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Why Hard-Surface Dye Sublimation Is Heating Up

(April/May 2017) posted on Thu May 18, 2017

High-definition dye sublimation on rigid substrates offers fresh options for printing gifts, interior décor, and more.

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By Eileen Fritsch

Brilliant images printed via dye sublimation onto soft materials such as textiles, garments, and fabric banners are everywhere these days – at tradeshows, shopping malls, gyms, and sporting events. But we’re also starting to see more dye sublimated hard surfaces, including wall décor in art galleries, museums, photography studios, healthcare facilities, hotels, restaurants, offices, and homes.

Photo courtesy of Roland.
An advanced inkjet version of the sublimation processes screen printers first used decades ago to decorate polyurethane-coated coffee mugs is now being used for fine art reproduction, photo enlargements, and commercial interiors. It’s not an entirely new development, but as the technology continues to improve, it has gained significant momentum recently, especially in America. “Europe has been doing architectural sublimated graphics and sublimation onto rigid substrates for a while now, and the US is following suit,” says Lily Hunter, product manager of textiles and consumables for Roland DGA.

Just as with textile dye sublimation, the exquisite detail and brilliant color that can be achieved on rigid materials is creating demand with both print providers and consumers. High-definition photo panels are giving artists, photographers, and printmakers durable, easy-to-hang alternatives to prints on inkjet canvas or art papers – producing images of such quality that they look as if they are backlit. Manufacturers of laminates for architectural projects are promoting the beauty and durability of customized, dye sublimated surfaces for a growing range of materials and applications. The more that these products resonate with consumers, the faster manufacturers respond with new ideas that continue to take dye sublimation further from its roots in the gift and awards industry.

Photo courtesy of Blazing Editions. 

Innovation + Marketing = Growth

Now that inkjet dye sublimation printers are fast, reliable, and capable of creating incredible image quality, the engines of innovation have shifted into high gear. 

According to dye sublimation evangelist David Gross of Conde Systems, thousands of researchers are working on advanced inks, coatings, and sublimation-ready substrates to unleash the full potential of the technology. Just as Thomas Edison couldn’t imagine everything that’s now possible with lighting and electricity, we probably can’t yet envision all of the applications for dye sublimation, but the future looks tantalizing.


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