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Sublimation Printing 101

(October 2013) posted on Tue Dec 03, 2013

Use this overview to familiarize yourself with dye-sub printing and decide whether the technology is right for your shop.

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By James Ortolani

Large-format, professional-grade inkjet printers are built for businesses that are printing in high volumes and have the need for high production speeds. These printers are also more economical in regards to ink costs and have the option of adding bulk-ink-delivery systems that will also greatly reduce the print cost of the transfer.

Piezo inkjet printheads are ideal for sublimation printing because they use vibrating crystals (instead of heat) to deliver ink droplets onto the substrate in a uniform and controllable fashion. It is important to keep the printer in a room that is humidity controlled. If you live in a very dry region of the country, a humidifier should also be purchased to keep the room humidly level between 40-60% to reduce the chance of the inks drying in the printheads.

Do not let your sublimation inkjet printer sit idle for long periods of time without printing. Doing so runs the risk of having clogged printhead nozzles. If your print demand is low, it is a good idea to print a nozzle check periodically to keep the ink flowing through the printheads. When sublimation inks sit idle in the print nozzles for long periods of time, the moisture dries out of the ink, leaving behind a crust of pigment that will clog the printhead.

Direct dye-sub printing
Direct-to-fabric printers, used primarily in the fashion industry, eliminate the need for carriers and heat transfers. Direct-printed fabric is fed through a heated calender that heats the print evenly and causes the ink to sublimate into the synthetic fabric. These units typically have an on-board calendering heating system that consists of two heated rollers that press the fabric as it passes through. Because these direct-to-fabric printers are capable of imaging an entire bolt of fabric, a bulk ink system is a must to keep feeding the ink to the fabric during an eight-hour production shift.

Sublimation inks
Sublimation inks have been around for decades, but growing accessibility to inkjet printers over the past 15 years has dramatically increased the market share. The vast majority of sublimation ink is water-based and is ideal for printing with piezo inkjet printers. Oil-based sublimation inks are available for offset and large-format sublimation printing.


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