Can You Sublimate on Plastic? | Easy way (2024)

Most people think shirts, metals, or leather are only suitable substrates for sublimation printing. Each sublimation blank requires special considerations and surface preparations to enjoy the classic designs.

These materials readily absorb the sublimation inks, producing vivid and long-lasting prints.

Some people want to add grace and aesthetics to their plastic water bottles, like phone cases or mouse pads.

But can you sublimate on plastic? The answer is YES, but sublimating on plastic presents unique challenges due to its non-absorbent surface.

Unlike shirts or mouse pads, plastic cannot directly bond with sublimation inks. So, apply a special polyester-based coating on plastic to bond with sublimation inks.

What Type of Plastic Can You Sublimate On?

Plastics are made from different polymers, which have variations in their bonding structure. For sublimation printing, two classes of plastics are suitable.

Polyester Based Plastic

Polyester is a crucial member of plastic derived from PET or PBT. When a plastic blank contains polyester, it becomes suitable for sublimation printing.

This polyester provided space to sublimate ink molecules and form a strong bonding. This bonding results in vivid and long-lasting sublimation prints.

But, this class of plastic substrate requires high heat press temperature to achieve top-notch sublimation design.

Polyester Coated Plastic

Polyester-coated plastic is the most common type of plastic appropriate for sublimation printing.

These plastics have a special coating that effectively connects them with sublimation inks.

The coating is a porous surface for the inks to permeate, resulting in bright and long-lasting prints.

The polyester coating is essential for sublimation if you want high-quality printing designs on plastic blanks.

How to Sublimate on Plastic

Here, Sublimating process involves specific steps after proper surface preparation to ensure high-quality results. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to sublimate plastic.

Step 1: Arrange Required Items

Ensure the following items are present before starting the sublimation printing process.

  • Sublimation Printer
  • Sublimation Paper
  • Sublimation Ink
  • Plastic Substrate
  • Heat Resistant Tape
  • Heat Press

Step 2: Design the Image

Start designing the artwork you want to sublimate on the plastic substrate, whether a plastic cup or plastic water bottle. Set the size of the design within the range of the size of the cup or bottle. You can check Freepik, Canva, or Sketch for more alluring and catchier designs. Otherwise, offline software is CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator.

Step 3: Print the Design

Now, copy the design from your computer to the sublimation printer. Set the size and other settings of the sublimation printer as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Check the proper functioning of the sublimation printer on regular printing paper.

Step 4: Prepare the Heat Press

Turn ON the heat press after printing your design work on sublimation transfer paper. Set the sublimation temperature within 350oF – 380oF. Some plastic materials have lower melting points, so working at high temperatures is not advisable to avoid distortion.

Step 5: Set the Transfer paper on Plastic (Cup or Bottle)

Now, clean the surface of the plastic blank and make it free from any dust or debris. Then, place the sublimation transfer paper on the sublimation substrate. Place the protective paper over the transfer paper. Fix the transfer paper with the help of heat-resistant tape so that the design remains intact at its place.

Step 6: Start work of Heat Press

As the temperature of the heat press is set at 350oF – 380oF, place the substrate on the lower plate. Apply low to medium pressure over the protective paper with the upper platen for 30-40 seconds while sublimating plastic blanks.

Step 7: Take out the Plastic blank and allow it to cool down

After heat pressing, remove the object from the heat press and place it on a smooth surface. Be careful, as the plastic substrate can be hot. Allow it to cool down to room temperature for a few minutes.

After cooling, gently peel off the protective and sublimation transfer papers at a lower angle.

Step 8: Inspect Plastic Blank Surface

Print on plastic at the end of sublimation, and inspect the surface. If the sublimation printing has worked well, you will observe a shiny design on the plastic blank.

Can you sublimate on plastic cups

Yes, you can sublimate on plastic cups, but choosing the right type for sublimation printing is essential.

As mentioned earlier, sublimation works best on polyester-coated or polyester-based materials.

Therefore, when sublimating on plastic cups, you should use cups that have a polyester coating or are made from polyester-based plastic.

To sublimate the plastic cups, you can follow the above step-by-step guide. Ensure the clean surface of plastic cups to avoid any design distortion.

Can you sublimate on plastic water bottles

Yes, you can sublimate on the sports plastic bottles. Follow these steps for branding your water bottles. Here is how you can sublimate sports plastic bottles.

  1. First, gather all the items needed for sublimation printing, including your sports bottle, sublimation transfer paper, heat tape, red rubber mats, activator, and ppx chemical mixed 70 to 30. You will also need a bucket of water and a cloth for cleaning.
  2. Next, mix the activator and ppx chemical in a ratio of 70 to 30. Wipe this mixture onto the bottle using a cloth.
  3. Take your logo and place it in the bottle’s center, ensuring it is flush and tight against the surface. Then, place the bottle into the rubber mats.
  4. Place the rubber mat with the bottle into the mug press and compress it for 60 seconds at 140 degrees.
  5. Once the time is up, remove the bottle from the mug press and place it into a bucket of water for 30 seconds.
  6. After 30 seconds, remove the sublimation paper from the bottle. If there are any tape marks, you can clean them off with methylated spirits or thinners.
  7. Once the bottle is clean, you can spray it with chemical spray for added durability. Use a mask when spraying, and spray from a distance of about 30 centimeters.

Following these steps, you can prepare your sports bottle for branding with a full-color image. Use the correct materials and techniques to achieve the best results.

Can You Sublimate on Corrugated Plastic

Sublimation printing on corrugated or uneven plastic substrates is a challenging activity. You have to face a lot of process complexities to carry out sublimation on such a surface.

You have to test the prints a few times for sublimation on corrugated plastic blanks. If the print quality is good, you can move forward.

It is better to avoid sublimation on such surfaces to save resources. Instead, use other printing processes to print on the corrugated plastic surface.


Sublimation printing on plastic blanks enhance grace and aesthetics. Most sublimation experts employ sublimation on plastic cups, water bottles, and cuttings boards for branding.

Not all plastic substrates are appropriate for sublimation printing. Only those plastics are the right choice which has polyester coating or polyester in chemical composition. To achieve those picture-perfect results, choose your plastic substrates wisely.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I sublimate on any plastic?

Sublimation printing works best on plastics that have a polyester coating or those from polyester-based polymers. These plastics have better sublimation ink reception which results in long-lasting sublimation prints.

What types of plastic items can I sublimate?

You can sublimate on various plastic items, including water bottles, cups, phone cases, mouse pads, keychains, etc. Just ensure they have a polyester coating or are made from sublimation-friendly plastics.

Do I need to prepare the plastic surface before sublimation?

Yes, surface preparation is essential for successful sublimation printing on plastic blanks. If the plastic is not coated with a polyester layer, you must use a special sublimation coating spray designed for such surfaces.

Can I use regular sublimation inks on plastic?

Yes, regular sublimation inks work well on polyester-based materials but may not yield ideal results on non-polyester plastics. Consider using sublimation inks formulated for non-polyester surfaces for better adhesion and vibrancy.

What temperature and time should I use for sublimation on plastic?

The temperature and time settings will vary depending on the type of plastic and sublimation materials you use. Most experts advise keeping the temperature at 350oF – 380oF for 30-40 seconds.

Can I sublimate on dark-colored plastic items?

Sublimation is best suited for light-colored or white plastic items, as the inks are translucent and may not appear well on dark backgrounds. Lighter colors allow the sublimation inks to retain their true vibrancy.

How durable are sublimated prints on plastic?

When sublimation printing is done correctly on suitable plastic items, the prints are highly durable and resistant to fading, peeling, or scratching. Properly cared for, sublimated prints on plastic can last long.

Can I wash sublimated plastic items?

Yes, sublimated plastic items are usually dishwasher-safe, but it’s best to use a gentle cycle and avoid harsh cleaning agents to prolong the print’s life.

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