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This is the first in a three-part series I’m doing on how to sublimate on dark-colored, 100% cotton t-shirts. I’m starting off by showing you how to sublimate on a dark, 100% cotton shirt with glitter HTV (aka heat transfer vinyl or iron-on).
For Christmas this past year I gave myself an early gift of an Epson Eco-Tank printer that I converted for sublimation because I wanted to make more sublimation projects (obvious, right? lol). And, I did make some fun mugs for my extended family as gifts but I digress…
I love the look and feel of sublimation on 100% polyester t-shirts but normally I wear cotton t-shirts. So can you sublimate on 100% cotton t-shirts? Especially dark colored ones?
Yes, sort of…there are a variety of ways to get around the problem that true sublimation only works on 100% (or close) polyester fabrics and surfaces. But with all of them you’re not truly sublimating an image into the cotton, you’re sublimating into a substrate added on top of the cotton or sprayed on the cotton surface.
Despite the fact that many of them have the same feel as a shirt with HTV on it, I like the look and love cotton t-shirts so I’m giving three of them a try to show you how as well as share any tips I glean along the way.
Please check out the video tutorial below or scroll down for instructions with photos:
What is Sublimation?
Sublimation is the process of taking a usually multi-colored image that is printed using specialty sublimation inks (I use Hiipoo ink) onto a special paper (I use A-Sub 120 G), then heating the image while pressing it to a surface to get the ink to vaporize and infuse into the surface of the object the image is pressed against. Afterwards, the image is really “in” the surface. Something about the chemical reaction between the ink and the surface allows the image to be fused with the surface (that’s as technical as I can get).
Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, this fusing only truly works with 100% man-made polyester fabrics or surfaces that are coated with a 100% polyester coating, like mugs and cutting boards to name a few. It doesn’t work on natural fibers like cotton except for different work arounds; three of which I will cover in this series.
Why Can You Sublimate on Glitter HTV?
The glitter used in glitter heat transfer vinyl is made out of polyester. So when heated, the sublimation print fuses to the polyester in the glitter.
Sublimation ink is translucent when it’s transferred. If you want the colors to be true, you need to sublimate on to white glitter HTV because the color of the glitter will show through the design. If you don’t mind having the colors dull or change a bit, you can sublimate on other light colors of glitter HTV like silver or pale pink.
Regular flat-style HTVs are usually made out of polyurethane, not polyester, and for whatever reason (I’m sure a chemist could explain it but I am not one…lol) you can’t sublimate on polyurethane. That’s why sublimation doesn’t usually work with flat HTVs. I will cover a special type of HTV that can take sublimation, however, in the third part of this series.
Now to get started on the project…
Upload the Design to Cricut Design Space
To get started you’ll need to upload the design that will be sublimated on the glitter HTV to Cricut Design Space. From a New Project blank canvas in Design Space, click on the Upload icon at the bottom of the left-hand toolbar.
On the Upload screen, click on Upload Image.
Click Browse on the next screen. This will open a navigation window for your computer/device. Find the file wherever you saved it, click on it to select it and then click Open.
The Love Wins design I’m using is available for free in my Resource Library. You can click here to join my e-mail list to get the password to the library. If you already know the password, just click here to go to my Resource Library and navigate down to the free SVGs section.
Now, on the Select Upload Type screen, you can rename the file and add tags if you like.
Click Upload in the lower right corner. You will now see the design as the most recent upload on the Uploads screen. We will be using it as a Print Then Cut image.
Click on it to select it (a green box appears around it) and then click Add to Canvas in the lower right.
Ungroup the Card Elements in Cricut Design Space
The Love Wins design will now be on your previously blank canvas. If you look at the Layers panel on the right, you can see that all of the elements are Grouped together.
Click Ungroup at the top of the Layers panel to break them apart.
Hide the Parts You Don’t Need in Cricut Design Space
I’m not using the second version with the blue layer on top, so I need to Hide it. You can also delete it too if that’s easier. To hide it, click on it to select it. Go over to the Layers panel and click on the eye icon on the very top Group line for the selected design. Once you click on the eye, that design will disappear off the Canvas.
Resize the Design in Cricut Design Space
The design comes in at a small size so you need to make it bigger for an adult t-shirt. But Cricut Design Space has limitations on how large you can print then cut something which is 9.25″ x 6.75″. For an adult t-shirt (unless you’re making an XXS or something), I suggest you make the design as large as possible aka 6.7″ H.
To do this, click on the design to select it, navigate to the Size box on the top toolbar. Make sure the lock icon is locked so the dimensions will change proportionally when you change the height and then type 6.7″ into the Height box. The width should change to something around 7.6″ or so.
Now it will print at a good size for an adult t-shirt. You can of course always keep it smaller if you are making a toddler shirt or baby onesie instead.
Change the Colors of the Layers in Cricut Design Space if Desired
I designed the Love Wins with a retro color palette. But if you want to change the colors you easily can.
To do so, click on the top yellow layer of either word (I picked Wins first) to select it. Click on the Fill Color box on the top toolbar, in the Operation box.
You can change the color of the yellow layer by selecting any of the colors show or click on Advanced + at the bottom of the box to open up a color slider you can use to find the color you want or enter a Hexadecimal code for a very specific color at the bottom.
I changed the color to the light yellow in my logo using the hexadecimal code but you don’t need to be that particular. Lol!
Repeat the process for the remaining layers until you are happy with your color palette of the Love Wins design.
Now, check the Operation type dropdown menu for the design Group on the top toolbar, next to the Fill Color box). If it is set to Cut>Basic, change it to Print Then Cut on the Dropdown menu.
Create a Solid Background for the Design in Cricut Design Space
Because there are white spaces between some of the letters in the design, your Cricut will cut those out of the Print Then Cut image if you don’t fill them in. I’m never confident that the machine will be able to accurately cut spaces that small out of a Print Then Cut image so I prefer to fill them in with a solid layer behind the word layers.
To do this, select the Love Wins group and navigate to the bottom of the Layers panel. Click Attach.
Then navigate to the top of the Layers panel and click Duplicate. This will create a second copy of the layered design.
Move the duplicate over so it’s in it’s own area of the Canvas. Click to select it and navigate back to the bottom of the Layers panel and click Combine>Weld.
This will change the duplicate into a single one color layer. There are several holes in the duplicate that are super obvious now that it is one solid color (these are the holes I was referring to earlier). Since the object is welded, we can’t use the Contour tool so we’ll need to fill the holes with a shape instead.
Navigate to the Shapes tool on the left toolbar and choose an oval. An oval will appear on the Canvas in a dark charcoal color. Drag it on top of the solid design layer. Resize it by pulling on the corner handles until it covers all of the holes in the layer without going beyond the edges of the solid object. You may need to use the Rotate tool on the top toolbar to get it to fit just right.
Now click the oval to select it, hold down your Shift key and click to select the solid design layer so you have both selected. Navigate to the bottom of the Layers panel and click Combine>Weld. The solid object and oval will fuse together so the holes are now gone.
Change the fill color of the solid welded layer to white if necessary. Then with the solid welded layer selected, click on the Arrange tool in the top toolbar and choose Send to Back.
Click and drag over both the solid white layer and the colored Love Wins group to select both. Navigate to the Align tool on the Top toolbar and click on Center to center the colored design over the white solid layer.
With both objects still selected, click Attach at the bottom of the Layers panel.
Create an Offset in Cricut Design Space
Because the bottom layer in the design in my version is dark blue and I’m sublimating it on a purple t-shirt, I want to add a border all the way around the design so it will stand out on the shirt. If I don’t, the dark blue will basically blend right in to the purple shirt.
To do this, select the big group of objects you just made and then navigate to the Offset tool on the top toolbar. The default setting for an offset is a quarter inch and you’ll see that size border show up all the way around the design after you first open the Offset panel.
I think that’s too large, so I change it to .125″ (or an eight of an inch) by typing in the Distance box and hit enter. Once I do that, the border around the object will shrink to show what the thinner offset will look like.
When you’re happy with the look, click Apply and a new offset layer will appear under the design. It usually defaults to a black fill.
Change the Operation Type from Print The Cut to Cut>Basic on the top toolbar. This is the layer that will be cut out of the glitter HTV so change the fill color to White.
Pull the offset out from behind the colored design to see if there are any strange holes in it. Mine has several. If yours does too, click on the offset to select it and navigate down to the Contour tool at the bottom of the Layers panel. Click on it to open it and you’ll see the offset show up in the box along with silhouettes of each cut on the right.
At the bottom of the right hand list of cuts is a button that says ‘Hide All Contours’. Click it and the cuts in the offset picture will gray out to show you’ve basically turned them off.
Click the X in the upper right corner of the Contour box to close it. Now the Offset layer should be completely solid, no holes showing anymore.
Flatten the Print Then Cut Image
Now it’s time to flatten the colored, multi-layered Love Wins design so it will print and then cut the way you want it to. If you don’t Flatten it, your Cricut machine will try to cut out each word layer as a separate piece. It will keep it all together when it tries to do it because it is attached, but it will be a big mess when it’s done. Guess how I learned that? Lol.
To Flatten it, click on the colorful Love Wins group to select it. Navigate to the bottom of the Layers panel and click on Flatten.
You’ll see the Layers panel go from having 10 layers for the words down to one layer. Flatten turns many layers into one layer so your machine will read it as one thing to cut rather than several.
Flip the Design in Cricut Design Space
This is just a quirk of mine, but I prefer to flip design elements for Print Then Cut projects before clicking “Make It” in Cricut Design Space. For some reason, this makes me believe the printer will properly print the design backwards before I need to cut it out. But, you can also use the Mirror setting on the Mat screen to flip the elements too. Long story short, you MUST flip both layers of the design before printing or cutting them out so they print and cut backwards.
To do it my way, click and drag to select all objects. Navigate to the Flip tool on the top toolbar and choose Flip Horizontal
Now, click “Make It” in the upper right of the screen to go to the Mat Screen.
Settings to Print Then Cut the Design on a Budget Sublimation Printer
The next screen should show 2 mats. One for the Print Then Cut colored Love Wins with a black box around it that is what the machine will read to cut the image. There will be a black box right up against the image too but don’t worry about that one – it doesn’t print. It’s just the bounding box for the image itself. You’ll have a second mat for the white glitter HTV offset layer. Click Continue in the lower right.
Now, you’ll be prompted to print the Print Then Cut image so click on the Send to Printer button. A pop-up menu will appear.
Select your sublimation printer from the dropdown menu. Leave ‘Add Bleed’ turned on if desired. I like to add a bleed just in case the cut leaves any white around the design (bleed helps prevent that). For this project, white won’t really show once it’s transferred to the glitter HTV so it may not matter. Definitely turn on the ‘Use System Dialog’ toggle button and click the Print button.
Now your printer’s dialog box should appear. If it doesn’t, minimize your Design Space window to check behind it for the dialog box. Sometimes it can hide there. Once you see it, make sure the correct printer is selected and then click on the button for advanced settings. On my printer’s dialog box I click ‘Preferences’, yours may be labeled differently depending on your computer and printer.
The type of paper setting to select may vary depending on your printer but I use Presentation Paper Matte for the A-Sub paper in my Epson ET-3850. You will need to test your printer a bit to get the right settings for the colors when you first get it set up. Choose the type of paper setting that works best in your machine, but make sure it is set on High or Best quality. Also, double check and make sure that none of the settings that could change the size are selected; they are usually choices like ‘Fit to Page’ or “Zoom to Fit’ and those kinds of choices. These will change the size of the print and you DO NOT want that to happen.
Then click the Apply or OK button and then Print to print the design. Yay!
Base Material Settings in Cricut Design Space
NOTE: Cricut Explore Air 2 users should set their dial to Custom and then follow these instructions. Cricut Maker, Explore 3 and Maker 3 users can just follow the instructions.
While the design is printing, you can Select the Base Material for the Print Then Cut image. I use Infusible Ink Transfer Sheet for my A-Sub paper. To find this, click on Browse All Materials.
Scroll down in the materials menu to the Iron-On section. Select ‘Infusible ink Transfer Sheet’ by clicking it. Then click ‘Done’ in the lower right to return to the main screen.
When the time comes to cut the glitter HTV mat, you need to change the material setting in Cricut Design Space. I use Glitter HTV with More Pressure when cutting the Siser Rainbow White Glitter HTV I am using for this project.
You can find that by going to the same Iron-On section in the materials menu and then clicking Glitter Iron-On. When you get back to the main screen, click on the dropdown menu under Pressure and select ‘More’.
Cut the Elements Out with Your Cricut
Load a Cricut mat with your Print Then Cut image, making sure to match it’s location on the mat with the one shown in Cricut Design Space. Then load it into your Cricut Maker or Explore Series machine. Back over in Cricut Design Space click Go and watch your Cricut cut the print then cut image and then the glitter HTV for the design.
I suggest flipping the mat over and rolling the mat away from the material when removing the elements from the mats. This keeps the material flat.
You need to weed the excess vinyl away from the glitter HTV offset layer. I do this by trimming down the piece of cut HTV to give it a smaller edge around the cut design and to save the excess HTV. Then, because it’s kind of thick, I use my fingers to pull the excess off the edge of the backing sheet and peel it away from the design.
EasyPress 2 Set Up For Sublimation on Glitter HTV
I use my Cricut EasyPress 2 to set HTV and sublimate things. It’s the only heat press I can fit in my small craft space, at least right now. The set up I use is an old towel, my Easy Press mat on top of that and then the cotton t-shirt on the mat.
For temperature and time, I set the EasyPress 2 to 375 degrees F for 55 seconds. I only use the full 55 seconds for the sublimation part of the process, NOT for tacking down the glitter HTV (see next step).
Prep the 100% Cotton T-Shirt for the Glitter HTV
For heat transfer vinyl to adhere properly to a cotton t-shirt you want to heat it for 5 – 10 seconds to remove any moisture that may be trapped in the fibers of the fabric. I do this with the EasyPress2 as it’s heating up. I just place it down on the t-shirt and move it around a bit in the area where the design will go while counting to 5. If you want to use a timer to be more precise, feel free.
After the shirt cools down, take a clean lint roller and roll over the surface of the shirt to remove any lint or fuzz stuck to it. Lint can get stuck under the HTV and mess up the bond between the HTV and the cotton t-shirt.
Tack the Glitter HTV Down on the Cotton T-Shirt
If you don’t already know, heat transfer vinyl has a glue on it that melts to bond it to the fibers in whatever you’re heat setting it on. It is very possible to overheat the heat transfer vinyl and cause the glue to basically disintegrate so the HTV won’t stick. That’s why you only want to tack the glitter HTV to the shirt for a very brief 2 – 5 seconds. Just enough so it sticks to the shirt and you can remove the backing sheet.
First, place the glitter HTV offset layer down on the shirt in the right spot, glitter and backing sheet side up. I went for the center of the t-shirt about 4 fingers down from the collar. Press in place with your hands so the backing sheet sticks to the cotton t-shirt.
Now place a Teflon sheet or piece of butcher/parchment paper over the HTV to protect it from the EasyPress 2.
Then, being careful to cover the entire piece of HTV with your EasyPress 2, place it down on to the glitter HTV. Use medium pressure and press in place for no more than 5 seconds. Remove the EasyPress 2 immediately once the time is up. Glitter HTV is a hot or warm peel so you can peel off the backing sheet right away if you have heat gloves to protect your hands. Or like me, let it cool down for a minute and then peel the backing sheet off.
Let the Glitter HTV cool completely before proceeding to the next step. If the Glitter HTV is warm when you place the sublimation print on it, you can get some ink ghosting (aka blurry spots) because heat activates the sublimation ink in the image.
Sublimate the Print Then Cut Image onto the Glitter HTV on the Cotton T-Shirt
Once the glitter HTV offset layer is completely cool, line up the sublimation print on top of the offset. You place it ink side down on to the glitter HTV. Use heat transfer tape to hold it in place on the glitter HTV. Chances are the edges of the offset won’t be totally even all the way around the sublimation print, so do the best you can with it.
Once you are ready, place a Teflon sheet or parchment/butcher paper over the design and place the EasyPress 2 down on top of it, making sure to cover the entire design. Start the timer to count down 55 seconds.
My research said I didn’t need to apply extra pressure but this was a mistake!! Based on my results, you should apply medium – heavy pressure to the EasyPress 2, especially in the center to get an even transfer of the sublimation ink.
After the timer beeps, immediately remove the EasyPress 2 by lifting straight up and set it back on its stand. Because I worry (possible too much?) about ghosting, I wait until the design is completely cool before removing the tape from the design and then removing it from the Glitter HTV.
The results were good. In the center of the image, the ink didn’t completely transfer because I didn’t apply any extra pressure to the EasyPress 2 during the heating. If I had, I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened.
But, it’s not easy to even see that area on the design so I am overall very pleased with the results. Plus it is super sparkly and who doesn’t love that, right?
Overall, this is a great way to sublimate on to a dark-colored 100% cotton t-shirt. It does feel just like a shirt with glitter HTV on it and not like a 100% polyester shirt after sublimating on it (which is completely smooth and you can’t feel anything). But, it’s a great way to transfer a complex multi-colored image easily to a cotton t-shirt without having to use something like printable heat transfer paper that does break down in the washer faster than glitter HTV does. And if you like sparkle, this is a super fun technique!!
What do you think? Are you going to try this method to sublimate on a dark-colored 100% cotton t-shirt or something else? Let me know in the comments below.
Questions or Comments?
If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you soon. Want to just tell me how much you loved this tutorial? Please leave me a comment below – lol!
I would also appreciate any ideas you have for topics to cover related to the software for Cricut (Design Space), Silhouette (Silhouette Studio) or Brother ScanNCut (Canvas Workspace) and any suggestions you have for projects to create with the Cricut Maker, Cricut Joy, Silhouette Cameo 4 or the Brother Scan N Cut DX. Please leave any requests you have in the comments. I appreciate you taking the time to visit and read my blog. Thanks!
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