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Wide-Format Digital Dye Sublimation

(January 2009) posted on Mon Jan 12, 2009

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.

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By Lori Leaman

Some systems allow for both sublimation transfer printing and direct-to-fabric printing, offering customers the flexibility to switch between different printing technologies, depending on the application. The VUTEk 3360 with the Fusion Option is essentially a solvent inkjet printer with a dye-sub option. Customers who use the system for traditional, solvent-based, vinyl-graphics applications can accommodate textile applications by simply changing out the ink (via an ink caddy), without having to flush the entire system. This eliminates the need for a printer dedicated solely to textile printing. Printed fabrics are removed from the printer and sent through a separate heat press or calender system to sublimate the image into the final fabric.

The HP Scitex XL 1500 series of printers is a solvent system designed for printing on a variety of substrates. With an upgrade to accommodate dye-sublimation printing, users can switch back and forth between dye-sub ink and pigmented solvent ink. A heat-transfer press, inks, transfer paper, and fabric are, of course, required after the upgrade.

Portland Color, a Portland, ME-based digital printing company specializing in retail graphics and fabric printing, was the beta test site for the HP Sci-tex XL 1500 printer. The company also is equipped with a Roland SJ 1045 solvent printer modified to print dye-sublimation applications. Portland Color uses the printers to produce event graphics, P-O-P graphics, backdrops and hanging banners for store windows, pop-up banners, scrolling banners, backdrops for stages, and more.

Paul Glynn, president of Portland Color, says the technology gave his company a new product and replaced some of the aging products. He says one thing to keep in mind is that the technology pushes companies into the finishing business, including sewing, grommeting, hemming, seaming, and other post-print processes that might need to be performed on printed fabric banners.

Mimaki USA’s JV5-320S, JV33 Series, and JV5-130S/160S solvent printers offer the option of aqueous pigment or dye-sublimation ink to support fabric-printing applications. The JV5-130S/160S printer is equipped with a three-way intelligent heater designed to improve color development and fix the ink by automatically heating the media to its proper temperature. A large post-heater and drying fan also are available on the printer.


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