital apparel printing, and inkjet to garment printing. DTG functions like your regular inkjet printer, but you don’t print on paper. Instead, you print on garments such as t-shirts or other types of natural fiber cloths.

Once printed, you then cure the substrate (print surface) with the help of a heat press. With DTG, you must pretreat the fabric with specific chemicals to make it receptive to the ink printed on it. Most people use a heat press, Teflon sheets and pretreatment liquid for this.

DTG as a technology is relatively recent and has quickly replaced traditional screen printing as it is faster. It is also easier to execute and produces better, longer-lasting print results.

DTG t-shirt printing and heat press machine in printing production shop.

How Does Sublimation Printing Work?

In sublimation printing you sublimate a design to a suitable substrate (print surface). When exposed to intense heat and pressure, solid ink transforms into a gas. The ink gas penetrates the print surface.

For those who are new to the printing world, understanding the nuances and intricacies of sublimation can be somewhat overwhelming. To gain a deeper understanding, head over to this ultimate guide to sublimation printing.

But in short, sublimation printing makes use of a unique ink known as sublimation ink. You start by printing this special ink onto sublimation paper, a specialized paper. Then you place the printed design, printed side down, onto a substrate (print surface) of your choosing like a shirt, cup, cap, or glass.

The substrate and sublimation paper are then heated and pressed, typically using a heat press. When you apply heat and pressure to solid ink, it immediately changes into a gas, similar to dry ice. The ink gas then escapes from the sublimation paper and embeds itself into the substrate’s surface. The ‘printing’ effect results as the ink transfers from the sublimation paper to the substrate.

Printing on Sublimation Paper

Pros and Cons of DTG Printing

Easier process than sublimationRequires pretreatment of garments
Can print on natural fibers (cotton, linen, denim, canvas)Requires specialized DTG printers
Can print on all background colorsNot suitable for small operations

DTG’s pros are that it can be used to print on natural fibers such as cotton or denim. It can also be easier to execute than sublimation. However, it requires a specialized DTG printer, which is expensive. Garments must also be pretreated before DTG printing, which can be time-consuming.


Pro: Easier Process. Compared to sublimation, DTG printing takes fewer steps. Also, you print much faster because the printer prints directly on the garment. With sublimation, you must first print on a sublimation paper before pressing the design onto the garment.

Pro: Can Print on Natural Fibers. The most vital point about DTG is that it can be used to print on natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, denim, or canvas. Sublimation printing does not work on these materials, as they need polymeric surfaces for the sublimation ink to bind to.

Pro: Can Print on All Background Colors. DTG printing works by printing a white background layer before printing the design. This means the ink printed on the garment is not affected by the background color. As a result, DTG printing can be done on garments of all background colors without affecting the final print results. On the other hand, sublimation can only be done on white or light-colored backgrounds.


Con: Requires Pretreatment. However, DTG does not work immediately, as the garment requires some pretreatment before you can print. Pretreatment allows the garment surface to receive, hold and keep the ink permanently on the fibers. You accomplish the pretreatment process by heat pressing the garment to remove moisture. Then you spray pretreatment liquid on the garment surface. You next place a Teflon sheet on top of the garment and heat pressed again to cure the pretreatment.

Con: Requires Specialized Printers. DTG requires specialized DTG printers that could be expensive and inflexible. You cannot take a standard inkjet printer and convert it into a DTG printer, as the printheads cannot handle garment printing. These printers can also cost thousands to start with.

Con: Not Suitable For Small Operations DTG’s high cost makes it unsuitable for small operations, such as small businesses or hobbyists. DTG’s faster speed matters more with businesses that print large volumes. Smaller operations and hobbyists may use heat transfer printing rather than DTG when printing on cotton, for example.

Pros and Cons of Sublimation

Lower setup cost compared to DTGRequires more steps to execute than DTG
Can print on non-garment surfaces (ceramic, wood, glass, etc.)Cannot print on natural fibers (e.g., cotton)

Sublimation printing’s pros include a low startup cost. Sublimation can also be used to print on non-garment surfaces such as metal or ceramic and is treated with sublimation coating. The biggest weakness of Sublimation concerns it needing specialized ink and paper and the inability to print on natural fibers such as cotton.

Pro: Lower Setup Cost. Compared to setting up a DTG printing operation, it costs much less to set up a sublimation printing operation instead. This makes sublimation printing immensely popular with small businesses or hobbyists.

The largest cost difference is in the printer itself. A DTG printer could easily cost thousands, while you could set up a sublimation print system by converting a simple regular inkjet printer. You simply change the ink cartridge with sublimation ink cartridges instead.

It’s not uncommon for beginners to wonder if their regular inkjet printers can double up for sublimation printing. If you’re considering converting a regular printer for sublimation, our detailed analysis on using an inkjet printer for sublimation can provide you with the all the necessary insights you need.

Pro: Can Print on Non-Garment Surfaces. Printers can apply sublimation printing on non-garment surfaces, such as ceramic, wood, glass, concrete, or metal. However, you must first treat the surfaces of these materials with sublimation coating to allow sublimation ink to bind to them.

Rounded Plate Sublimation Printer

Compare this to DTG, which printers can use to print on cloth made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or denim. This makes sublimation a much more flexible printing method and hence a more popular one.

Cons: Requires More Steps to Execute. Compared to DTG, sublimation printing does require more steps to execute. In DTG, you first pretreat garments, then print on them directly by the DTG printer.

With sublimation, however, designs you must first print on a piece of sublimation paper before being placing that on the garment, securing it and applying the heat press for a few minutes to complete the process. -too much trouble for many, especially big businesses that may need to print in large volumes.

Cons: You Cannot Print on Natural Fibers. However, the biggest weakness of sublimation is that it cannot be printed on natural fibers. Sublimation printing can only work on polymeric surfaces, such as polyester and acrylic. Consequently, other surfaces may require the application of sublimation coating.

Which Printing Method Is Best For Me?

Sublimation may work best if you print on polyester or many other surfaces. This is because you can apply sublimation coating on them. However, if you print on natural fibers such as cotton or are operating at a larger scale, DTG may be better.

Sublimation may be a better choice if you approach custom printing as a hobbyist or small business. For these smaller operations sublimation printing costs less to set up and that it is much more flexible.

Hobbyists or small business owners can set up sublimation print systems by simply converting a regular inkjet printer. Just swap out the ink cartridge with the sublimation ink cartridge. This could not cost you more than a few hundred dollars. Compare this to purchasing a DTG printer, which could easily cost thousands.

You also have much more flexibility with sublimation printing. Printers can print on garments and many other hard surfaces such as wood, metal, acrylic, ceramic, or concrete. You can even sublimate onto cotton, denim, or linen by first applying a layer of sublimation coating so the sublimation ink can bind properly.

If you run a larger business dedicated to quickly printing on many natural fiber garments, might want to choose the DTG option. DTG may work well for big printing businesses or your small businesses that print large numbers of cotton, denim, linen, or canvas.

Given the cost-effective setup of sublimation printing, many hobbyists and small businesses consider it an attractive option. But exactly how much should you expect to spend on a sublimation printer? For detailed cost insights and breakdowns, check out this guide on how much a sublimation printer costs.

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