What is Sublimation Printing, and When Should You Choose It?
What Sets Dye Sublimation Printing Apart from Other Processes?
Among all the ways you can print images on cloth, plastic, glass, metal, and other materials, sublimation is in a class all its own for image brightness and durability. It relies on a scientific principle that allows inks to be fully infused into the material being printed. Sublimation produces brilliant, photo realistic images that don’t wash off.
What is Sublimation Printing, Exactly?
Cool science moment: The word “sublimation” means turning a substance from a solid directly into a gas without it passing through the liquid stage. In sublimation printing, solid inks are sublimated—quickly heated to turn the inks into gas. The gas moves into the substrate (the material being printed) and bonds with it at the molecular level. Unlike silk screened and digitally printed images, which fade over time, sublimated images don’t wear out until the substrate wears out.
How does Sublimation Work?
Designs are printed onto a paper or film backing with sublimation inks. The backing is placed against the substrate and loaded into a heat press, which holds the two materials tightly together as heat is applied. The solid ink turns into a gas, which flows into the substrate and then turns back into a solid that is now printed into the substrate at the molecular level. How cool is that?
Sublimation printing can be done on a variety of substrates, including garments, signs, trade show materials, and promotional items like keyrings and coffee mugs.
Sublimation Printing for Businesses: What can Sublimation be Used On?
Sublimation printing can be used on a variety of substrates, including:
- Rigid substrates
Sublimation can be used on many polymer-treated, hard-surfaced materials like fiberglass, drink ware, cell phone cases, magnets, and plastic.
Signage substrate examples include flags, vinyl banners, fabric backdrops, table covers, canvas, and tent fabric.
Any polyester or 60/40 poly-blend garment can be sublimation printed.
Home décor designers sublimate designs onto ceramic tiles used by interior decorators.
When Should You Choose Dye Sublimation Printing?
When image quality and longevity matters, dye sublimation is often the best choice. You’ll get photo-quality image reproduction, and the picture is there to stay. Common applications include heavy-use items like kitchenware, drinkware, mouse pads, bedding, and quality, polyester apparel. All these substrates can be used and washed repeatedly without compromising the graphics.
What are the Drawbacks of Sublimation Printing?
Cool science doesn’t come cheap. Sublimation printing machines can cost as much as $10,000, not including materials, supplies, and a separate heat press. Inks and papers are also expensive, so sublimation is far from the cheapest way to print. But it’s one of the best looking.
Also, sublimation can’t be used on non-polyester items, so that rules out 100 percent cotton fabrics, and any materials that can’t be polymer coated in advance of the sublimation process.
Exactly What Materials can be Sublimation Printed?
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: substrates can only be sublimated if they are made from polyester or polyester coated. The good news is that this leaves a very large number of materials that can be sublimated. This process can also be effective on materials for which there is no other effective printing method.
We’ve already discussed how tough and bright sublimated images are, but there’s sometimes a design reason to use this technique: sublimation allows garments to printed all over, not just on the front and back. This opens up whole new, eye-catching design options. And, of course, the sublimated color is spectacular.
On Plastics and Other Synthetic Materials
The processes and equipment for three dimensional objects are different than those used for fabrics. Instead of a heat press, an oven press us used. And instead of paper, images are first printed onto plastic film. But the net effect is the same: the images are bonded with the molecules of the substrate.
It’s important to note that the process also uses a lot of heat—up to 400° F—so you can only print on higher temperature plastics with this method.
Okay, acrylic is an exception to the previously mentioned guideline about only being able to sublimate polyester materials. One type of acrylic, aptly named sublimation acrylic, is specially formulated to allow sublimation dyes to permeate the surface.
Vinyl falls into the polyester category, and it offers endless shape options for sublimated designs, ranging from banners to vehicle wraps.
Dye sublimation on nylon is far less common than with other synthetics. It can be done, but the process requires lower temperatures and a specific type of nylon, and it can still be tricky; materials usually need to be tested before printing production runs.
Dye sublimation can achieve very striking images on metals, and these surfaces respond well to molecular image adhesion. Image clarity is excellent when applied to high-quality metal surfaces.
If you’ve ever seen an amazingly authentic looking reproduction of a painting on stretched canvas, it was probably dye-sublimation printed. The process renders vivid color and high detail, making it the perfect choice for paintings—or marketing messages.
Wood falls into the category of materials that can be dye sublimated after coating with a polyester substance. The results add an attractive wood-grain dimension to high-resolution images.
Why Choose Dye Sublimation Printing?
Sometimes image quality and longevity are more important than price. When your project calls for a high-end look, sublimation is often the right choice. When a t shirt image needs to keep looking great after several laundering, or a banner needs to look good through all kinds of weather, dye sublimation is the weapon of choice.
Why choose US Logo as your sublimation printer source?
We’re a one-stop shop for any kind of promotional items, including sublimation printing, so you can take care of all your branded merchandise needs with one call. And we don’t have a minimum order restriction for sublimation printing, so you can get exactly what you need in the quantity you need.
Q: What are the advantages of sublimation printing?
A: Sublimation is a very fast process, from setup to finished product; same day orders are often possible. It’s an excellent option for small print runs and on-demand printing needs. Sublimated colors are extremely durable, and images are high definition.
Q: What are the drawbacks of sublimation printing?
A: We’ve already covered the downsides: it only works on polyester, and it’s a bit pricey. Sublimation is not always the best value for large printing runs, but because if its low setup costs, it can actually be cheaper than silk-screening for small runs.
Q: Is sublimation printing worth the money?
A: It certainly can be, if you need the best possible image quality. Some designs may work fine with other printing methods, but when you need color durability and high-definition imaging, sublimation is the only way to fly.
Q: Which is better, sublimation or screen printing?
A: Depends on what you’re looking for. Sublimation gives the best image quality and durability, but screen printing costs less for larger runs, and it can be done on cotton fabrics.
Q: Which is better, sublimation printing or heat transfer?
A: Sublimation printing offers better long-term image adhesion than heat press because the ink becomes part of the fabric rather than simply adhering to the surface.
Q: Is sublimation better than vinyl appliques?
A: Sublimated images will not crack and peel the way vinyl images do, over time. On the other hand, vinyl images can include the color white, and can be applied to cotton garments.
Q: Is dye sublimation printing permanent?
A: Sublimation printing is as permanent as a design can be because, unlike other printing processes that put pigments on the surface of the substrate, sublimation bonds images into the surface.
Q: How big can a sublimation printed design be?
A: The largest surface we can print is 40″ x 60″.
Q: What can dye sublimation be printed on?
A: Anything that contains polyester or that can be surface-treated with polyester.
Q: Can I have garments or other items I already own sublimation printed?
A: Sure thing. However, it can get a little tricky printing on unfamiliar materials, so we’ll ask you to sign a waiver, just on the off chance that it doesn’t look great or, heaven forbid, some damage occurs.
Q: Can sublimation ink be used on cotton?
A: Not unless the cotton is first coated with a polymer. Products like Polyfog can easily be sprayed into cotton garments to prep them for sublimation.
Q: Is dye sublimation ink waterproof?
A: The finished design is very waterproof. The ink itself is water soluble before undergoing the sublimation process.
Q: Can sublimation printing be done on color shirts?
A: Absolutely, and it can look great, as long as there is no white in your design. Sublimation inks can’t be blended to make white. So for those designs, you need to start with a white shirt and leave those areas unprinted.
Q: Can I print sublimation ink on paper?
A: Sorry, no, paper doesn’t stand up to the high temperatures and pressures of sublimation.
Q: What percentage of polyester works best with sublimation?
A: One hundred percent works best, but 50 percent poly blends can be sublimated as long as the other fibers can tolerate the 400 degrees of heat generated by the press.
Q: Does sublimation work on 40 percent polyester?
A: Sublimation dyes do well down to about a 50 – 60 percent polyester content, but 40 percent is getting into a gray area. Tight knits will probably hold ink better than loose knits.
Q: What’s the difference between ChromaBlast and sublimation?
A: ChromaBlast uses a carrier film that bonds well with cotton, not as effective as the fabric-direct molecular bonding of sublimation, but a good solution for cotton blends.
Q: Can you dye sublimate on red?
A: Yes, but darker inks tend to stand out better on deep colors, so always try to use inks that are darker than your substrate color.
Did you say, “Where is a sublimated product shop near me?”
We’re at 520 N. West Street, a block south of Central Ave. Stop by anytime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to check out our “Big Red Showroom” and tell us about your marketing project. Or call (316) 264-1321 to speak with a customer service representative.