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
Many manufacturers and users of sublimation inkjets agree that production speed is usually much greater on these devices than on comparable solvent inkjets because, in most cases, drying is not as much of an issue as it is with solvent inkjet printing. Sullivan explains that fabric tends to be more forgiving in terms of banding and other issues that occur due to misfiring jets. With direct-to-fabric printing specifically, because the ink wicks into the fabric, the process can compensate for any issues involving a jet misfiring.
One can expect production speeds from 215-710 sq ft/hr, with many systems falling in the 290-397 sq ft/hr range. Factors affecting speed include the number of colors printed, print mode/number of passes, resolution, dwell time, and similar considerations.
Bells and whistles
Both sublimation transfer printing systems and direct-to-fabric printing systems are equipped with an array of features and functions designed to make the process user-friendly, highly accurate, smooth, and efficient. Some of the features may include a textile-feeding system, ink-feeding system, adjustable media clearance, printhead-height adjustment, adjustable drum temperature, adjustable belt tension, touch-control panels, fabric unwinding systems, built-in venting or fume-filtering system, air-cleaning unit, ink gutter, and automated maintenance system.
Many of the systems also are equipped with a heat-fixation or curing unit that may be controlled by an embedded computer. The unit is designed to regulate temperature, print speed, and ink consumption, and it allows for an efficient process of printing and fixing ink into the fabric in one step. With sublimation transfer printing technology, the transfer paper and fabric are fed together, facing each other, through two rollers, one of which is heated, and the combination of heat and pressure produced between the rollers transfers the ink from the paper into the fabric.
Klieverik is a Netherlands-based manufacturer of heated drums for use in a range of industries, including the graphic-arts market. The company’s heat presses/calendering units feature an 8-in. drum diameter, as opposed to traditional 12-in. drum diameters. The smaller drum size is designed to offer the production capability of a larger drum system but slow enough to allow operators to load jobs with 100% efficiency.
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