Fabrics printed with sublimation inkjet technology make up a fast-growing and lucrative market within the wide-format-graphics industry. From trade-show displays and banners to upholstery and architectural graphics, you’ll find dye-sublimation prints hanging around everywhere. This overview looks at equipment and ink options for dye-sublimation printing and how you can use the technology to produce unique graphics for a variety of applications.
By Lori Leaman
Some print shops wonder whether the added expense of transfer paper will make the sublimation transfer technology more costly. However, with direct-to-fabric technology, where transfer paper is not required, dollars must be allotted for purchasing treated fabrics or pre- treatment solutions for specialty or non-treated fabrics.
One important factor to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a fabric-printing system is the type of applications for which it’s intended. If a shop plans to use sublimation technology to print on fabric and other non-fabric items, then obviously, a sublimation transfer system would be a suitable fit. However, if the shop plans to limit the applications to flags, banners, trade-show graphics, and P-O-P jobs on fabrics, direct-to-fabric printing may be a more appropriate solution.
Labella says that when considering sublimation transfer printing, users must inquire about the cost per square foot. “There is a big difference in cost per square foot, depending on the ink that users choose. Users never go beyond that to understand that the bottle of ink is basically colored water. What really makes the cost of the bottle is how much color is in the water.”
Labella further explains that there can be up to 30% difference in disperse dye concentration from a bottle of ink from one manufacturer to a bottle from another manufacturer, and the 30% difference is the true cost of the ink. If one liter of ink has 10% dye, and another liter of ink contains 30% dye, but both cost the same amount, the yield results will differ. He recommends that users to do testing with a sample image.
“Use a standard image for comparison,” Labella says. “It should include blocks of 100% CMYK in the file, so that when you receive a sample back, you can look at the difference between the 100% CMYK swatches and check for differences in density. Sometimes you can see them with your naked eye, other times you need to take measurements with measuring devices.” He also recommends that users ask the provider of the samples for specifics regarding how the samples were printed, the resolution, how many passes were needed, the type of ink system used (four or six colors), which printer was used, and which paper was used.
Image detail and durability
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