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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

For shops unfamiliar with transfer printing, color management can still be a challenge, because the process includes additional variables such as heat, pressure, and dwell time. “The key is process consistency,” says Hope. “Once you have the workflow down and have minimized any variables, then you can successfully control color.”

Hope advises smaller screen printing shops to investigate the range of products they want to produce to ensure their dye sublimation inks are compatible: “Testing is key and most manufacturers are willing to help in that process. Also be sure to look forward and think about the maximum size of products you will be working with so your heat press can accommodate them.” If you anticipate doing only a small number of large pieces, you can outsource those and focus on your core products. 

Custom Décor on Demand

Gross says that the era of digital decoration is fully upon us, pointing out that sublimation’s growth is being fueled by a new generation of consumers who have come to expect its unique combination of features. New home buyers who grew up with digital photography know that images can be printed on almost any surface they choose. Instead of buying mass-produced furniture, they may prefer items that reflect their interests, experiences, or personalities. In the coming era of mass customization, many products might not be manufactured until after an order has been received. 

For example, a new venture called Cloth & Company has partnered with Skyline Furniture in Chicago to bring the “fast fashion” concept to upholstered furniture. They are working with retail partners such as One Kings Lane,, and Wayfair to offer custom decorated upholstered beds, settees, chairs, benches, window treatments, and decorative pillows. Each item will be manufactured and shipped within six days of receiving the order.

If furniture and fashion can be custom manufactured on demand, so can many other home décor products. It presents a whole new era for dye sublimation in the manufacturing of consumer goods. Years ago, some of the first “industrial” products to be customized with inkjet dye sublimation included snowboards, skateboards, and skis. Now, different types of dye sublimation processes can be used by manufacturers of floors mats, laminated surfaces, building materials, and dinnerware, and examples are beginning to abound.


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