Dye-sublimation printing is definitely considered the new kid on the block within the printing industry, but thanks to technological breakthroughs it’s growing in popularity fast. In this article we will cover the benefits of dye sublimation printing in 2021, along with some basics about the sublimation process and the equipment needed.
The name may be a bit of a mouthful, but the concept is fairly easy to understand. Dye-Sublimation is the process of using special inks on printed transfer paper to dye a print surface with an image using heat. Its great advantage over traditional printing (at least in the garment industry) is the ability for the print to become a part of the fabric fibers themselves, instead of merely resting on top of the garment surface.
This single benefit results in no worries of the print scraping off or cracking over time. The second main advantage is the ability to use unlimited colors and have no image restrictions. This means that you can have complex gradients and photo quality images with low minimum run requirements and no costly set-up fees. Dye-sublimation may be superior to older, more traditional custom printing methods, but nevertheless you must possess the right equipment and the right skill set for flawless execution.
The standard equipment used in this unique printing method is a specially designed or converted inkjet style printer, special sublimation inks, sublimation transfer paper, a heat press and a sublimation friendly substrate or printing surface.
Special disperse dyes or dye-sub inks are designed to go from a solid state to a gas state at high temperatures. After they are transferred to the print surface they return to a solid state. This permanently dyes the printing substrate resulting in a long-lasting print with vibrant colors.
Sublimation printing requires a printer which is made to print dye-sub inks onto transfer paper. A wide selection of dye-sublimation printers are available in the marketplace, which allow for the perfect fit for any application and budget. Printers are available from 8.5” wide up to 10’ wide.
Transfer paper is also needed, which is made for receiving dye-sub inks and comes in a large variety of sizes to fit your printer. Once you have the design printed on your transfer paper you must lay your mirrored design on the print surface and use a heat press to heat and press the transfer paper on the substrate. Certain time and temperature specifications are required according to the material and ink you are using.
Products able to receive dye-sublimation printing vary greatly and are increasing all the time. These include man-made materials such as nylon, certain plastics and polyester fabrics to name a few. Since this trend of printing has expanded, many polymer treated hard surfaces have become popular as well like aluminum, brass, glass, fiberglass, acrylic, plastic, ceramics and hardboard sheet materials.
The key benefit of all the benefits of dye sublimation printing in 2021 is the ability to use any color with high-quality resolution. The ink jet printer prints the image transferred, this allows the use of every color in the color spectrum, except white. This includes any type of complex gradients, images and photos, or a combination of all. Using a white solid surface solves the problem of not being able to print white. Wherever the ink is not printed, the surface color of the material will show through. As a result you can print any image with the same high resolution of 150 to 300 DPI+ that can be printed on a home or office ink jet printer.
As mentioned previously the unique process of sublimated printing makes the image one with its substrate or printing surface. This means no cracking, fading or deterioration of the image will occur once it is set into the product. For apparel, this means no worries of print fade after laundering. For non-apparel items you do not need to worry that certain cleaners will erode image durability. If the base material itself can withstand the cleaning agent or environment your print will maintain its original look.
As this process grows in popularity more and more types of materials can be printed. From custom one- off flip flops, uniforms and socks to large outdoor signage and home decor items, dye sublimation has almost unlimited potential. Here are some items that are now widely used in this industry:
- Rigid Substrates – Polymer treated, non-fabric items like glass, plastic, fiberglass, ceramics, and aluminum. These are products that aren’t bendable like fabrics.
- Signage – Easily print on vinyl banners, table cloths and other trade show displays. If you see signs hanging in front of shops or buildings, there’s a good chance that sublimation printing was used.
- Polyester Fabrics – One of the most popular items to dye sublimate. They are divided into two types: Knit: Polyester products that hang & flow in their natural environment, like apparel, flags, banners, and custom printed table covers. Woven: More durable products such as fabric backdrops and custom tents
- Home Decor – The dye-sub process is often used by businesses that sell to interior designers. Decor items like ceramic floor tiles are a popular choice for bathrooms, kitchens, restaurants, & more.
- Photograph Printing – Arguably the best way to produce the highest-quality photographic images on canvas, magnets, and apparel.
Once the image is set up in a graphic design program it can easily be re-printed for high production quantities or for just one-time use. Depending on the complexity of the design it may cost you more for a graphic designer to design and set-up a print than the actual printed item.
As this process has become more popular in recent years, production equipment, product variety and affordability have increased significantly. Printed items that once required a lot of upfront set-up costs can now be achieved with the one time purchase of sublimation equipment. This means that apparel with full color coverage, even over seams, can now be achieved simply.
Sublimation printing can be used consistently over time with great results. Items like mouse pads, coffee cups, face masks, signs and marketing materials, fully custom apparel with overall printing and home decor items will benefit from this type of printing. All of these items can also be washed on a regular basis without fear of distorting their appearance.
Dye sublimation has capabilities way beyond fabric. It leaves countless printing opportunities that come in handy for crafting and business presentations where customization is a bonus.
I hope this information has proved helpful in deciding what type of printing is best for your project. Impact Northwest offers a variety of printing methods alongside of sublimation dye printing including: screen printing, embroidery, vinyl heat transfer and large format ink printing. We would be happy to speak to you about your printing needs.