Creating the artwork or design you want to print for sublimation is the fun part for most people. Before jumping into designing, these Sublimation Design Image and Color Basics will teach you some important knowledge in order to get the best results from your sublimation printer.
Having a basic understanding will help you see why all graphic design softwares are not created equal, why some are better than others, why your design may look different when printed, and what image format is best for the style of graphic design you’re using for your specific sublimation project.
RGB vs CMYK Color Modes in Sublimation
In sublimation, the designs are created in the RGB color mode; RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue. These three colors create a large variety of other colors by combining different quantities of each of the three colors to a black base.
This process of combining is what’s considered the additive process — adding RGB to black. Example is adding R + G = Y, and interestingly, R + G + B = White.
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black). These four shades create the color you see by subtracting (absorbed) from the white base hence the term subtractive process. In simpler terms, look at the base (white paper) and when one or a combination of the CMYK is manipulated, the lightness that you see is reduced which gives you the color you see. Example is a white base minus green will give you magenta.
RGB has a larger color gamut and is used to display images in electronic devices such as your computer screens, TV, and digital cameras. Because it has this larger color gamut, sublimation designs have to be made in this mode.
But color printers use the CMYK color mode. This is because your paper is white. With CMYK color processing, you start with a light (white) base and when the ink colors are absorbed, you get the desired/printed colors.
RGB is used in sublimation designing because it has a larger color gamut to give the rich, vibrant designs. And your printer converts it to CMYK during the printing process. Converting from RGB to CMYK is where color management and/or ICC profiles become important.
Color Management via ICC Profile
In order for the printer to interpret the RGB color value you sent it with your design and print it in the CMYK color value, it needs to know how to convert it to give you the closest and most accurate color you used in your design.
The ICC profile is a set of data that profiles the color attribute from the input to the output. So this profile is important to have in order for your sublimation transfer to have the same colors as your sublimation design you see on your computer screen.
ICC color profiles are usually provided by the sublimation ink supplier. Sometimes they are already coded in the printer driver you download when setting it up. These profiles are created by experienced graphic designers to match what you see on your monitor and what is printed/pressed.
Without an ICC profile, the final pressed sublimation colors you see on your sublimation blank can be different from your sublimation design on your computer. It will be most apparent in the blues in RGB having a purple tone in the CMYK. This color wheel we created shows how the RGB looks when converted to a CMYK format.
Do You Need An ICC Profile For Your Sublimation Printer?
An ICC profile is not necessarily needed for your sublimation printer. You may need to do some color setting adjustments in your print settings to get your sublimated image to look close to your design you see on your computer screen.
Vector vs Raster Image Format For Sublimation
Vectors and rasters are both digital images. Vectors are formed by geometric formulas which result in smooth lines and curves. Raster images are formed by combining rectangular grids which result in pixelation when enlarged.
Theoretically, they would both work for sublimation designs but knowing the difference between them and how they’re used will result in how crisp your images look on your sublimated products. So let’s take a closer look at what these two types of images are.
Vectors are scalable graphics consisting of dots and connected by lines and curves. Think of the kid’s activity, connect-the-dot. You draw a line between each dot to give you smoother edges that form the image. The lines are sharp and can be zoomed in or enlarged without any loss in quality of detail.
Vector format types include SVG, EPS, AI, DAE, PS, EMF, and CRD. These types are mainly used for logos, illustrations, screen printing, engraving, and large scale printing.
Rasters are graphics formed by a grid of pixels that use color and tone to produce the image. Think of the graph paper you used in your high school math class. Coloring each square a different color produces a larger, clearer image when you zoom out.
The more pixels, the better because the resolution is higher and decreases the amount of pixelation you see. Photos and print material are mostly raster images. Enlarging a low resolution raster image results in a low quality image as the pixelation will be very apparent.
Raster format types include JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, PSD and GIF. These types are best for photos and complex illustrations.
Visual Comparison of Raster Versus Vector
Let’s take our a corner of an image and compare the vector and raster image. When you zoom in to an image the difference is apparent. The raster has a very pixelated, non-smooth edges while the vector has a very crisp, smooth edges.
So next time you take an image and enlarge it and notice that the image is blurry, then it’s most likely that you have a raster image.
Screen Images Versus Sublimated Images
You have to remember that what you see on your computer screen can look different that what you see when you sublimate the same image on a sublimation blank. There are various reasons for this including: screen images are brighter, sublimation blank quality, and heat press quality.
a. Monitor Screens
Your screen images are brighter, more vibrant, and colorful. Your sublimated image should be close but it won’t be as bright and it will be slightly less vibrant.
The main reason for this difference is because your computer screen is the light source. This means everything on your screen will be much brighter than any printed images.
Some screens will be warmer (with a yellow tone) and some screens will be cooler (with a blue tone). You can calibrate your screen for more accurate colors and this requires a great deal of technical knowledge and expensive software.
b. Sublimation Blank Quality
The coating on your sublimation blank plays a large role on how colorful your sublimated image will come out. The higher quality blanks will give you a better result than the lower cost, inferior quality blanks.
Some sublimation coatings will even turn a yellow coating instead of staying white. So the sublimated image will end up looking a lot different than what you expect.
And the amount of polyester coating on your blank matters a lot too. The more polyester, the more ink will be transferred to it.
See examples of quality sublimation blanks that we used in our Sublimation Tutorials. You’ll see how vibrant the final sublimated products are.
c. Heat Press Quality
All heat presses are not created equal. Consistent heat, accurate temperature, and appropriate pressure is always needed in order to get a great sublimated image.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying: “You get what you pay for”. This is especially true for heat presses. The cheaper ones may get you though in the beginning but it may also give you lots of problems right at the start. You want one that comes with technical support and warranty. Check out the recommended heat presses for sublimation that won’t break the bank.
So next time you enlarge an image and end up with a blurry, pixelated image, then you’ll know exactly why and how to fix the problem!
After reading the above, you’re now ready to find out which softwares are available to use for your designs. Our complete guide to the Best Graphic Design Softwares and Apps For Sublimation will help you find out what is available and learn the differences between each of them including their features, pros and cons.