Dye sublimation printing requires heat to transfer dye onto paper, card, fabric ,skateboards, car hoods, floor mats, promotional posters and other similar materials. Apparel, photos and even ceramic tiles make use of this method of printing.
Dye sublimation printing got its name because it was first believed that the dye went through the solid and gas states without undergoing a liquid stage. When that proved to be incorrect, it was too late to change the name due to its popularity. The term dye-diffusion is the factually correct term.
Benefits of dye-sublimation fabric printing
If you are interested in doing a digital textile print on polyester fabrics, then you can take advantage of the dye sublimation method. Items undergoing this printing method have more photo-realistic, vibrant colours. Many art styles take advantage of this method. Digital artists and digital printers use this printing style to preserve how their art looks physically when exported from a computer.
What prints and what doesn’t?
The standard custom printed fabric for sublimation printing is white polyester fabric. In the case of hard substrates, items with a polyester coating are ideal. And yes, you may have seen coloured garments with sublimation decoration. You can print light colours, but since the sublimation inks are transparent, the graphic will take on the garment colour.
For instance, if you print a blue ball on a light-yellow polyester garment, the resulting ball will be a shade of green. So, if a colour shift is not important, you can print light-coloured, 100% polyester fabrics as well.
You also can print on a blended fabric, such as 50% polyester/50% cotton, but be aware that sublimation inks only will bond with the polyester. The finished print will have a washed-out, retro appearance, but there are decorators who print and sell such items. Of course, the higher the polyester content in the blended fabric, the better the finished print will appear.
Garments made of 100% cotton, even if white, are not an option with sublimation inks, as they will not adhere to cotton fabric. Sublimation printing on finished garments of digital prints sometimes can show white voids where the fabric was folded and, therefore, not decorated.
These white areas in the image, usually around seams, are referred to as “smiles” by some industry professionals. They are more acceptable in the fashion marketplace, as long as your customer understands the process and the chance that they may appear.
Sublimation uses inkjet printers to print transfers using sublimation inks, also referred to as disperse dyes. These inkjet printers use a piezo print head to vibrate the ink onto the release paper. This paper is designed to “carry the ink,” then release it onto the substrate as it turns into a gas during the heating process.
Tech forecast 2019
“The latest technology is being employed to make ordering custom transfers easier and more convenient for decorators and is opening the door to more people than ever before. It now allows anyone, with virtually no art knowledge or experience, the opportunity to create a design using a state-of-the-art online designer that walks the person through the process from start to finish. Enhancements in manufacturing technology have also resulted in decreasing turnaround times on just about every product offered while increasing the quality and on-time delivery rates.” – Jason Ziga, Stahls’ Transfer Express
“Dye-sublimation printers are continuing to become faster and more precise. One major improvement we are seeing is with their print head technology, which allows for faster print speeds at higher resolutions. Previously, it was necessary to slow the printer down to a four-pass or six-pass print speed to produce smooth, even prints with no banding issues. Now, we are achieving the same level of quality with only a two- to four-pass.” – Darci Jeffrey-Andersen, Coastal Pro
Many new sublimation-specific wearables are coming into the marketplace and consumers’ love of poly-performance apparel continues to grow. Aside from a wide range of tees and sweats, options include towels, shorts, headwear, socks, bandannas, infant wear, hoodies, beanies, compression sleeves and more.
It now allows anyone, with virtually no art knowledge or experience, the opportunity to create custom made trendy decor and fashion items. Advantage of the dye sublimation digital print technology is that items undergoing this printing method have a more photo-realistic appearance and vibrant colours.
Small production runs with unique designs and innovative finished garments are easily achieved with dye sublimation digital printing. This decoration method continues to gain popularity with new production technologies and ready-to-print substrates. So let’s print!