What do you mean by ‘Sublimation’?

Most full-color catalogs, magazines, and retail packaging use a form of four-color process (a.k.a. “4CP” or “CMYK”) so they are able to render photographs, and complex graphics that use shading or gradients within the image. Thanks to modern technology, any kind of photograph or illustration can be applied to items for a surprisingly reasonable cost.


Four-Color Process (4CP) gets the name from the four basic print colors that in different proportions, create a very large gamut of colors. The four colors are Cyan (a bright aqua blue), Magenta, Yellow, and Black, hence the “CMYK” you see used as another term for Four-Color Process. (The “K” stands for Black because “B” already was taken by Blue.)

By printing various amounts of each of these inks on top of one another, other colors are created. For instance, printing some Yellow and Cyan in a specific proportion will render a shade of green. Add some Black (K) to it and the green gets darker.

Modern sublimation printers make the millions of calculations necessary to determine how much of each of these colors to be applied to the paper or substrate. Thanks to technology, all of this happens within the blink of an eye.


For most of our 4CP printing, we use sublimation printing. Without getting too technical, a mirror image of your design gets rendered onto paper, then the paper is placed tightly against the product receiving the imprint. Add some heat, and this allows the printed image to transfer from the paper to the product.

The paper with the mirror image is called a transfer, and it can be printed on specially modified inkjet printers or on commercial printing presses.

One thing to note is that sublimation ink is transparent (It’s technically a dye, rather than ink.), so it needs to have a white surface in order to show up properly. If you want a purple background behind your logo, that purple gets printed along with the imprint itself rather than depending on the material color behind it.

4CP really shines when you’re using photographs or more complicated art:

  • Photos – The most obvious use would be a photo of a product, but also consider photos of facilities (past, present, or future) or of key players. (Real estate agents or political candidates are a natural fit here.
  • Art – A painting or illustration, or a nice background texture can enhance many brands.
  • Complicated brand images – Many modern brands have logos that depend on things like 3-D shading or shadows and highlights. Much of this would be tough to reproduce in traditional screen printing, but it works beautifully in 4CP.


Of course, there are some trade-offs when dealing with 4CP sublimation.

Large areas of flat color (like in the background) can look uneven in some cases. Adding some texture pattern to these areas will hide the subtle irregularities. Grays and earth tones can be particularly hard to keep consistent in large areas.

White backgrounds on some fabrics can look a bit dingy in some cases. On can or bottle insulators, we recommend using white as only an accent color in the design.

Some colors cannot be reproduced by 4CP. Of particular note are some bright oranges that don’t come out quite as intense, and royal or navy blues can tend to shift a little towards purple.


4CP sublimation doesn’t require vector art quite like some screen printing does, but it’s still very helpful. It is necessary, however, to have high-resolution art. This means at least 300dpi at the final printed size. High-res photos or illustrations can make for relatively large file sizes, so please make sure you consider that before emailing. Files up to about 50MB can be uploaded via the website. (Look for the “Upload Artwork” link on nearly every item page on our site.) For files larger than 50MB, we recommend using one of the free file sending service websites available.

Your art can be set up in RGB or CMYK color mode. If there are any PMS colors you wish us to try to match, please check with us before placing your order. Be aware that many PMS colors cannot be matched with perfect accuracy using 4CP printing. We strongly recommend sending your art as a layered PSD (Photoshop-native) file.