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How to Make A Sublimation Design

The sublimation industry has proliferated over the last few years, and crafters have started to push design bounds. Designs are getting bolder, crafters more creative with their design ideas, and the substrates increasingly more interesting. However, sublimation design is challenging, and the process takes time and hard work to get right. 

So how do you level up your sublimation designs to help you keep your edge and differentiate your brand from others in the same market segment? The simple answer is visualizing your concepts, picking the right design software, and making the right creative decision when designing. But we’re not just going to end it there. 

This post will look at how to make a sublimation design and highlight concepts you can use to help you in your design work. Keep reading to learn more. 

What is Sublimation Design?

Sublimation design is the process of creating graphics, images, texts, or other design elements for sublimation transfer onto a substrate. It involves the creative process of coming up with a design and then using design software to create a digital version you can print and transfer onto a substrate. 

Depending on your skill level and artistic ability, sublimation design can be as intricate as creating all the design elements from scratch or simply tweaking and adjusting details on already existing images and graphics. The other essential aspect is to adjust the colors and size of the design to fit the substrate’s area you’re printing. 

On the other hand, sublimation involves transferring dye onto materials through heat and pressure. This turns the dye from a solid to a gaseous state without going through the liquid phase allowing it to penetrate the substrate’s pores, creating a permanent bond.

The design process in sublimation involves several key steps to ensure a successful and visually appealing outcome. Let’s dive into each stage of the design process:

  • Conceptualization and Inspiration: This step involves finding the inspiration for your design and having a clear mental image of its appearance. It should fit your target audience, substrate type and portray your creative thinking. Some sources of inspiration include nature, magazines, online platforms, and your imagination. Creating a mood board and gathering reference images can help refine your idea. 
  • Design Software Selection: Depending on your skill level, pick a design software to bring your vision to life. Popular sublimation design software includes Photoshop, Canva, and CorelDRAW. Learning the software’s tools, functions, and shortcuts will allow you to be efficient and make your experience more enjoyable.
  • Design Creation: This step involves creating a new document and selecting your dimensions, color modes, and design resolution. It’s also where you use your creativity and knowledge of the software’s features and design elements to compose your idea. You should experiment with different layering and blending modes, as well as color schemes, gradients, and textures, to enhance the overall aesthetics of your design.
  • Typography and Text: If you have text in your design, experiment with different fonts and sizes to ensure they are legible and fit well with your design. Move their placement around to ensure they create a pleasing and balanced composition, as well as add effects, shadows, or gradients to add depth and visual interest. 
  • Color Adjustments: use the color correction tools to ensure images are correctly white balanced and your design is bright and vibrant. You should also ensure you fully utilize the color profile you’re working with to give you the best-looking and consistent designs for printing. 
  • Mock-ups and Previews: This step involves creating a digital mock-up of your substrate and positioning your design as you minted to print it for visualization. Change different elements of the composition and design to help create something you’re happy with. 
  • File Preparation: Save the design in a high-resolution format and ensure it’s ready for sublimation printing
  • Printing and Sublimation: Use a sublimation printer with quality sublimation ink and transfer paper to print your design. Ensure your printer’s settings are optimal for the design you’re printing. Moreover, ensure your substrate is sublimation appropriate and clean before positioning the printed transfer paper. Use heat-resistant tape to hold the transfer paper in place before placing it in your heat press machine for the recommended time. 

Different Methods of Creating Sublimation Designs

There are many design options depending on your skill level, intent, and the level of detail you want. Here are a few of the most popular.


Using Photoshop for Sublimation Design

Adobe Photoshop is a powerful and versatile design software that allows you to create stunning sublimation designs. This is how to use images to create quality sublimation designs. 

  1. Set up Your Workspace: Launch Photoshop and open a new document. Then set your color mode to CMYK or RGB to give you the best print quality. Ensure your resolution is at a minimum of 300 DPI. 
  2. Import Image: Click on file, import images, navigate to your image, click on it, and press import. Resize, rotate, and position the image as desired using the Transform tools to make your design. Use other Photoshop features and tools to compose and add visual elements to your design. 
  3. Add Text and Graphics: Create a text layer using the Text tool and add your text. Experiment with different fonts, sizes, and colors until you land on one you like. Then import other graphical elements or select some from the software to enhance your design.
  4. Apply Color Adjustments and Filters: Adjust your image’s contrast, hue, and value until you achieve your desired look. You can also use the available presets to speed up your workflow. Using an adjustment layer will also allow you to preserve your base image and make it easier to make corrections. 
  5. Arrange and Organize Layers: Place each design element on its own layer panel to avoid mixing up your edits. You can group related layers by selecting them and pressing Ctrl/Cmd + G. This helps maintain a tidy and organized workspace. Moreover, feel free to experiment with layer blending modes, opacity, and layer masks to achieve interesting effects.
  6. Saving and Exporting: Save a Photoshop file version of your design to preserve the layers and editability for future use. Then select Save As and choose a suitable file format such as JPEG or PNG, select your save location, and press save. 


Using Canva for Sublimation Design

Canva is an online design platform that simplifies the design process. It has a paid and free version that allows you to achieve fantastic results regardless of the one you’re using. The platform also includes design templates and elements you can use on your projects, making it more convenient even for a beginner. Below is a guide on how to make a sublimation design with Canva.

  1. Sign up and log into Canva: Log into your Canva account or create one on Canva’s website (
  2. Select the design type: Form the available templates, pick one that fits your design requirements. You should note that when using Canva, you might not have the same agility to change your dimensions as you’d have with professional design software. 
  3. Customize the design: Explore the platform’s library and pick images, graphics, and typography for your design. You can also upload images and other design elements to help you out. Adjust their layout, positioning, and sizes to create a pleasing composition. The easy drag-and-drop function will make this effortless and quick for anyone. 
  4. Incorporate colors and text: Enhance your design by incorporating different color schemes and backgrounds. You can create your own or use the available ones on the platform. Moreover, Canva allows you to write and customize text in many different ways. 
  5. Export the design: Click the download button, then export and select as a PNG. This will give you a quality file that will transfer well onto any substrate. 


The competition in the sublimation industry is increasing, and remaining relevant and current is more challenging than ever. Investing in the latest tech in the industry is one way to keep your sublimation business or hobby going. Also, it is a cost-effective way to improve your sublimation products and make your brand stand out from the rest. 

For this reason, elevate your sublimation design process by taking the time to visualize your ideas, learn your design software, and utilize your creativity to help you put it all together. We hope this post gives you a better understanding of making a sublimation design and that you use the concepts we’ve discussed to improve your designs. 


Is it possible to achieve intricate details and gradients in sublimation designs?

Yes, sublimation printing allows for high-resolution prints with intricate details and gradients. The dye penetrates the material, blending colors seamlessly. This makes sublimation a great choice for designs with fine lines, small text, or complex artwork.

Are there any limitations to sublimation design?

While sublimation printing offers many advantages, it’s essential to note it’s most effective on light-colored or white materials. Additionally, sublimation is not ideal for designs that require precise color matching, such as corporate logos, as color variations may occur due to the nature of the process.

Can I use sublimation printing on any fabric or material?

Sublimation printing works best on materials with a high polyester content. Polyester fabric provides a receptive surface for the dye to bond with, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting prints. However, sublimation can also be used on other materials with a special coating designed for sublimation, such as ceramics, metals, and certain plastics.