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Conventional vs. Direct Dye Sublimation

(May 2009) posted on Fri Jun 12, 2009

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By Rick Mandel

While the conventional dye-sub method digitally prints to a paper transfer media and then transfers the image to the final fabric, the direct dye-sublimation method prints directly to the final substrate and uses no transfer paper. The fabric for direct dye sub usually features a special coating, and the printed dye-sub inks basically float on this coating. When the fabric is exposed to heat, usually on an inline heating unit, the sublimates into the fabric to form a durable image.

Direct-to-fabric printing may be a more cost-effective process that results in better ink bleed-through on the fabric; however, using transfer paper yields better image quality, especially in terms of detail and edge definition. Transferred graphics provide true, photo-realistic fidelity because fabric doesn’t have the same fluid uptake as paper. But a direct solution makes sense for flags and other applications that call for saturating fabric to achieve bold colors on two sides.

One of the main advantages that both methods of dye-sub printing have over UV and solvent inkjet printing is their ability to print a superior color gamut. The vibrancy and intensity of sublimation inks gives P-O-P designers great options.

The cost of equipment, image saturation and quality, consumables costs (ink and fabric), and labor/versatility are among the considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether to go with conventional or direct dye sublimation. Some printing devices require the use of a heat press, while others feature their own onboard heating devices that eliminate the need for human intervention. A printer and heat-transfer device are minimum requirements for getting into the conventional dye-sub game, and costs grow exponentially for both as they get wider. The same price concept applies to direct dye sub, where again you can buy an inline or all-in-one system.



Dye-sub applications have been around for many years, and vendors in this industry have painstakingly refined the materials that are associated with this technology. Water-based and solvent-based dye-sublimation inks are most commonly used in the conventional process. Water-based inks typically produce finer details and higher quality images with better color.


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