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Conventional vs. Direct Dye Sublimation

(May 2009) posted on Fri Jun 12, 2009

Looking for a way to expand your shop

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By Rick Mandel

The direct sublimation method requires one person to operate a roll-to-roll printing system. Manufacturers of these systems tout the hands-free aspect of direct dye sub. However, the twist is that printing one job means additional jobs must wait. In conventional dye sub, the printed fabric goes to the transfer press, leaving the printer ready for the next job. Because the sublimation process occurs off press, the printer can start on the next job more quickly.

I also look at workflow management as a key issue around which to make your decision about which technology to add. The one-person operation and an all-in-one inline workflow of direct sublimation may be a better option for shops that don’t have the space or the manpower to support the multiple pieces of equipment associated with conventional dye sub.

Shop climate is another major consideration for conventional dye sublimation. Transfer papers are very sensitive to moisture, and a lot of trouble can ensue without a controlled environment. Changes in temperature and humidity can play havoc with high-release transfer papers, causing curling, dimensional changes, and other problems. Evaluation of daily and seasonal humidity, especially during summer and winter months, must be part of the quality-control process. The more humid the shop, the more saturated with moister the transfer media becomes. This moisture can lead to uneven transferring of the image and cause color shifts in the ink.

The direct-to-fabric process is less sensitive to trip-ups from the environmental factors that can hamstring the transfer workflow. However, if you make a mistake on the transfer paper, it’s a minor loss. If you make a mistake directly to a textile, it can be costly problem.

As the technology is today, the direct dye-sublimation method is perfect for the printer who likes to print and let it go, or the P-O-P printer who wants to diversify into fabric decorating. Fabric restrictions do create issues for the creative client, though the flexibility of this technology is wonderful. Conventional dye sublimation allows the utilization of a plant workflow to feed multiple machines. The methodology requires a bit more of a controlled environment, but it also allows for more media flexibility.



Dye-sublimation printing opens up a vast array of applications. Beyond P-O-P displays, you can make revenue streams out of upholstery, wall hangings, high-end decor, room dividers, artistic reproductions, educational or informative displays in schools and museums, all kinds of soft signage, banners, and more. Whichever approach to dye-sub printing you ultimately choose, you’re investing in a process that will allow you to explore new applications and markets. Who knows? Dye sub may even become the fabric of your business!


Rick Mandel is the owner and president of the Mandel Company in Milwaukee, WI. He also serves as CEO of the company's Screentech Division, a 115-year-old graphics firm that specializes in large-format color separations for commercial printing companies, as well as digital production of large-format graphics. Mandel is a member of the SGIA and the Association of Screen Printing Sciences. He holds a bachelor-of-science degree from the University of Wisconsin.



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