Fabrics printed with sublimation inkjet technology make up a fast-growing and lucrative market within the wide-format-graphics industry. From trade-show displays and banners to upholstery and architectural graphics, you’ll find dye-sublimation prints hanging around everywhere. This overview looks at equipment and ink options for dye-sublimation printing and how you can use the technology to produce unique graphics for a variety of applications.
By Lori Leaman
As mentioned previously, sublimation prints are intended for polyester or polyester-based materials. However, materials with a polyester coating may also be suitable for sublimation.
Different inks for different fabrics
Three main types of inks are used to produce sublimation graphics: water-based, solvent-based, and oil-based. Water-based sublimation inks feature disperse dyes and produce good color with high UV resistance. Direct sublimation printing with these inks calls for a simple, two-step workflow of printing and heating inline. Although water-based inks used for sublimation transfer printing require the additional step of heat-transferring the images to the final substrate, this method tends to result in graphics with sharper detail than direct printing. A drawback to the transfer method with water-based inks is that they can soak into the carrier and cause cockling of the material, which makes it difficult to transfer images accurately.
While solvent-based inks may get a bad rap for not being the friendliest of inks to the environment, one advantage they offer for sublimation transfer printing is that they reduce cockling or buckling of the transfer paper because they don’t soak the paper as water-based inks do. Some printers that use solvent-based inks also are equipped with tensioning systems designed to keep the media very tight tension to further reduce the probability of cockling.
Juan Jose Cousino, development manager and technical support for Graphics One, LLC, says that solvent-based inks are a good choice for high-speed output for outdoor applications, particularly with a 180/360-dpi industrial solvent printer. Users do need to be aware, however, that solvent-based inks contain cyclohexanone, a ketone solvent that is considered carcinogenic and, as such, requires special handling and disposal.
Oil-based inks, such as those used in Seiko/Infotech’s ColorTextiler 64DS, also reduce the occurrence of cockling in sublimation transfer printing. Other advantages include their ability to be heat pressed immediately after printing, eliminating the need to wait for water to evaporate from the transfer. They also don’t release any harmful solvents or particles into the air. A drawback of oil-based inks is that they are thicker and consequently more prone to clog in the printhead.
Transfer or direct print?
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