Sublimation printing uses heat to bond dye with the fabric on a molecular level. You can use this method on everything from t-shirts to mugs. Before you can print out a design, you need software to make or edit the image. Choosing the best sublimation printing software will help you create stellar prints!
The best sublimation printing software includes options like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. Popular free software products include Inkscape, GIMP, and Canva. This software provides tools for downloading, editing, mirroring, and printing designs.
In this article, you will learn what these design tools can offer you. You will discover the top ten software options available today. Finally, you will find tips on how to create your first prints!
- What is Sublimation Software?
- 10 Best Sublimation Printing Software: Free and Paid
- How to Make Sublimation Designs
- Can You Use Cricut Design Space for Sublimation?
- How To Print Sublimation Transfers
- Best App for Sublimation Printing
- Best Sublimation Software for Beginners
- Free Sublimation Images and Templates
What is Sublimation Software?
Sublimation software allows you to create or edit the design you want to apply to a shirt or other item. As with any print, the design process plays a crucial role in the quality of the finished product! For the best designs, you will want to work with good design software.
But first, a quick word on sublimation printing. This printing process begins with the design, which you can download, edit, or create using your design software of choice. Next, you use a sublimation printer and sublimation dyes to print the design onto a sheet of transfer paper.
After placing the transfer on the shirt, you will need a heat press to activate the actual sublimation. The dye will then sublimate, meaning that it will turn into a gas and chemically bond with the fabric fibers. This creates a permanent, vivid design!
Sublimation printing is gaining a huge following because of its durable prints. Though it does require some specialized equipment, you can make sublimation prints at home as a small business owner or just for fun, too!
That said, the quality of the prints does depend on the quality of the design.
Good sublimation software provides intuitive design tools, the ability to make super precise and accurate images, and photo editing software. Design software lets you create or customize unique, professional-looking images or lettering for your prints. Ideally, it also comes at a reasonable price!
Another factor to consider is whether or not the software can offer both raster and vector graphic editing tools. Raster images use thousands of tiny pixels to create images. Most photos use this design method.
Vector graphics use equations instead of a set number of colored dots to make images. The angles and shapes created in this kind of editing will automatically resize and work well for lettering and other images.
Finally, you need your design software to offer ICC profiles. An ICC profile helps create a universal understanding of what colors should look like. It is created by the International Color Consortium.
Why does this matter? The way computer screens and human eyes interpret color can vary a lot! Plus, different printers may mix color shades in different ways. The ICC profile will help you understand the input and output of colors used by your computers and your printers.
10 Best Sublimation Printing Software: Free and Paid
Now that you know what to look for in your design software, let’s get down to business and check out the top ten sublimation print software you can find for sale or for free today!
Paid Sublimation Software
Most design software comes with a high price tag. That said, keep in mind that you get access to a huge array of tools that can create images suited for everything from website graphics to video games to t-shirt prints in most of these programs!
1. Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator and the various programs offered in the Illustrator Suite of design programs are pretty much the industry standard for design software. This expensive but feature-rich software gives you all the tools you need for vector graphics or to work with raster images. This design software will give you everything you could possibly need to create excellent sublimation designs.
If you’re a beginner at graphic design, you may find this software overwhelming at first. You will have to pick up many basic graphic design skills to make the best use of this advanced software. After all, this is the program many professional companies and almost all art students use!
The good news is that you can find millions of helpful tutorials both through Adobe and on YouTube because so many artists use this software.
The downside to Adobe is that it has a high monthly subscription fee, and you can’t just buy the software outright. Plus, you often have to pay the subscription for a bundle of products besides, meaning that you may have to pay for a product you don’t need. But it does offer a free seven-day trial if you want to test it out for free to see if you like it!
2. CorelDrawCorelDraw offers many design options you would find in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. It also comes with a built-in library of designs, fonts, and images to get you started. One of the unique things about CorelDraw is that you can customize the design interface, meaning that you can set your design tools in a way that makes the most sense for you!
It also interfaces with many different files types, allowing you to download and edit 48 different kinds of files.
Of course, even this excellent design software does have some flaws. Its photo editing software doesn’t offer the range of editing tools you can find in Photoshop. Plus, it does have a pretty high price tag of either $499 or a subscription of $20.99 per month.
Though it has its own unique features, CorelDraw is the up-and-coming competition for Adobe Illustrator. It may not have everything that Adobe offers yet, but plenty of artists find that it offers all the tools they need to create sublimation designs.
Gravit Designer Pro is a vector design program that is somewhat unique because you use it online or in-app form. It works best with touchscreens like smartphones, tablets, or Apple Pencil. This software gives you tools to work on lettering, website development, print designs, and many other projects.
That said, it does use vector design software. Like Adobe Illustrator, you will need to master some basic graphic design skills to understand how this works. Plus, Gravit doesn’t focus as much on the raster imaging of photo editing that you may want for your sublimation prints.
Gravit does offer a free version with limited capabilities. The paid Pro version comes in at only $49.99 per year, a much lower price tag than many other paid software options.
Photoshop, part of Adobe Illustrator’s design suite, is the number-one design tool for anyone using photos or detailed images for sublimation prints. Yes, Photoshop has been around a long time–after all, “photoshop” has quite literally become a verb in our language these days! But Adobe continues to constantly expand and develop the capabilities of this comprehensive program, making it even better every year.
You can use the design tools in Photoshop to edit photos easily. You can also create digital paintings or customize designs you download from somewhere else. Besides the already feature-rich Photoshop, you can download hundreds of plug-ins and add-ons to give you even more design tools!
While Photoshop remains the best-selling photo manipulation tool in the world, it does use raster editing. This makes sense since most photos come in that pixelated format that you read about earlier in this article. However, you will not find vector design options through this product.
Affinity Designer is another professional graphic design software suite that offers a photo editing piece and other graphic design tools. So far, it seems targeted at companies that can buy the whole package and use it for professional purposes in place of a program like Illustrator.
Affinity has several big advantages for the individual too, though. First, it costs less than Illustrator. You can buy the software with a one-time payment instead of a subscription, too, which is always nice, for just $49.99.
Second, this design program focuses on vector design tools, but the photo editing program will give you all the raster design tools you need. Just make sure you purchase that as part of your bundle deal.
Sawgrass has launched a line of very popular sublimation printers that comes with an online design space called Sawgrass Creative Studio. This online design program offers a learning academy and many graphic design tools to help you design your own sublimation prints.
One of the biggest advantages of using this online design program is that Sawgrass has tailored all of its features specifically for working with sublimation prints. This is pretty unique, as most graphic design programs have a broader scope and you have to figure out how to make the perfect sublimation design all on your own! Sawgrass narrows everything down for you.
Another cool thing about this program is that it comes with a large library of ready-made designs. The great thing about these designs is that they are tailored to work as sublimation prints.
The catch is that you do have to purchase a Sawgrass printer to get access to this design program. On the other hand, many sublimation printers consider this brand of printer to work really well, so you may want to buy one anyway!
Sketch is one of the most popular graphic design tools for designing websites and apps in the world, but it also gives you most of the graphic design features you need for any kind of print design. Plus, it is so hugely popular that you can also find hundreds of plug-ins for additional features.
Sketch works best on Apple products, but you can use it online on any computer. It has a pretty big focus on teamwork and tools for groups to communicate and design together, so you may also find this tool helpful if you work in a group rather than on your own.
You can get started with a free trial to decide if you like Sketch. You do have to pay a monthly subscription of $9 per month to keep accessing Sketch, though.
Best Free Sublimation Programs
If you don’t feel ready to commit to expensive paid software, you can also find a handful of excellent free software options to help you design your sublimation prints.
In some sense, the old phrase “you get what you pay for” does hold true, though. Free programs like Inkscape and GIMP offer a lot of functionality, but they do not always come with all the tools you would find in a comprehensive package like Adobe illustrator.
Also, one of the big issues you may encounter is that open-source programs designed by thousands of different coders don’t always have the sophisticated, polished appearance and intuitive access of a program designed by lots of paid programmers.
That said, plenty of artists love open-source programs and find that these crowd-sourced tools give them more scope for creativity and unique design!
Inkscape is essentially the free, open-source version of Adobe Illustrator. This program is a vector graphics design tool, but it comes with thousands of add-ons, including photo editing tools for raster imaging. It also has a vast network of users who can provide support and helpful tips through an online forum.
The downside of using Inkscape is that you either need to spend some time watching Youtube videos and visiting that forum or teach yourself a bit about graphic design to use the vector design tools.
On the other hand, this is pretty much the only place you will get such comprehensive access to graphic design features for free!
GIMP is another open-source design program, meaning that no company or person has proprietary rights to the computer code used to make this software. It also means that it is accessible and free for you to use! GIMP can do most of the things Photoshop can do.
It does not look as sleek as Photoshop and some of the design tools may require a little more work to access. But if you want to test the waters of sublimation print design, you may want to start with a free program to learn your way around.
However, this program does best for editing photos or image downloads, rather than creating vector graphics.
At first glance, Canva might seem like a handy drag-and-drop program for designing social media posts or school bake sale fliers, but it has a pretty feature-rich setup you could use to create sublimation prints, too! Canva even offers a help page detailing how to use the program for t-shirt prints.
The biggest advantage to using Canva is that it is web-based and extremely intuitive. In just a few minutes you can either start modifying free designs or templates or create your own custom work.
But this is not a comprehensive design package like Adobe Illustrator, so it will not necessarily give you every tool you need. On the bright side, though, it is free–though it also has a “Pro” version you can pay for if you decide you like it and want to commit to a monthly subscription!
How to Make Sublimation Designs
You can make sublimation designs using many different software tools or websites like the top ten programs listed in this article. Every program will have its own functions and design tools, so the way you edit a photo or select a font for lettering will work slightly differently depending on what program you work in.
But no matter what program you use, you can either download a pre-made design, edit a premade design or template, or make your own from scratch.
While you can use either raster imaging or vector designs for a sublimation design, you want to use the right format for your project. As a general rule of thumb, lettering will work better as a resizable SVG file. Photos or highly detailed images may work better and allow more easy editing as raster images.
You should also make sure you have read and set up the ICC profile in your design program. This will make sure the colors you see on your computer screen come out of the printer looking the same!
Can You Use Cricut Design Space for Sublimation?
You can use Cricut design space to create certain designs for sublimation prints. If you own a Cricut, which is a popular electronic cutting device, you receive access to Design Space. This is Cricut’s semi-free online program for editing and creating digital cutting and print files.
Design Space offers free use of the design program and a few templates. A lot of the ready-made designs and fonts you can access through the program due require one-time purchases, though.
Design space is easy to use and quite functional. You can create layers, and it comes with many fonts. That said, it does not offer the most advanced photo editing tools, and you may find the program limiting for the kind of detailed designs you want to make with your sublimation printer.
How To Print Sublimation Transfers
Once you have your digital design ready to go, you just need to learn how to print sublimation transfers!
This process is quite simple most of the time, but you can also choose to send your design to a professional company that will print the transfer for you. Then all you have to do is use heat to apply the transfer to your product. Some artists or small business owners prefer this method, as it means you do not have to purchase or maintain a sublimation printer.
To print your design onto a sublimation transfer:
- Set up your printer with sublimation dyes. The easiest method is to purchase a printer designed specifically for sublimation work, as it will come preloaded with these special water-based dyes.
- Next, insert your transfer sheet. It will have one shiny side and one more dull side in most cases. Read the instructions on the paper packaging to find out how to correctly insert it into your printer! (Also, though this probably goes without saying, you must use sublimation transfer paper!).
- Before clicking “print” in your digital file, check if you need to mirror the image. For lettering or any image where the direction of the design matters, you will need to locate the “mirror” tool in your design program.
- Finally, send the file to the printer!
Printing onto sublimation transfers is so easy. You can let your transfer sit for months at a time if you want to use it later, or go ahead and apply it to a t-shirt using your heat press!
Best App for Sublimation Printing
Some of the best apps for sublimation printing include Photoshop Express and the Sketch app. Many popular design software programs also come with an app that offers at least some design tools. These include Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Canva, Sketch, and Affinity Designer.
You will have to decide for yourself if you prefer working in an app on a tablet or smart device or if a desktop set-up feels more comfortable. These days, most apps will give you pretty comprehensive access to the design tools available in the full desktop version of a software, but this might not always hold true, so make sure you check before buying an app!
The big advantage of working in an app, especially for younger generations who grew up with smart devices, is that you can use drawing tools or drag-and-drop tools so much more easily on a touch screen. If this process lets you work faster, you may want to focus on software that comes with an app!
Best Sublimation Software for Beginners
One of the best design software options for beginners is the open-source GIMP software. This program allows you free access and comes with many simple photo manipulating tools. This is a great starting place for anyone who wants to try sublimation printing for fun because it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!
If you want to launch a sublimation printing business, you may want to just dive into the deep end and start with Adobe Illustrator, though. You will have to learn a lot about graphic design to make this program work for you, but it will offer all the tools you need as a beginner and advanced design expert.
That said, before you commit to a design program, ask yourself what you need from the program. If you just want to design cool lettering to make funny t-shirts, you can use Canva or Cricut’s Design Space just as effectively as an expensive program, for example!
Free Sublimation Images and Templates
You can find free sublimation designs to download from individual artists or from free or trial versions of design software. Working with free downloads may give you the easiest introduction to sublimation printing. This is because you can learn how to make the prints before investing in expensive design software!
Many graphic design artists have their own online stores in places like Etsy, and they often run promotions by offering a few free designs. Amateur artists often provide free files on their blogs or through Pinterest.
You can also check out the free stuff provided through software like Cricut’s Design Space or Sawgrass’s design academy. You can create an account in these online design tools for free, though they charge for many advanced features.
Sometimes open-source program users will share images for free, creating a library of free designs you can choose from! You see this a lot with Inkscape users, for example.
Wherever you find your free images, you need to vet them for a few key features.
First, you need to make sure you have found images that have a high resolution. Otherwise, they will print out blurry and pixelated!
Second, sublimation prints also work best in JPEG, SVG, PNG, PDF, EPS, or TIFF file formats.
Finally, keep in mind that you will still need design software of some kind if you want to edit or manipulate the free image that you download. Otherwise, you will have to use it as-is and hope it works for your project!
Sublimation printing works best with detailed, high-quality digital designs. You can create these designs yourself by using special graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Sawgrass. You can even find free options that provide extensive graphic design options like Canva, Inkscape, and GIMP.
As you select a design program to use, keep in mind that some programs work better with raster design imaging, and others focus on vector design tools. You can also look for special features like an app that comes with the software.
Have you tried sublimation printing? What tools did you use to create the digital design? Leave a comment below to let us know!