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Conventional vs. Direct Dye Sublimation

(May 2009) posted on Fri Jun 12, 2009

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By Rick Mandel

Textiles seemed to jump out as the substrate of choice during the past year. Naturally, the increased popularity of these printable materials has inspired debate, particularly in regard to conventional vs. direct-print dye sublimation. Dye sublimation is quite unlike any other wide-format inkjet printing process. It produces colors that are wildly vibrant and can retain great detail. This month, we’ll examine the differences between dye-sub technologies and consider the benefits and limitations associated with each.


The basics of conventional and direct dye sub

The conventional digital dye-sublimation process involves using a digital printer to produce an image in reverse on a coated transfer paper. Heat is then used to transfer the image from the paper onto the final substrate, which can be a polyester fabric or other polyester or polyester-coated material. The sublimation inks may be aqueous, solvent-based, or oil-based, and the inks are generally provided as four-color process plus additional colors to increase the gamut.

Sublimation refers to the process under which a substance transitions between solid and gaseous states without going through a liquid stage. The misting or fogging action of dry ice when it is exposed to room temperature is a common example of sublimation.

Sublimation inks are transferred from the carrier sheet to the final substrate using a heat press operated at approximately 356-410°F (180-210°C). Under high temperature and pressure, the dye turns into a gas and penetrates the fabric and then solidifies into its fibers. Dye-sub ink immediately transforms into gas when heated to about 390°F (200°C). The heat also opens up the pores of the polyester or polymer-coated media, which then allows the gas to permeate the material. Removal of the heat source causes the sublimation ink to revert to a solid form and the polymer pores to close, encapsulating the ink within the polymer. If done correctly, the image will never fade, crack or deteriorate as it literally becomes a part of the substrate itself.


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