Dye sublimation is a fairly new region of printing, so understanding how it works can help you improve your business and give you a leg up on your competition. Customers appreciate business owners who take the time to learn how the processes they are using actually work, rather than trusting the technology to do the work for them. Below is a basic explanation of how dye sublimation ink works.

What is Sublimation?

To fully understand how dye sublimation ink works, we must first define sublimation. Sublimation is, scientifically speaking, the transition of a substance from a solid directly to a gas without going through a liquid phase, which must occur under very specific temperature and pressure conditions.

How does this apply to ink?

Simply put, dye sublimation ink is an ink specially designed to undergo the sublimation process. The chemical makeup of the ink is designed to work with the heat and pressure that the inks encounter in a heat press, so that the ink will go straight from a solid to a gas without entering the liquid phase.

What can dye sublimation ink be used for?

Almost anything! Dye sublimation ink bonds with certain polymers in its gaseous form. That means that it can be used to print on polyester fabrics and anything with the right polymer coating. Suppliers offer coffee mugs, tiles, plates, frisbees, and many other things with this coating on them, meaning dye sublimation ink can be used on much more than fabric! Please note that experimenting on items that do not have this polyester coating will fail and make a big mess, as the unique molecular structure of the dye sublimation ink requires that polyester coating.

What equipment is needed?

The first big piece of equipment you will need to use dye sublimation ink is a printer. There are several types of printers to choose from, the two main brands being Epson and Ricoh. Different printers can print in widths from 8.5” to 44”, so knowing what you plan to be working on is important when you are selecting your printer. You will also want to look at what each printer’s ink system is — some require ribbon cartridges, some have external bags, and some have refillable cartridges, allowing you to purchase your ink in bottles and refill as needed. You will need dye sub paper to use in your printer, as only this special paper will work with dye sub ink. Finally, you will need a heat press. These vary widely in size, so again, knowing your intended product is important. If you plan to produce a lot of mugs, you may also wish to invest in a mug press, though heat wraps can work in a standard convection oven to produce mugs and other oddly shaped items if necessary. The equipment necessary to get started using dye sublimation ink can be intimidating, but it’s versatility makes it a very worthwhile investment for any business looking to incorporate printed products into their offerings.