Term

Sublimation Printing

noun

Sublimation printing is the process by which an image is transferred onto a product.

What Is Sublimation Printing and How Does It Work?

Sublimation printing is the process by which an image is transferred onto a product. By using special inks and purpose-built machines, designs can be printed onto a wide variety of items, such as shirts, mugs, or bags. 

Sublimation is accomplished by quickly changing solid substances into a gas without first making it liquid. Superheating sublimation ink to around 200 degrees Celsius allows users to instantly transfer it onto fabrics or ceramics. Previously, this could only be achieved by pressing solid images from transfer paper onto the product and heating it until it stuck. With sublimation printing, the process is far easier and much more permanent. 

First, the ink is loaded into a sublimation printer, and the design is fed in with the item. The ink is then heated and changed directly into a gaseous form. The gaseous ink is pressed against the material and the ink bonds with the fibers within it. The image then returns to a solid state once it touches the item’s surface to which it is bonded. The ink binds to the fabric fibers or the surface of the ceramic without any seams or edges.

Sublimation Printers

Since sublimation printing requires specific inks, it cannot be done using a standard inkjet printer. Sublimation printers can heat the ink far beyond that of a regular printer. These inks can also cause damage to the inner mechanisms of regular printers and can contaminate them if the inks are switched over. For these reasons, only sublimation (or subli) printers must be used. Any others will result in inconsistent or incomplete transfers.

The main benefit of a sublimation printer is that the image being printed is infused within the material. Rather than sticking an image onto the product’s surface, sublimation printers bond the colors of the ink themselves into the fabric. This allows for the image to remain stark and colorful without leading to peeling or fading.

What Materials Can Be Printed via Sublimation?

Sublimation printing is ideal for a wide range of products. It is most often used when producing merchandise. Most Some items that are made by sublimation printing include:

Amongst these items, the most effective material for the sublimation printing process is polyester. Any item that contains a polyester of at least 80% will be the easiest to print onto.

Generally, for harder materials such as ceramics, a layer of polyester is first applied to it. The decal or image is then printed onto this polyester layer. This is because the fibers of polyester will only melt under the high temperature of the ink. This melting allows the ink to bond to it, retaining its shape and color. If other materials such as cotton are used, then the image will not last long. At higher temperatures, the fabric will burn, causing the image to fade or peel off.

Sublimation Printer Applications You Should Know

The printer can perform any application where the material is built from polyester or has a polyester coating on it. You can print workwear and t-shirts with company names or logos. Moreover, sublimation printers allow you to personalize various items as gifts for guests, from towels and lanyards to mobile phone sleeves, signs, and mugs. 

Benefits of Sublimation Printing

For successful printing outcomes, a user requires PES materials or materials containing 80 percent polyester. Moreover, it’s crucial to pick a light background if your logos, images, and motives turn out well. Sublimation prints accommodate a wide array of blanks like key rings, medals or cellphone cases.

Sublimation printing is also fast and cost-effective. In other words, the printing technique allows you to make large quantities of items in a short period. You can print small gifts, promotional products, and similar things on demand for a customer or on stock. It’s easy to produce high-quality motives when a sublimation printer is available to you.

Another plus point is the longevity of the designs. We mean the designs you create with sublimation printing won’t peel, crack, or fade – even after going through countless washing machine cycles.

Sublimation Printing

Cons of Sublimation Technology

Because sublimation printing uses special printers and inks, it costs more than other techniques. Another downside is that the printers function at a slow pace. Materials other than polyester can be used but only if they can be coated with the core material. Further, you need a white background if the motif is to feature white or light colors. Plus, you need to account for 1-5 percent shrinkage for sublimation in designs.

As an alternative, you can use a white toner printer or print with white toner. In this case, the motifs will be transferred to a transfer foil, then connected to a B-paper on a transfer press. You’ll find a head-activated adhesive on B-paper, which bonds with the print on the foil. Once the P-paper and A-foil are separated, you can transfer the design onto any textile item. Unlike sublimation, the material you choose is not that important.

You can print a wide range of textiles, including mixed fabric, polyester, cotton, and felt. It’s even possible to print other materials like cardboard, wood, or silk. Moreover, using a white toner allows users to print colored and dark backgrounds efficiently.

Another issue to be mindful of is white creasing. Because sublimation printing functions by printing designs onto white fabrics, expect them to stay white if certain areas of the garment can’t be reached by the design. The outcome? Accidental folding or instances of moisture that can sprinkle onto the transfer paper.

Sublimation Printing vs. Heat Transfer

Sublimation printing and heat transfer follow the same procedure. You print an image onto transfer paper in both methods and then apply heat and pressure to it. However, the end effects of both printing techniques are different.

In sublimation printing, the ink becomes a part of the print media, whereas, in heat transfer, the image only becomes a layer on top of the print media. Also, Sublimation printing is more long-lasting than heat transfer so that you can produce high-quality results of any shape with this method.

But the benefit of heat transfer over sublimation is that you can do it from the comfort of your home. All you need is an iron to transfer a print. Another advantage is that heat transfer works for all kinds of fabrics, no matter what material or color. In contrast, the sublimation printer will restrict you to only white polyester fabric.

Sublimation Printing vs. Screen Printing

As the name suggests, screen printing involves printing on fabric through a screen. The graphic design transfers as a layer on top of the fabric, whereas in sublimation printing, the graphic gels in with the fabric. Screen printing is very limited in the designs and shapes you can print, and the result may crack or peel with water. However, screen printing is a quicker way of producing as many as 900 pieces every hour.

In sublimation printing, you can do as many as 60 pieces per hour. Therefore, screen printing goes well for a project that requires bulk production, and it is the most common way of printing on garments. 

Sublimation Printing vs. Inkjet

Inkjet printing is best suited for documents, and sublimation printing is ideal for printing onto plastic substrates. In sublimation printing, ink vapors permeate the material, whereas inkjet prints liquid ink on top of the paper. The cons of inkjet printing are that the print will start running or get damaged when exposed to moisture. Sublimation printing is stronger and doesn’t run when in contact with water.

You can do sublimation printing from some desktop inkjet printers. You will need an Epson Ricoh inkjet printer, heat transfer paper, and sublimation ink for this project. There is a special kind of heat transfer paper for sublimation printing that does not have a coating. After you print the paper with the design of your choice, you can place the paper on the material to apply the heat press.

In inkjet sublimation printing, you can switch the printer back to normal inks at any time. But it is better to keep the printer for one process only because constant switching will not be practical in the long run.

What Is Dye Sublimation Printing?

Dye sublimation uses the right technique for printing on polyester. In contrast to inkjet printing on materials such as vinyl or paper, dye sublimation is a more sophisticated process. You’ll need a special ink (dye-sub ink), a special printer (Mimaki TS55 is a good option), and a flatbed heat press to do dye sublimation.  

Conclusion

A sublimation printer is a wonderful technology for printing modern designs in marketing and other creative industries on various surfaces. Previously, most printing presses accommodated cardboard, paper, and other materials. Today, you could ask them to print on mugs, bags, and t-shirts. Whether you’re a print on demand business or a hobby artist, you can leverage sublimation printing to get your products made quickly and professionally.