6 Best Sublimation Software in 2022 (Free & Paid)

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Best Sublimation Software

Sublimation printing is popular for printing designs onto apparel, mugs, signs, and other products – for either your own fun projects, or for running your own small business. Before you can get started with sublimation printing, though, you need to find the best sublimation software for you.

To help you decide what software to use for sublimation, in this guide we review 6 different popular programs.

We’ll take a look at the top free sublimation software as well as the best paid options, and cover everything you need to know to make the best decision for you. 

Top Picks

Best Free & Paid Sublimation Software – Full Round-Up

  • Canva: Free Sublimation Design Software for Beginners with Templates
  • Inkscape: Free & Open Source Software with Great Range of Design Tools
  • GIMP: Best Free Photo Editing Software for Sublimation Printing
  • Adobe Photoshop: Best Photo Editing Software for Sublimation on Mac & Windows, Best for Epson
  • Adobe Illustrator: Best Software for Sublimation Printing with Vector Graphics on Mac, Windows & Epson
  • CorelDraw: Best Sublimation Software for Combined Vector Design & Photo Editing in Mac, Windows & Mobile

What is Sublimation Printing? 

Sublimation printing is a technique that uses heat, ink and sublimation paper to transfer a design onto your chosen material. It’s commonly used for printing designs on clothing and signs, as well as accessories like mugs. 

How Does Sublimation Work?

If we’re talking science: sublimation is the transition of a solid material to a gas, without passing through a liquid state. 

Sublimation printing works by first printing a design onto a sheet of sublimation paper using an ink printer.

After that, sublimation paper is placed over your material, and the design is transferred using a heat press. The heat from the press turns the ink on the sublimation paper into a gas, which then permanently binds with the material, forming a permanent print. 

Sublimation printing steps - how it works

Do I need special software for sublimation printing?

No, you don’t need specialist software for sublimation printing. Sublimation software refers to any software that can be used to create designs to be sent to a sublimation printer. These include many popular general design programs like Photoshop and CorelDraw.

Essentially, you just need a design program that can export EPS, JPEG, PNG, SVG, PSD, PDF, or TIFF files to use a sublimation software.

Main Advantages of Sublimation Software (FS)

  • Create high quality designs for printing onto clothes, mugs, and other products 
  • Use ready-made images and templates to base your designs off 
  • Export from a variety of file types depending on your preference and printer
  • Choose from raster software for printing photos and detailed images or vector software for logos and text 
  • Design sublimation prints on your laptop, mobile, or smartphone

What Can You Do With Sublimation Design Software?

What you can do with sublimation software largely depends on two key factors – the type of software, and how high quality it is. 

The first is key as there are two types of graphic design software that can be used for sublimation printing – vector and raster:

  • Vector art is rendered by a computer using mathematical formulas (so you don’t lose quality as you scale, like you do with pixels) and is best for designs like logos and text
  • Raster art uses pixels and is suited to editing photos and more complex designs

There are many vector and raster design programs out there of varying quality, and the quality often depends on how much you’re willing to pay. 

You can use basic tools like Canva and Inkscape for free, but paid programs like Photoshop and CorelDraw offer a wider range of more advanced features, opening up more design possibilities. Adobe Illustrator specializes in vector files like SVG, PDF, and EPS files.

Advantages of sublimation design software

Best Sublimation Software 

Now for our sublimation software reviews, where we take a look at six top programs. Whether you’re looking for the best sublimation software for Epson, Windows, Mac, or iPad, you’ll find a program here that’s up to the task.

Best Free Sublimation Software

Canva – Free Sublimation Design Software for Beginners with Templates

design for sublimation printing in Canva
Design for sublimation printing in Canva. Credit: Corinne Blackstone

Pros

Intuitive drag-and-drop design 

Supports PDF, JPEG, PNG

iOS & Android apps

Excellent collaborative features in Canva for Teams

Sublimation templates free software

Cons

More basic design tools than other software

Canva is a raster graphics software that’s one of the simplest design tools for beginners, and is completely free to use. This is largely because of its intuitive drag-and-drop mechanism that makes it super easy to create attractive designs.

One of the best things about using Canva as a free sublimation printing software is that it has a large library of design templates and images, which you can use as a base to edit or simply to print as ready-made designs.

These include design templates for common sublimation print projects like mugs and t-shirts. You can also upload your own designs and access more tools and premium content if you choose to subscribe to Canva Pro. 

Canva Pro also gives you access to the Background Remover, which honestly on its own makes it worth the monthly fee. We use it EVERY day.

While Canva does restrict you to more basic designs than some of the other sublimation graphics software we cover, its ease of use, templates, and free use make it a good choice for newbies. 


Inkscape – Free & Open Source Software with Great Range of Design Tools 

designing in Inkscape
Furry Fox design created in Inkscape. Credit: Dmitry Zhart

Pros

Completely free & open source 

Wide range of drawing tools 

Advanced design features 

Active user community

Lots of learning resources

Cons

Steeper learning curve than most paid software 

No mobile app 

Another of the best free design software for sublimation printing is Inkscape. Whereas Canva is a raster image editor suited to web designs, infographics and social media images, Inkscape is a vector image software that’s better suited to logos, icons, and typography.

This open source software has a wide range of drawing tools, including a freehand pencil tool, shape tools, and text tools. With other features including object manipulation, fill and stroke, path operations, and rendering, Inkscape offers the best variety of advanced design tools of any free sublimation software.

Unlike most paid programs, Inkscape is a very community-based software – and it’s completely free and open source. 

There are many forums where you can interact with other users, as well as a gallery where you can share and view designs – and there are even community design contests. There’s also a wide range of learning resources to help you get to grips with the software.

Inkscape is also commonly used for laser cutters and engravers for creating SVGs for shapes and text, and for some CNC routers.


GIMP – Best Free Photo Editing Software for Sublimation Printing

Editing in GIMP
Our installation of GIMP.

Pros

Powerful photo manipulation tools

Icon design elements

Open source

Well supported & regularly updated

Lots of scripts and plug-ins developed by community

Cons

Steeper learning curve than other programs 

No mobile app 

If you’re looking for the closest software to Photoshop that’s free to use, GIMP is probably your best bet. GIMP is a photo manipulation and graphic design tool that’s widely used in sublimation printing. 

Like Inkscape, GIMP is open source. It’s well supported, regularly updated, and has a huge range of tutorials online for you to learn from. There are also lots of scripts and plug-ins developed by members of the community that you can use to enhance your design experience.

Although it’s primarily used for working with photos and complex images, including retouching, restoring, and creative composites, GIMP also has tools for making logos and icons, so it’s pretty versatile – ideal for creating sublimation designs for t-shirts and similar items.

As is often the case with open source design software, GIMP lacks the sleek look and intuitiveness of paid programs, but if you put the time into learning, it it’s a powerful free sublimation tool.

And if you prefer browser-based software without any download, opt for Photopea instead.


Best Paid Sublimation Software 

Adobe Photoshop – Best Photo Editing Software for Sublimation on Mac & Windows, Best for Epson

  • From: from $20.99 per month
Designing for sublimation printing in Adobe Photoshop
Designing for sublimation printing in Adobe Photoshop. Source: Youtube

Pros

Industry standard for photo editing

Huge range of features & design tools

Intuitive interface

Endless amount of tutorials online

Wide range of plug-ins

Cons

No vector designs 

Adobe Photoshop is one of the best sublimation design software if you’re using photos and raster graphics as the basis of your sublimation prints. 

One of the world’s best known and best-selling design software, Photoshop is super simple to use and has loads of useful features. 

Whether you want to edit photos and downloaded images or create digital paintings, it provides a super intuitive solution and there are endless tutorials online to help you learn. 

In just a few steps you can remove objects from photos and images, retouch, add layers, change backgrounds, and much more. There are a wide range of filters for adding effects –  and as well as photo editing, you can also use Photoshop brushes to create artistic typography designs.

As well as the many features available in this sublimation printing software, there are also hundreds of plug-ins available to add to Photoshop, opening up even more possibilities. 

Another advantage of Photoshop is that it offers a very intuitive sublimation app for iPad and iPhone, allowing you to work on your sublimation designs from anywhere. 


Adobe Illustrator – Best Software for Sublimation Printing with Vector Graphics on Mac, Windows & Epson

  • Price: from $20.99 monthly 
Designing for sublimation printing in Adobe Illustrator
Creating a sublimation design from a mock up. Source: Youtube

Pros

Industry leading vector design software 

Create logos, typography, infographics, icons and more

Designs scale without losing quality

Available on Mac, Windows, and iPad

Fantastic range of learning resources

Cons

Not suited for raster graphic work 

Illustrator is the vector graphics alternative to Photoshop and is among the most popular design software for sublimation printing.

This program has a fantastic array of vector design tools that allow you to create stunning graphics. For example, you can intertwine text and objects to add unique depth to your creations, and you can even add realistic effects, lighting, and textures to turn 2D images into 3D.

One of the best things about Adobe Illustrator is the fantastic range of learning materials for beginners. With guides on everything from how to create a logo to how to make textured 3D text, Illustrator is a great choice if you’re new to sublimation design software.

In addition to creating logos and text, Illustrator has tools for creating hand lettering, icon, infographic, and banner designs, so it’s a really versatile tool that can be used for all sorts of sublimation projects.

Its wide range of features, intuitive interface, and helpful resources make Illustrator one of the best sublimation software for Mac and Windows, and it also boasts a fantastic iPad app to boot.


CorelDraw – Best Sublimation Software for Combined Vector Design & Photo Editing in Mac, Windows & Mobile

  • Price: from $39 monthly or $269 annually 
Designing for sublimation printing in CorelDraw
Creating a pattern design in CorelDraw. Source: Youtube

Pros

Supports vector design & photo editings

Wide range of templates & other assets

Supports nine file types 

Access over 1,000 font families

Strong support & training resources

Cons

Standard version only available on Windows

CorelDraw is one of the most popular graphic design software and is used by millions worldwide. It’s primarily a vector graphic design program but also has photo editing tools making it one of the most versatile sublimation editing software.

There are several different subscription options for CorelDraw. The cheapest is CorelDraw Standard which offers its key vector design and photo editing tools, though this version is only available on Windows. 

This is also one of the best sublimation software with templates, as it comes with 60 professionally designed templates, 1,000 clipart and digital images, 175 fonts, 100 high resolution photos, and 20 photo frames. 

The other option is CorelDraw Graphics Suite, which is much more compatible as it can be used online, downloaded for Mac, and as a mobile app. It also comes with a wider range of design features, such as AfterShot HDR which allows you to make professional-grade edits and enhancement to RAW or JPEG photos and create images with high dynamic ranges.

Another benefit of CorelDraw is that it allows you to export designs in nine different file types, including JPEG, PNG, PDF, SVG, EPS, and TIFF – far more than most other sublimation programs.


Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing sublimation design software 

Buying Guide-Sublimation design software

Raster or Vector Graphics

You can use either raster or vector sublimation printing design software, but which one you choose will have an impact on the results. This is because raster graphics are best suited to working on photos and more complex designs with lots of pixels, while vector graphics are best suited to more simple designs like logos, icons, and typography.

So, you need to pick your software based on what type of graphics you want to use. For example, Photoshop is a raster graphics software ideal for printing photos, while Illustrator uses vector graphics so is more suitable for logos. 

Features 

The features available in the best programs for sublimation vary a lot, so you should definitely check out the tools on offer before making your decision. 

For example, Canva offers relatively basic design tools but one of the widest libraries of free, easy-to-edit templates. Illustrator offers a fantastic range of vector design features, while Photoshop has the best photo editing tools. 

Compatibility 

Most of the best sublimation printing software we’ve covered offer decent device compatibility, but you should still check if a program is compatible with your preferred device. This is particularly the case with free sublimation software, as while programs like Inkscape and GIMP are available on Mac, Windows, and Linux, they don’t offer mobile apps.

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator offer fantastic iOS apps but aren’t available on Android. In fact, only a few sublimation programs, such as Canva, have native Android apps.

Usability & Training 

If you’re new to graphic design, it’s important to find a program that matches your experience level. For example, some of the best design software for sublimation like Photoshop and CorelDraw have a somewhat steeper learning curve than the likes of Canva, which is very simple and a popular choice among beginners. 

Budget & Free Trial

Thanks to the likes of Canva and GIMP, you can use free sublimation software for Epson and 3D printers without needing to pay a penny. 

However, if you’re looking for a more professional solution, you may want to pay for a subscription to a program like Photoshop, Illustrator, or CorelDraw. The likes of CorelDraw are fairly costly, so make sure it’s what you need before signing up and remember to use the free trial period to try programs out before committing.

How to Make Sublimation Designs?

To create sublimation designs all you need is a vector or raster graphic design software, with Photoshop, CorelDraw, and Canva all popular choices. 

How to Print Sublimation Transfers?

Once you have your design, there are two steps to sublimation printing: first printing your design onto a sheet of sublimation paper, and then transferring the print onto your material using a heat transfer press

Heatpress for tshirt printing
A heat press being used to transfer a design onto a t-shirt.

Where Can You Find Free Sublimation Images and Templates?

Some sublimation design software, such as Canva, offer a wide range of free templates and images. Alternatively, there are many free designs available online from third party sites that you can upload to your software of choice. 

What Software Do I Use To Print Sublimation?

There are many different software you can use to create sublimation print designs, including Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw, Silhouette Studio, and Inkskape.

When To Use Sublimation Printing?

Sublimation printing is best used for printing designs onto products made of materials like polyester, cotton, or ceramic, such as clothing and mugs. 

Which Sublimation Printer is Best?

These are two of the best sublimation printers on the market:

  • Epson SureColor F170 – affordable home sublimation printer that offers fantastic quality and value. 
  • Sawgrass SG500 – professional printer design specifically for sublimation printing. 

FAQs

What program do you use to sublimate?

There are many different graphic design programs you can use for sublimation printing. Some of the most popular options include Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw, GIMP, and Affinity. 

What do you use to design for sublimation?

You need a vector or raster graphic design software that supports EPS, JPEG, PNG, SVG, PSD, PDF, or TIFF files for sublimation printing.

Can you use Cricut software for sublimation?

Yes, Cricut Design Space can be used to create designs for sublimation printing.

Can you use Silhouette program for sublimation?

Yes, Silhouette Studio can be used to create designs for sublimation printing.

What software do you need for mug sublimation?

You can use a variety of different software for mug sublimation prints, including Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw, Canva, and Affinity.

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