Digital Decorating: ,

How to Avoid Ghosting When Sublimating T-shirts, Jerseys and Merch

By Shira Allego, Contributing Writer

The faint shadow images in the image above are a classic example of “ghosting” in sublimation decorating. Image courtesy of Unisub

March 9, 2024

Picture this: You’re sublimating a T-shirt or picture frame with the words “Happy Mother’s Day” and an image of a mother and child. After carefully printing the image onto transfer paper and attaching it to the picture frame or piece of blank apparel, you press the image for the appropriate amount of time.

As you take the frame out of the heat press, you lift the transfer paper to reveal the sublimated surface, but as you are doing so you accidently drop the paper back on the sublimated surface. When you move the paper again, it looks like there’s a shadow behind the text. What happened?

In sublimation, this is called “ghosting,” and it is one of this decorating process’s most common problems. However, following are a few tips that can help you completely avoid this problem.

Using Tape to Stop the Shift

A shift in the transfer paper while the panel is still very hot from the heat press results in a duplicate or “ghost” image behind the original image. Ghosting can ruin an otherwise flawless piece of decorated or promotional apparel and is particularly common on dark text with a light background. By exercising caution, you can eliminate the “ghosts” and get back to great sublimation.

The easiest way to prevent ghosting is to ensure the transfer paper remains stationary by taping it to the surface being decorated. Ghosting can happen anytime air or air pressure gets underneath the transfer paper—even when the paper is still taped to the panel. After removing the garment or panel from the heat press, leave the transfer paper taped and untouched until the panel cools. Once cooled, there is no risk of ghosting, and you can remove the transfer paper without any concern.  Giving the panel time to cool off will help to avoid the duplicate image.

Some sublimation decorators prefer to separate the transfer paper from the panel as soon as they remove the panel from the heat press. Be very cautious, and make sure to detach your transfer paper vertically from the garment or item being decorated. Do not drag it along the hot sublimated surface. You should pull the transfer off in one quick, fluid motion to keep the panel ghost-free.

By taking the time to let your panel cool after pressing it and removing the paper quickly with one fluid motion, you can ensure you’ll end up with a great product that’s ready to promote for any occasion!

Tips for Newcomers to Sublimation Decoration

For those who are beginners in hard-surface sublimation, remember to conduct extensive research. Take the time to consider exactly what you want to do with sublimation, especially understanding the tools needed to make the final product. By taking the time initially to understand which tools will work best for your system, you’ll reach perfection with the product you’d like to offer more quickly and successfully.

Shira Allego is a sublimation specialist with Unisub. Of sublimation, she says “The whole sublimation process is interesting. Sublimation is chemistry and I really love it. Now, all I need to really be a scientist is a lab coat!” This article was updated May 9, 2024