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How to Bleach Shirts & Design with Sublimation

How to Bleach Shirts & Design with Sublimation main article image
Posted on February 23, 2021 by Katie Jones

What is sublimation?

To put it plainly, sublimation is a printing method that transfers a design into the fabric using ink and heat. This allows the ink and fabric to be together as one that results in a permanent, full-color design. If using the proper poly blend, the design is less prone to fading, cracking, peeling, or washing away as the ink is embedded into the fabric. It creates better results than simply applying a design using heat transfer vinyl because the sublimation method creates a much stronger bond to the substrate.

As mentioned above, using the right poly blend or 100 percent polyester works best when using the sublimation methods. It is because the ink binds with the polyester fabric. You can use 100 percent cotton or a higher cotton/poly blend but the image will not be as clear and it will definitely have a faded look. If you are going for a vintage look, this may work!

So, you may be wondering how bleaching the fabric helps with sublimation? It is not needed when sublimating onto white polyester fabric but if you choose a darker poly blend fabric, then bleaching will help make your design stand out. The design will still bond with the fabric and it makes it brighter. Bleaching creates unique design features and effects on shirts especially combined with a sublimation design. The method is extremely popular right now as it allows people to showcase their personalities and style.

How to get a sublimation design

It can seem overwhelming when you first start out making shirts and you may be wondering how you can get all the latest, cool sublimation designs. It’s really quite simple as all you need to do is search on various platforms that offer designs.  Creative Fabrica offers a huge selection of different designs that can help you create an amazing shirt that is inexpensive.

If you can’t find what you are looking for or you are interested in designing yourself, that goal is highly achievable! Making your own designs is a fun way to express your creativity but it also comes with a learning curve. There are various design programs you can use to create designs such as Photoshop, so you may need to teach yourself how to use these different programs to achieve the types of designs you want to make.

An important thing to remember when creating your own designs is that a sublimation printer will be needed. There is always the option of sending your designs to a printing company but in the end, it is more cost-effective to print them yourself. You can purchase a printer that is solely a sublimation printer or you can convert a printer. Buying a sublimation printer may be costly when first starting out making designs. An inexpensive way is converting a printer to sublimation. Most Epson Ecotank printers can be converted but research will be needed on your part to see which printer works best for your needs and how to convert it.


How to properly apply a sublimation design

Now that you have your design printed, you are ready to apply it to your shirt! This is the exciting part and you don’t want to mess it up. To not do that, you must have the proper tools. Using a home iron or even a Cricut EasyPress will not work when applying your design because there is not enough pressure or even heat coverage. Do yourself a solid and purchase a heat press. You can purchase inexpensive heat presses from online retailers to get started but for longtime use, you will want to buy a quality press that may cost more.

Temperatures and times will vary but overall, it is suggested to press a sublimation design for 60 seconds at 400° Fahrenheit (or 204° Celsius). Not all heat presses are created equal so it is a valuable investment to purchase a temperature heat gun. This will allow you to test your hot plate to see what temperature it sets at and if there are varying areas that differ from your set temperature. Doing this gives you more confidence in knowing what accurate temperature to set your heat press so you do not potentially burn your shirt or other materials you wish to sublimate on.

Bleaching 101

*First and foremost, bleach is a chemical that should be handled with caution and kept away from children and pets. If working inside, proper ventilation and PPE is a requirement because of dangerous fumes.*

There are various methods to apply bleach such as using a spray bottle or a paintbrush. Before applying bleach to your shirt, make sure to put a barrier inside the shirt so that the bleach does not saturate the backside. Either cardboard, trash bags, or tote lids will work! In my own experience, cardboard shirt forms work very well as you can slide your shirt over it and really see where your bleaching and design will be placed. They can usually be purchased at your local craft supply store or online.

There is no way to bleach a shirt – this is where your creativity will come into play! You can create a boxed area if that seems to fit your design or spray in a general area to give it a more unique look. The possibilities are endless and the most important thing is to have fun with it! There are so many different kinds of designs that any bleaching method or look will absolutely work.


To help speed up the process of the bleach turning white, a light source can be used. Either you can place your shirt outside when there is the sun or under a lamp if you are working inside. Take caution when doing inside and take the proper measures to ensure your safety, as mentioned above. It will take longer for the bleaching process to work if not under some sort of light source but it is not needed.

To stop the bleaching process, you will need to apply hydrogen peroxide to the fabric. This will help eliminate the bleach running into areas of the shirt that you do not want to bleach. Simply put hydrogen peroxide inside a spray bottle and lightly spray over the bleached areas. Wait for your shirt to dry before proceeding any further. Once your shirt is dry, put it in your washer. Do not add fabric softener but a little bit of detergent is okay. After it is done washing, place it in the dryer as normal. Again, no fabric softener sheets, and you can also hang them to dry.

Sublimation design – Put on before or after bleaching?

If you want to retain a brighter design, I recommend putting your sublimation design onto a shirt that is already bleached. You can really do it either way and the process will work flawlessly. However, putting a bleached shirt under the heat press will sometimes cause scorching. It will create a yellow tint on the bleached part of the shirt. No need to fret because simply spraying hydrogen peroxide will help get rid of the scorching! I lightly mist the scorched area and then lower my heat plate to help speed up the process of it eliminating the scorching. Do not press your plate down again or else you may have to repeat the steps or could ruin your shirt.

Here is a comparison between putting a design on an already bleached shirt versus bleaching then applying the design:


Do whatever is easiest and works for you! Happy Bleaching 🙂

Learning how to bleach shirts and then applying a sublimation design takes time, patience, and practice. Have confidence in yourself and process and always research if you are unsure of a method or process. The more you learn, the better you will become at making our own amazing shirts!

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Char Reiter

March 7, 2024

Great tutorial. I would like to add something. If you Bleach first, while you do have a brighter image to give the recipient, the first time they wash the shirt, they will get the shirt that looks like the shirt that was subbed first. They then may question what they did wrong. If we give them the final result AFTER we sub then Bleach they are getting a true representation of the shirt after a wash. Just my thoughts because of customer feedback. Hope this helps someone not have irritated customers. :)

Carolyn Hewitt

August 26, 2023

Can you use the polyester spray for all cotton shirts after bleach ing & then sublimate

Tonya Wright

June 4, 2023

I'm lost, what do you mean when you say "There is no way to bleach a shirt – this is where your creativity will come into play!" ?? Do you mean there is no ONE way?

WendyB Crafter

February 8, 2022

Thank you! I always wanted to try this!

Andrea Boehlen

October 31, 2021

By “already bleached shirt” what do you mean? One that you can buy like that? Sorry, a little confused on the wording there.

Andrea Boehlen's profile picture
Andrea Boehlen

October 31, 2021

Never mind, I see what you mean. Bleaching before or after the sublimation design. Sorry and thanks!

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