Sublimation printing is a process that uses heat to transfer dye onto a substrate, usually a polymer fabric. The result is vivid, eye-catching prints that are fade and scratch-resistant. But what is sublimation printing, and how does it work? In this guide, we’ll take you through the basics of sublimation printing, from the types of printers and inks used to the fabrics best suited for the process. So read on to learn everything you need to know about what is sublimation printing.
What is the Process of Sublimation Printing?
The process of sublimation can be chemically complex, but the basics are simple enough to understand. Sublimation works through vaporization. Heat causes molecules in the dye to break apart from one another, releasing gases that mix into the air until they condense back into liquid at a cooler temperature.
Sublimation printers are great for making textiles that can withstand washing and heavy use without fading or losing their color.
The technology is perfect for sports jerseys and activewear because athletes put their clothes through rigorous workouts and abuse on a daily basis, and they want comfortable clothing that will last. Apparel companies, including Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Puma, New Balance, and Saucony, all utilize dye-sublimation systems in many facets of their business.
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1. Create a Design
The first step in the dye sublimation process is to create a design. This can be done with a computer software program or by hand.
2. Drafting the Design for Sublimation Prints
Designs can be created by hand, with the help of a computer software program, or even with a commercial printing company. The most important part of the design process is to make sure that all of the colors and lines will be properly transferred onto the fabric material.
3. Print the Design
Once the design is complete, it needs to be printed onto a transfer sheet. This can be done with a standard or a particular dye-sublimation printer.
4. Apply the Transfer Sheet to the Fabric
The next step is to apply the transfer paper to the fabric. This can be done by hand or with a special heat press machine.
5. Heat the Material
Once the transfer sheet is in place, it needs to be heated. This can be done with a standard household oven or a commercial heat transfer machine.
6. Wait for the Dye to Sublimate
Once the material is hot, it will take about 5-10 minutes for the dye to sublimate. During this time, the colors and lines on the design will be transferred onto the fabric.
7. Let the Material Cool Down
After the dye has been transferred, it’s important to let the material cool down before removing the sublimation transfer paper. If this isn’t done correctly, the fabric could be damaged.
Enjoy your new print. Once the material has cooled down, it’s ready to be used. The dye sublimation process is permanent so that the print will last for many years.
What Materials can be Printed through Sublimation?
Almost any type of synthetic fabric can be printed with dye sublimation, including polyester, cotton, and nylon. In addition, dye sublimation can also be used to print images onto hard surfaces such as ceramic tiles and countertops.
Equipment for Sublimation Printing
1. Sublimation Printer
Any Epson, Canon, or Mimaki printer with a print size of up to 13″ X 19.3″ is created for sublimation printing.
2. Sublimation Printer Ribbon (Sub Ribbon)
The ribbon is the key to the dye transfer process during sublimation printing. It contains the dyes and the release agent that allows dyes to be transferred from a ribbon onto a substrate as gas rather than being printed as liquid ink. The sublimation ribbon must be changed after every job and should not be left in the printer for an extended period of time.
3. Sublimation Paper
Printing on paper is the most common form of sublimation printing; however, any specialty paper can be used for this process. Coat papers, which have a thin polyethylene coating, are often used for this process. Coat paper is available in matte or glossy finish and can be purchased in rolls or sheets.
4. A Cutting Tool
Before you start printing, you’ll need to cut out your designs. This can be done with a cutting plotter or simply by hand with an x-acto knife or scissors.
After you’ve printed your designs, the cutting tool is used to separate the printed design from the rest of the paper.
5. Sublimation Inks
Another thing you’ll need is the best sublimation ink. These inks are designed specifically for the dye-sublimation printing process and will allow you to print high-quality designs on a variety of surfaces.
6. Sublimation Blanks
Sublimation blanks are porous polyester polymers that hold the dye almost identical to the clothing material. These materials are critical because they allow the heat of the printer to transfer color onto them as gas molecules.
Read more about, What can you sublimate on.
7. Design Sublimation Software
If you’re creating your own designs, you’ll need design sublimation software that supports sublimation printing and allows for the use of custom dpi, color profiles, and cut lines.
8. Heat Press Machine
A specialized heat press machine is required for sublimation printing. The heat press presses the sublimation dye onto substrate material, transferring it to a gaseous state. It’s important to note that these machines are different from commercial heat transfer machines, which press images from paper onto garments.
A standard industrial heat press has an operating temperature of 400° Fahrenheit to 480° Fahrenheit, while industrial sublimation machines have a slightly higher temperature range of 450° Fahrenheit to 535° Fahrenheit.
Learn sublimation heat press settings for different materials.
Best Dye-Sublimation Printers in the Market
Epson produces the current best dye-sublimation printers in the market. They create a variety of low-cost and high-quality printers for customers in commercial and personal markets. Below are some of the best dye-sublimation printers available in the market.
- Epson Expression line of sublimation printers is built with quality components, producing accurate, vivid prints that are made to last. The Expression ET-7750 EcoTank and Expression 11000XL are some of the most popular dye-sublimation printers on the market today. They have earned an excellent reputation for their ability to produce high-quality prints that don’t cost an arm and a leg to create.
- Mistubishi CP-D70DW is another great sublimation printer and comes with dye-sub ink cartridges that are easy to remove and install without making a mess. The low price of the Mitsubishi CP-D70DW makes it an excellent choice for first-time sublimation printer buyers or those who are on a budget.
- Sawgrass SG1000 is another sublimation printer that is affordable but still delivers great prints. The Sawgrass SG1000 might be affordable, but it doesn’t sacrifice quality to keep the price down. It’s a great option for first-time sublimation printer buyers looking for an affordable, entry-level printer.
- EPSON Wireless Inkjet All-In-One WF-2630WF is also another sublimation printer that creates vivid, high-quality prints at a low price point. The WF-2630WF isn’t the only wireless printer in its class, but it’s one of the most affordable.
- Epson EcoTank ET-15000 is a dye-sublimation printer that is capable of printing up to 45,000 pages per month.
Applications of Sublimation Printing
Knit fabric is most commonly used for printing, but any fabric can be used. Fiber content and thickness may affect the final print result, but the general requirements for the fabric are durability and absorbency.
Sublimation printing allows for full-color prints because any surface can be printed on. The most common non-textile applications are printing on glass, metal, ceramics, plastics, and even wood.
3. Woven, Coated Paper, and Vinyl Printing
Woven, coated paper, and vinyl printing is variations on traditional offset printing. While these substrates can be printed using conventional methods, sublimation printing offers a few distinct advantages. First, woven and coated papers may be published with a thicker ink deposit, which leads to richer color reproduction. Second, vinyl is an ideal substrate for sublimation printing because it’s exceptionally durable and can be applied to nearly any surface.
Polyester is a common substrate for sublimation printing. These blanks have a tight weave texture and are available in a matte or gloss finish. They can be found in various thicknesses and are manufactured with or without anti-microbial treatments. If you want to start your own sublimation printing and don’t know where to start or what equipment to use, don’t worry, we’ve got an article written just for you. This article is on what do you need to start sublimation printing. This blog post will outline the essential equipment and tools you need to get started.
Even though sublimation is primarily used for clothing, you often need to print on a large area. Blankets are perfect for these situations because they can accommodate very large designs and are extremely durable, making them ideal for repeated washing.
What is Sublimation Printing: Advantages & Disadvantages
Advantages of Sublimation Printing
Dye-sublimation printers are great for making sports jerseys that can withstand heavy use without fading or losing their color. These printers are also perfect for any other garments that need to be vibrant and washable, such as activewear, bags, and aprons.
- Sublimation Printing can be used to make a wide range of Products. Sublimation printing is also a good choice for customizing products, even those that aren’t clothing. For example, you can use sublimation printing to print mugs, candy dishes, key chains, mousepads, and other items. You can even use it to create custom promotional products for your company. For example, you can use sublimation printing to print custom album covers or jackets if you sell vinyl records.
- Prints on Sublimated Products are Permanent. With other types of printing, you can get smudges or wear them over time. But when using sublimation printers, the prints are permanent, so the art on your products will probably never fade.
- Photographic Quality in Sublimated Designs. Sublimation printing is the way to go if you want to create custom designs with vibrant colors and realistic images. The prints can resemble photographic art, perfect for photographic prints, logos, and other high-quality images.
- Sublimation Equipment is Reasonably Priced. Sublimation printers are also relatively affordable to purchase and utilize. For example, the Epson Expression 11000XL is a top-of-the-line sublimation printer that can print up to 13 by 19 inches. It retails for $1,995 on Epson’s website.
Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing
The process of transferring a dye from a solid state to a gaseous state through heat can be tricky because it may result in streaks or air bubbles on the garment, but this is something you’ll notice only if you’re looking at the print up close. The quality loss from converting dye into gas isn’t noticeable by human eyesight.
Sublimation requires high temperatures to turn water-based dyes into gaseous streams, which poses safety risks when using this process with paper substrates. Sublimation ink needs to be heat set between 200-220 degrees Celsius, significantly higher than the temperature used for letterpress printing (about 100 degrees C). This poses a risk of catching the substrate on fire if you’re not careful!
- Sublimation Blanks are Wasted when Mistakes are made. With sublimation printing, mistakes are costlier than other forms of printing because it’s a one-way process. Once you’ve applied dye or ink to a substrate, it’s permanent. So if you make a mistake with your design, you have to start fresh on another substrate.
- Sublimation Is a Time-Consuming Process. Because of the transfer process from a solid-state to a gaseous state, time is essential for sublimation printing. However, sublimation typically takes longer than other forms of printing, which is why it’s often used only for limited runs.
- White or light-colored Sublimation Blanks are required. Another thing to keep in mind with sublimation printing is that the substrate you use has to be light or white. This means dark-colored garments are out of the question, limiting your options.
Why choose sublimation printing over screen printing?
The main difference between the two printing methods is that screen printing uses a porous mesh, while sublimation requires a unique, non-porous substrate. Sublimation printing can print on more surfaces than screen printing, including glass and metal.
How can I avoid moisture issues in sublimation printing?
One of the biggest issues with sublimation printing is moisture. If humidity levels are too high, the dye will not transfer to the substrate correctly, and the image quality will suffer. Therefore, it’s essential to monitor humidity and temperature levels, especially during production closely.
How long do sublimation prints last?
Sublimation prints typically last longer than traditional ones, but it cannot rub off or fade over time since the dye is absorbed in the garment. Sublimation prints can last over 14 months to 2 years if properly managed.
How many colors can I print with sublimation?
A typical sublimation machine allows for printing in 4-5 different colors; however, some machines can print up to 7 colors, and others only print 2 colors.
What are the challenges of sublimation printing?
Sublimation blanks can be quite expensive, which is the biggest drawback of dye-sublimation printing. Additionally, sublimation blanks print best on solid colors because they require a smooth substrate that won’t block heat from transferring to the blank. Sublimation also uses energy and water during the cooling process.
Sublimation printing is a process that allows you to print onto a wide variety of fabrics and materials. Unfortunately, it has many advantages over traditional screen printing, including longevity. However, the equipment for this type of printing has some challenges, so buyers should take an informed decision. I hope this article helped you learn the basics about what is sublimation printing and how does it work.