The process of sublimating dyes in fabric is what you call dye sublimation printing. In this graphic press method, the graphic is first printed on a heat transfer paper in a printer with a CMYO dye cartridges, which is a bit different from the typical CMYK ink set.
The CMYO Dye Set and Heat Transfer Paper
A typical digital printer uses the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (CMYK) ink set, while a dye sublimation printer uses the CMYO dye set that stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and a clear overprint.
Inkjet and sublimation printers are not easily interchangeable. Once you set up a printer that is due to print dyes, you cannot easily convert it back to printing the CMYK inks. Before any graphic image is pressed on a fabric, with sublimation, the image is first printed in a paper that accepts dyes known as the heat transfer paper.
Post Heat Transfer Paper Printing
The printed paper is then pressed onto a polyester fabric, run through heated rollers at 375 Fahrenheit. With heat and pressure, the polymer cells within the fabric open up and, at the same time, the dyes are converted from liquid to gaseous form.
Permanent and Fade Resistant Fabric Prints
The converted gas form of dyes fill into the heat pressurized opened polymer cells. After going through that process, as it cools down, the opened polymers close, permanently trapping the gaseous dyes within the polyester fabric. Since the dyes are in gaseous form, it won’t create dot patterns unlike inkjet printing; rather it makes a continuous photographic print tone.
The Pros of Sublimation Fabric Printing
1) Continuous Photographic Print Tone
This is the same as what I have previously mentioned. Dye sublimation is able to produce smooth images just like those in photographs. It created brighter color variations and transitions way more than you’ll see with inkjet printing, which gives the overall print a superior visual appearance.
2) Printed Dyes are Resistant to Easy Fading
Since the dyes are sublimated or permanently embedded within the fabric, they won’t easily flake off unlike some other regular inks, particularly those inks used in garments for t-shirt printing or rigid substrates.
The Cons of Dye Sublimation on Fabric
When it comes to disadvantages, there is not much when it comes to dye sublimation fabric printing. But, let me tell you a couple of things in my mind.
1) Printing at slower rate
The process of printing is slower as compared to inkjet printing since there are two processes which include the printing on the heat transfer paper and the sublimation part. This also affects labor cost to some degree. However, there are now sublimation printers that have both the paper and fabric inline, and both are run through the heated rollers as the printer continues the graphic press process.
2) Some Issue in Production
There is this issue with production which is now fixed with the newer dye sub printers. Before, although still in the present, it is not unusual to get wrinkles on the fabric or paper, which may result in ruined printed fabrics. When that happens, you have to do it again. People who still experience this issue are probably using the old sublimation printers which would demand higher pricing per square foot for wide format sizes. Also, there are still a lot of shops that don’t have the newer printers though.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barry K. Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. The business is rated A+ by the BBB since 2014. Wholesale pricing and FREE Quote are offered.
It isn’t what he thought he’d do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else! He has been marketing these products online since 1998, and the company he was general manager of in 1998 was the first sign company to be listed on Yahoo!