Tips For Designing A Standout Sublimated Jersey

Posted on: on Mar 30, 2016, 3:51:22 PM



If you play ultimate, you probably have an opinion about sublimated jerseys. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that they are an integral part of our sport.

For our part, we’ve seen great designs and terrible ones, and the pattern is not random. Here’s a quick list of tips to help you design a truly great sub jersey!

PSST - Do you have the graphic design chops to make your own sub gear? Download the photoshop sub templates to get started!



1. Know The Difference between Sublimation & Screen Printing

Designing screen printed ultimate gear is kind of like directing an indie movie. Costs are relatively low, but restrictions abound.


You, as director, are often forced to come up with creative ways to get your point across without shelling out for fancy camera effects or insane computer graphics.


Designing sub jerseys, on the other hand, is more like directing a multi-million dollar superhero flick. It costs a lot more to produce, but the “cool factor” is a much higher, and there are very, very few restrictions.


As director of a film of this magnitude, you will rarely, if ever, be constrained by anything but your imagination.


"Sublimation" is actually a technical term for the transition of a substance directly from a solid to a gas, without becoming a liquid in between. (more here if you want to really nerd out)


Here’s a graphic of how we use sublimation to design a sublimated jersey. You can find a depiction of how we screen print on gear by heading to our previous post 3 Things Every College Captain Should Know About Screen Printing.




With a sub jersey, you quite literally start with a blank sheet of paper. Anything that can be printed by a color printer can be applied to a sub jersey.


Yeah, it's pretty darn cool, but having unlimited options and lots of space to fill can be overwhelming for captains.


Unfortunately, some of them fall into the trap of the blockbuster director, shouting random words like “more explosions!” and “throw a dinosaur riding a pink-bearded mountain-man on there!”.


Don't get me wrong: our designers aim to please, and they won't stop you from adding a third leprechaun to your fleet of six unicorns puking rainbow lightning. But they will certainly have opinions about how your jersey looks on the whole. If you ever want their opinion, all you have to do is ask.



2. Start With a Vision

We offer unlimited free art assistance here at Five, but you’re going to have a better outcome if you start the process with SOME idea of what you want the final product to look like.


In our post on getting custom gear as quickly as possible, we laid out a short process for how to brainstorm a ballin’ jersey. The same elements apply here:


If you don't have a good idea of what you want your gear to look like, we recommend the following brainstorming process:

  1. Take 20 minutes and imagine your ideal sub jersey. Does it have a ton of color? Is it a parody of your favorite throwback NBA shirt? Write these ideas down as they occur to you. Even broad themes are helpful at this stage.

  2. Use Google image search to find design elements that are similar to your vision. If you can’t find what you want, try drawing it by hand. A black marker on white paper is the best option for drawings, and if you can get your hands on a scanner that’s preferable to a smart phone pic.

  3. Email us with your vision and examples. We’ll take it all in and make it into a ballin’ design for free!



3. Give Yourself Some Parameters

You’d think that unlimited options would result in better blockbuster movies AND better sublimated jersey designs. But it turns out that the opposite is true. 


In our experience, having some restrictions actually helps you to create a better outcome, because it forces you to find smarter, cleaner, more interesting ways to get your point across. Check out the jerseys we've got in the works for Tron for example. Less is definitely more here:


You should try to act like a low-budget indie director when you approach your sublimated design, even though your "budget" for what is possible, is limited only to your imagination.


Tips number 4 & 5 below offer some ideas for parameters you might give yourself.



4. Make Friends With Subtle Patterns

Fill your negative space with one of these babies and your jersey will come out with a texture that adds depth from afar and visual intricacy up-close.


Scandal's 2016 jerseys do an excellent job incorporating a subtle pattern, and their jerseys are better for it.




Unintended bonus: your defenders will be too busy staring at your shirt to realize you’re about to blow by them up-line!



5. When In Doubt, Center The Design Around Your Primary Logo

Let’s look at my own team, Birdfruit, as an example here.


We could ditch our two-color logo, which has identified our team from its inception, in favor of a photorealistic pile of fruit with a macaw thrown into the mix, but that doesn't mean we should.




… I don't really want to play in this.


Instead, we'd be better off finding a way to spruce up our logo for a sublimated design. A good way to do this is by adding texture or a gradient to a classic logo. These elements are impossible to create using screen printing and can help bring your old logo to life without obscuring its identity.



6. Ask Us What We Think

Hey, here's a radical idea: you can always ask what our designers think of a change you’re imagining!


They’ve seen it all, and they know what looks good. Trust them when they tell you that you probably shouldn’t add a third Maryland flag, or a Seattle skyline to your jersey.


Just look at what they came up with for the US National team this year, proudly featuring neither of those design elements:


Clearly, they know what they're doing. If you're stoked about these subs and want to rep Team USA during Worlds this summer, you can get your own US National Team jersey and other gear in our store!



7. Exceptions To The Rule


Go the Illusion Route

Some teams take advantage of sublimation in an entirely different way. Take a look at these jerseys for Mudpit Gladiators that we’re making right now:


By using photorealism and clever placement, they've achieved a look that will definitely stand out.


Well executed illusion-jerseys can be a lot of fun and are often the source of much envy at tournaments. Here's a couple more we've recently made, for Hollywood Time Jumpers and Key Party, respectively:






Put your friend's face on a jersey!

No really, just your friend’s face. Simply slap it on there, then make some sweet videos about how funny it is that you put your friend’s face on your jerseys.




8. Keep Ultimate weird (aka don't take this list too seriously)


Crazy sublimated jerseys are an integral part of ultimate culture, and we wouldn't have it any other way. So please don't take this list too seriously.


If your heart really wants four separate explosions, laser cats, and elephant-inspired space ships on the same jersey, give it exactly that.


After all, your school’s varsity teams aren't going to be allowed to play in those, so somebody might as well step up.


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Over To You

Got any other great ideas for how to design a sublimated jersey? Let it rip!