Dye sublimation is one of the leading textile dyeing methods in the sustainable fashion industry. The dye sublimation process begins with state-of-the-art sublimation printers that print images on coated sublimation transfer paper using what’s known as digital sublimation ink.
Sublimation paper is a printing paper that’s specifically designed to absorb and hold ink. After going through the printer, the transfer paper holds a reverse image of the printed design. Once placed on a blank surface such as a t-shirt, a piece of vinyl, or some other object, a heat press is used to print the image.
The sublimation inks used in the process produce a solid and high-quality image with brilliant color definition and light fastness. They tend to produce excellent results when used with substrates that incorporate polyester. The application of heat secures the inks into the substrate allowing the object to be washed over and over again.
Sublimation Transfer Paper
Sublimation transfer paper contains a polyester coating that captures the ink. In order for successful printing, however, the surface of the printable material must also contain polyester or polymer.
- Transfer Paper for Soft Surfaces—Commonly used for digital sublimation printing on fabrics, paper, and other soft materials.
- Transfer Paper for Hard Surfaces—Used to print on wood, plastic, and other coated materials with hard surfaces.
- Multi-Purpose Transfer Paper—Used to print on both soft and hard surfaces. Tends to be more expensive.
Dye Sublimation Printer
Unlike regular inkjet printers that lay down colors as individual dots, sublimation printers print digital images to provide a solid and clear image. A dye sublimation printer typically uses a long roll of translucent film. It tends to look like blue, red, yellow, and gray cellophane sheets attached together from end to end. The film contains solid dyes that correspond to printing’s four basic colors: magenta, cyan, black, and yellow.
As the print head passes over the film, it heats it up enough for the dyes to vaporize and imprint on the surface of the sublimation transfer paper, before they solidify.
What distinguishes dye sublimation from other kinds of printing is the application of extreme heat. As the vaporized dyes imprint onto the transfer paper, they create a subtle gradation at each pixel’s edge. This is quite unlike inkjet printers where the border between the paper and the dye is quite conspicuous.