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Dye Sublimation: A Process Whose Time Has Come?

(May 2015) posted on Wed May 13, 2015

With the market for short-run, highly customized products taking off, printers are finding that the unique imaging capabilities of dye sublimation are providing great opportunities for growth.

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By Barbara Montgomery

Dye sublimation has been recognized as a decorating process for decades. But the convergence of a number of trends is creating a market environment that plays to its advantages as never before, according to veteran decorators and suppliers. This is especially the case with small-format sublimation transfer printing on garments and hard goods, where, some assert, the stars have aligned.

Traditionally, dye sub has been known for its rich, vivid colors; high-resolution, photorealistic reproduction capabilities; extreme durability; virtually imperceptible hand; and suitability for one-up printing. These attributes line up nicely with heightened expectations regarding image quality and hand, as well as the increasing demand for highly customized, fast-turn, short-run imaging among today’s consumers. But these are only some of the reasons that market observers say sublimation is poised to take on a greater role in apparel and accessory decorating, in particular.

The digital revolution has impacted the decorating marketplace and sublimation printing on several levels. By changing the mindset of both consumers and embellishers, it has fueled technological advances and the development of new business models. “Digital technology has created a generation of folks that want it now and want it their way, as well as an endless source of images, and digital decorating processes offer a convenient way to meet the resulting demands,” says David Gross, president, Condé Systems.

On the decorator side, the pervasiveness of digital technology in business and everyday life has increased the comfort level with digital decorating. “I think the overall digital climate has encouraged people to step into digital decorating,” says Dave McClaskey, president, S&K Manufacturing Inc. “They’re used to computers and inkjet printers, and they’re comfortable with that technology. That’s made it easier for them to understand the process and what it offers.”

Advancements in digital technology have been instrumental in the growth of sublimation in small-format applications. “Offset sublimation has been around for a long time,” notes Christopher Bernat, chief revenue officer, Vapor Apparel. “But it wasn’t until digital printers started getting faster and smaller that sublimation in the garment and small-format decorating industry really started to take off.”


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