Creating a complex-looking embroidery design doesn’t have to involve the use of countless thread colours and trims — all you need is polyester thread, a dye-sub printer and limitless imagination! Dominic Bunce of embroidery digitiser David Sharp reveals all

Sublimation printing is a process whereby dyes are transferred onto a substrate using heat and pressure. The sublimation inks are printed onto transfer paper and when the paper is heated the inks turn into gas (ie sublimate); this gas then bonds with polyester fibres or coatings, creating an indelible print.

It is commonly used for creating high-quality, full-colour prints on various materials such as polyester fabrics, polyester-coated ceramics, and plastics.

Polyester threads are also receptive to sublimation inks, which opens up even more creative possibilities. By combining two-dimensional sublimation prints on the three-dimensional surface of embroidery, it is possible to achieve textured, three-dimensional designs that add an elegant touch to any piece of clothing.

Sublimation printing onto embroidery offers several advantages over traditional embroidery techniques.

Firstly, it allows for full-colour, high-resolution prints that cannot be achieved through embroidery alone. Secondly, sublimation printing does not add any weight to the fabric, unlike some embroidery techniques that can make the fabric heavy or stiff.

In this step-by-step, David Sharp joined forces with Erin Spence from equipment supplier Amaya Sales UK, to demonstrate how easy it is to create a unique piece of artwork for any garment.



(1) Choose your artwork then digitise the design using a simple one-colour process; we used Wilcom EmbroideryStudio for this. This can be done as a flat tatami stitch, using different stitch angles to make it look more textured. This is a very quick and simple method, ideal for small volume works that are needed in a hurry

(2) Alternatively, you can use a mixture of tatami and satin stitches to raise the embroidery up. While this creates texture, it does add not only to the digitising time, but also to the stitch count and therefore the production time

(3) When stitching a design that is to be dye-sublimated, it is vital that polyester thread is used as the sublimation process will only work on polyester, not rayon

(4) We used a Melco EMT16X embroidery machine, 75/11 needles and Madeira Polyneon thread to stitch the design

(5) Next, the full-colour design was printed out on plain copier paper on a Uninet IColor 540 using the sublimation ink selection

(6) Cut around the transfer, leaving about 1cm edging to make positioning easier, then place the transfer over the embroidery. Secure the transfer in place with heat tape; otherwise, it is all too easy for the transfer to move during application and pressing, ruining all that hard work

(7) Cover the transferwith protective paper then press it for 90 seconds at 195°C with high-pressure; we used a Hotronix Fusion IQ heat press

(8) Hot peel the paper away

(9) And there you have it, a textured, sublimated piece, created in a fraction of the time it would have taken to produce a direct embroidery thanks to there being no colour changes or trims