DTG and dye-sublimation: What’s the difference?

dtg, dye-sublimation, printing techniques

From the outside, they might seem like similar printing techniques for creating personalised T-shirts but if you take a closer look, you’ll notice how intrinsically different these two printing methods are from each other.

Direct to garment printing (DTG)

A DTG printer works just like your regular office inkjet printer. With the only difference being that these machines inject ink directly into the fabric instead of paper.

In order for DTG to work properly, a pretreatment process is needed. First, one must press the garment in order to get rid of fibres and then a pre-treatment liquid is sprayed on it. The coat of solution must be applied evenly and any excess should be removed. This process ensures the ink won’t be washed away.

DTG is mostly used when someone needs to print a complex design on a T-shirt. We understand complex design as an artwork that’s got many intricate details and/or lots of variations of colours. It is also important to know that DTG can only print one garment at a time which is why it is saved for small orders.

When compared to other printing methods, DTG is a new technology. It’s barely got two decades of history under its belt (nothing when compared to 2000 years of screen printing!). It’s still being developed which is why it changes constantly and the machines are so pricey.

Note: If you want to find out more about the history of DTG, check out our post ‘DTG: Everything You Need to Know.’

Dye-sublimation printing

It is a process done by a computer printer which uses heat to transfer ink onto different materials. It was named ‘sublimation’ because it was thought that the ink went from gas to solid state without becoming liquid but it was later revealed not to be true.

The process is simple. The printer re-creates a design on a transfer paper which is later transferred to the final surface with the help of heat. At first, it might seem like the colours are faint but it is when the heat is applied that these really come to life.

This printing method is mostly used when vibrant colours and vivid pictures are needed. It also allows decorating not only clothes but other types of objects like mugs and mouse pads, as well. When it comes to garments, it can print over seams to give an “all-over” look.

DTG VS Dye-Sublimation Printing

Now that we understand what these two printing techniques are about let’s see how they compare to each other.


As we mentioned, these two printing techniques tend to get confused. But as you’ll see in a bit, there’s more that sets them apart than what brings them together.

  • Extensive colour options
    There are almost no limits when it comes to colouring for these two printing techniques.
  • Ability to recreate details
    Both techniques have the capacity to recreate intricate details.
  • Best suited for small orders
    Dye-sublimation and DTG require the same setup for producing one or many units. Unlike screen printing, ordering in bulk won’t give you a discount per unit. Basically, the printing process takes a while and producing several orders wouldn’t be effective. Note: Learn more about ordering in bulk, here.
  • Types of inks
    They both used water-based inks. Although they’re specialised for each technique.


Now that we know what’s similar about them. Let’s take a look at what sets them apart.

  • Design placement
    It is very limited what you can do with DTG while dye-Sublimation lets you place the design pretty much anywhere you want.
  • Printing
    While they both allow for vibrant colours and intricate details, the printing process is different. DTG prints directly on the garment while dye-sublimation prints onto the transfer paper which is later transferred to the fabric through heat.
  • Types of fabrics
    DTG works best with cotton because it absorbs liquid the best. A 100% cotton T-shirt with a tight weave will always be the optimal choice. While dye-sublimation must work with polyester so the pigments can adhere to the material.
  • Treatment of inks
    Dye-sublimation printing uses heat to turn the pigments of the ink into gas which permeates the fabric and solidifies into the fibres. While DTG prints onto the material and its fibres absorb the ink.
  • Number of colours
    They both allow to create very colourful prints but while DTG works with just four (CMYK), dye-sublimation printers can go up to eight colour models.
  • Printing onto coloured garments
    In order for the technique to work, dye-sublimation must be done exclusively on white garments. Simply because there is no white ink for this technique but there is for DTG. With the right preparation (a layer of white ink) DTG can be applied onto any coloured garment.
  • Versatility
    DTG has been designed to print onto garments and T-shirts more specifically. While, dye-sublimation, since it has to be applied to transfer paper first, can be printed onto almost anything.

printing compatibility, fabrics, printing techniques

So, which one is better?

There’s no printing technique that is better than others. Ultimately what makes a technique ‘the ideal one’ is the ultimate purpose you want to give the garment. If what you need is a colourful all-over print, and you don’t mind wearing a polyester T-shirt, then, by all means, go with dye-sublimation. But if you want a pure cotton garment with a detailed design on the front chest, then your technique should be DTG.

Is there anything we missed about DTG or dye-sublimation printing? Then please, let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, keep reading the Printsome blog for more awesome content.

Printsome is a clothing printing agency in the UK based in London that delivers all across the UK, from printing T-shirts in Brighton to York and anywhere in between. So, if you’re after a T-shirt or custom clothing, get in touch for a quote and indulge yourself in some awesome customer service.

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