sublimation spray

Sublimation Spray: Top 7 Things You Need To Know

When it comes to sublimation to non-polymeric surfaces, such as cotton, or linen, many printers, by default, you may turn to sublimation spray.

However, before you consider it as a solution, it is good to learn more about it first.

Below are the 7 important things you should know about sublimation spray:

  1. Sublimation Spray Adds Polymeric Materials To Surfaces
  2. Sublimation Spray Works Better On Fabric
  3. Sublimation Spray Needs Time To Cure
  4. There Are Also Brush-on Sublimation Coating
  5. Not All Sublimation Spray Are The Same
  6. Sublimation Spray Can Have Different Finishing
  7. Sublimation Spray May Not Be The Best Solution

Note: If you’re new sublimation printing, then the perfect place to start learning more about the process is this ultimate guide to sublimation printing.

#1. Sublimation Spray Adds Polymeric Materials To Surfaces

Sublimation spray works by adding some polymeric materials onto the surface of the non-sublimable surface. As the liquid dries, the polyester is absorbed. It becomes part of the surface, allowing sublimation ink to adhere.

Sublimation spray is a popular go-to solution when trying to sublimate on a non-sublimable surface. This is because it is versatile.

Sublimation spray is usually in liquid form and is sprayed on the surface of the substrate you intend to sublimate. Once you spray some on, it absorbs into the surface and then introduces some polymeric materials to the surface.

This allows the surface to interact, bond, and retain sublimation ink. Which means the surface is now sublimable. Speaking of sublimation ink, you can also check out this guide on top 7 things to know about sublimation ink to learn more about it.

Aside from sprays, sublimation coating liquid can also come as a brush-on. Sublimation coating liquid of this type tends to be thicker and comes in different solutions.

You may be required to first mix these solutions in the right ratio before brushing the coating to your substrate.

Sublimation sprays can also have matte or glossy finishing, giving your final sublimation result a different aesthetic quality.

However, sublimation sprays do have some weaknesses. First is that it may bead up and not for an even coating is sprayed on a water repellent surface, such as glass, or metal.

Secondly is that the sublimation laser may turn yellowish if you try to speed up the drying process.

Sublimation spray is not required if you are sublimating on polymeric materials such as polyester or acrylic. Those materials can take sublimation ink on their own since it is essentially a polymeric material.

While we are talking about sublimation surfaces, have you ever wondered if you could sublimate on nylon, plastic, acrylic, or concrete? Check out these guides to get more insights:

#2. Sublimation Spray Works Better On Liquid-Absorbent Substrate

Sublimation spray may work better when applied on liquid-absorbent substrates, such as cotton, linen, or untreated wood. This is because they are more easily absorbed, meaning more polymeric materials can be introduced to the surface of these substrates.

Sublimation spray works with you first spraying some of the polymeric liquid onto the substrate. The substrate takes in some of the polymeric materials and hence becomes sublimable.

This means one thing – the more liquid absorbent it is, the more sublimation spray liquid it can absorb. This means it can take in more polymeric materials, making it much more sublimable.

As a result, sublimation spray may work on many liquid-absorbing substrates, as these substrates are able to absorb sublimation spray better. This means more polymeric materials can be introduced to the surface compared to liquid repelling substrates.

Materials that may absorb sublimation spray better include cotton, linen, untreated wood, and many more.

As for other materials such as metal, glass, or leather, they can still take sublimation spray. However, there are usually better solutions for these materials available in the market, such as pre-polyester-coated metal, glass, or leather.

Pre-coated materials are usually more even and aesthetically nicer to look at compared to if you add sublimation spray yourself. If you add your own sublimation spray to these non-absorbent layers, they may become patchy or yellow.

#3. There Are Also Brush-on Sublimation Coating

Aside from sprays, there are also sublimation coatings that you can add through brushes. These usually are thicker and may require you to mix the hardener and polyester liquid before brushing them onto the surface. They may work better on liquid-repellent surfaces such as ceramics, metal, or glass.

Sublimation coating can be applied in two ways, through a liquid spray or as a brush-on. Check out this guide specifically if you want to learn more about sublimation coating.

The difference between the two is thickness. Sublimation spray tends to be much more watered down than brush-on coating. This makes the liquid applicable to using a spray.

Brush-on sublimation coating tends to be thicker, which means they need to be applied onto the substrate using a brush, as it may clog up any spray applicator.

However, the brush-on sublimation liquid’s thickness also comes with its plus side. Thicker sublimation coating liquid allows it to be applied thinly on a liquid-repellent surface and form a layer enough to take sublimation.

When applied on a vertical surface, the thicker liquid will also hold on better and would not simply drip off. If this helps, think of how paints can stay on a wall after you have painted on it because it is thicker.

If you use spray onto these surfaces, you are more likely to end up seeing the spray liquid forming beads, resulting in an uneven distribution of sublimation liquid. The beads may also start to roll back to the ground as they become heavy, and the substrate cannot hold on to them.

This makes brush-on sublimation coating may work better on liquid-repellent surfaces such as metal, treated wood, metal, or rocks. Brush-on sublimation coating may be used extensively in ceramics, especially on mugs and plates.

Brush-on sublimation coating usually comes in two different solutions. You will need to mix the solutions based on the ratio described by the makers. You then take up a small watercolor brush and slowly brush a layer of sublimation coating onto your substrate.

#4. Sublimation Spray Needs Time To Cure

Once applied to your substrate, the sublimation liquid needs time to cure and dry. This means you cannot immediately sublimate your sublimation ink onto the substrate after applying the coating. You may consider speeding up the drying process by applying heat, such as using a heat press or an oven.

Once applied to your substrate, sublimation spray needs time to dry and cure. This is because the liquid within the sublimation spray needs to be removed, leaving only the polymeric materials on the surface of the substrate.

Natural drying may take some time. Natural drying times may take 20-30 minutes on natural fibers such as cotton or linen. Drying may take 24 hours on liquid-repellent surfaces such as ceramics or metal.

However, you may consider applying some heat to speed up the drying and curing process. For fabrics, you may consider using a hair dryer and blowing some hot air to speed up the evaporation of non-polymeric liquids from the substrate. This leaves only the polymeric materials on the substrate, making it sublimable faster. Some also use a heat press to dry their sublimation spray.

As for substrates such as metal or ceramics, you may need to consider curing them using a convection oven. Set your oven temperature at about 300°F (149°C). Put your ceramics of metal pieces inside for about 20 minutes for the sublimation coating to cure.

However, if you try to speed up the drying process, be aware to not overdo it. This is because when you try to apply too much heat to the sublimation coating, the coating may not look good.

Sublimation coatings are known to become yellow, form crack lines, or even burn when too much heat is applied.


#5. Not All Sublimation Spray Are The Same

Sublimation spray coatings come in many brands, which may have differences in the quality and thickness of the fluid. As a result, not all sublimation sprays may perform the same on your substrate. It may be useful to experiment around until you find one that works best with your substrate.

Unlike your Dr. Pepper’s secret recipe, sublimation sprays have a pretty open formulation. They are very available for many to make. So there are many makers of the spray.

These sprays can also come in many price ranges, quality and performance. Some brands may be cheaper but may have fewer polymeric materials in them. This means you may need to spray a lot more on your substrate.

Performance Differences To Look For Between Different Brands

Aside from the basic differences, there are also some performance-related differences between different brands of sublimation sprays:


Some sublimation sprays are known to become yellowish when heat is applied, while others may not. With these sublimation sprays, perhaps the best way to work with it is to let it dry or cure naturally, without adding any heat source to try to cure them faster.


Some brands of sublimation spray or coating have a much stronger smell than the other brands. The issue is particularly serious with sublimation coatings, where you have to deal with the liquid longer. You must mix and then brush on the liquid instead of spraying it on.

This has made some online reviewers and users suggest using these sprays and coatings in a well-ventilated place. This is because these chemicals could leave you nauseous or dizzy-headed if you breathe in too much of the smell.


Some sublimation sprays or coating are known to be easier to apply as they are more liquid. However, when a sublimation spray is too liquid, you may want to consider applying more of the solution to your substrate.

This is because there is a likelihood the sublimation spray has been diluted down more. Diluted sublimation liquid allows the maker to sell more. It also helps the makers to reduce costs. This allows them to sell your sublimation spray at a lower price.

With these sprays, consider applying more layers to your substrate or adding additional layers after it has dried for good measure. You may also read reviews online about the particular sublimation spray you are interested in before buying.

Varying Performance On Different Substrates:

This is when sublimation coating becomes an art more than a science.

When you read online, you may discover that users seem to have varying experiences when most of the sublimation sprays are on the market.

Some mentioned that the spray works well on wood but not on cotton. In addition, some would also mention how the spray produces faded sublimation results on cotton, while the results are great on denim.

Some users also reported that some brands of sublimation spray leave a yellowish color on their white substrates, while some don’t.

This means you may consider experimenting with several brands and makers of sublimation coating to see which one works best for your needs.

#6. Sublimation Spray Can Have Different Finishing

Sublimation sprays and coatings can have different finishing, such as gloss or matte. Depending on your sublimation needs, you may want to pay attention to these finishing qualities before purchasing.

Aside from coming in spray or brush-on form, sublimation spray can also vary in its finishing. The most common finishing for sublimation coating you may find is matte or glossy.

If your sublimation coating has a glossy finish, your sublimation result may appear glossy and shiny. This type of coating may work well on signboards and pictures. Such finishing may also look like on surfaces such as metal or glass.

If your sublimation coating has a matted finish, your sublimation result will look more matted and less shiny. Such sublimation coating finishing may work well on natural cotton, linen, or denim fibers.

With such variations, you want to check and ensure that you buy the right sublimation spray with the right finishing to avoid wasting your money and time.

#7. Sublimation Spray May Not Be The Best Solution

Sublimation spray or coating may not be the best solution to sublimate on non-polymeric surfaces. This is because there are more ‘elegant’ solutions in the market, such as using a Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) or pre-coated substrates. These solutions may make sublimation easier, as they are less messy to use.

Sublimation coating liquid can be applied to many non-polymeric surfaces to make them sublimable. But that does not mean that the method is the best or easier to perform.

This is because sublimation coating can have its own weaknesses, be it in spray or brush-on form.

First is the general inconsistency of your layers. You may have tried hard to spray and apply the coating evenly, but the coating is sometimes not even. This makes your sublimation result faded on some parts yet bright on others. This is because some parts have more polymeric materials, meaning they absorb sublimation ink better.

The issue of inconsistency may be even more acute in substrates such as metal, ceramic, or wood, as they are more water-repellent. This means the tendency to have an uneven layer becomes greater.

The second is the yellowing effect. At times sublimation coating turns yellow when we try to cure them, making the effort of applying the coating a waste of time and effort. In many situations, it may ruin our substrate to the point that it can no longer be used again.

As a result, some printers choose to skip sublimation spray and coating and opt for these solutions instead:

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV):

Heat transfer vinyl functions similarly a sticker paper. The bottom side contains an adhesive that can stick well to your substrate. In contrast, the top side contains vinyl, which is directly sublimable.

As a result, most printers choose to first print out their designs and then sublimate the design to the HTV sheet. They then cut the sheet into the desired shape before using the heat press to activate the adhesive and transfer the design to the substrate.

Using HTV removes the issues from sublimation sprays, such as yellowing or uneven sublimation results. It also saves time, as you do not have to apply the coating and wait for it to cure before sublimating to it.

While we are talking about HTV, you might also want to check out this guide on whether or not you can sublimate on white HTV. It digs deeper into what is white HTV and how you can sublimate on it.

Heat Transfer Cotton Sheet:

This method functions similarly to HTV, but the sheet is made of cotton instead of a vinyl layer. It removes the vinyl issue that they tend to not last long if frequently washed. Vinyl layers tend to crack and fall off if frequently washed.

However, heat transfer cotton sheets only work on cotton fabric and not other substrates, making it a less popular solution.

Pre-Coated Substrates:

Perhaps the best solution you can consider is to simply purchase substrates that come to you pre-coated. Many substrate makers understand that many printers are looking for materials they can immediately sublimate on. This drives them to apply sublimation coating for you instead.

You may see these pre-coated substrates come in many materials: metal, glass, ceramics, wood, and even leather. These materials may also have been pre-formed into popular forms such as picture frames, nameplates, wine glasses, mugs, and many more.

You can immediately sublimate them without having to apply any sublimation costing yourself.

This method is also great for removing the issues that may come from your self-applying sublimation coating. You will no longer need to stress about uneven sublimation coating, yellowing, or general inconsistencies that sublimation coating may bring.

Now what’s next? Well, check out this guide on why sublimation prints fades and how you can fix them. It will be helpful to prevent fading issues in your sublimation printing projects.

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