What is DYE SUBLIMATION?
If we look at the literal meaning it is a phase transition from a solid directly to a gas without going through a liquid phase. This only occurs under specific temperature and pressure conditions. So how does this fit into decorating thousands of products with photo quality images? This technology involves a dye process. Hundreds of thousands of everyday products are decorated using colored dyes. Manufacturers of apparel, consumer packaging, consumer goods, electronics, and many others use dyes to color their products whether they’re made of plastics, fabrics or woods.
In Dye Sublimation, the “solid” part of the equation is dried ink on the surface of printed, ready-to-transfer sublimation page. This page is printed directly from CorelDRAW, Adobe PhotoShop or Adobe Illustrator to a special sublimation printer. When introduced to heat, these solid ink particles turn directly to a gas which then permanently dye the decorated surface and sub-surface of your product, depending on whether it’s a textile or hard substrate.
Here’s the step-by-step to producing a final product:
- Create your Custom Design. Since sublimation is a digital print there are no limits to colors.
- Print the image to a supported inkjet printer using specialty sublimation inks on sublimation-friendly paper.
- Face the printed image on the sheet to a sublimation-ready surface. The surface must be 100% polyester or have a polyester coating for the chemical transfer to take place.
- Place the product and sublimation print under a heat press. Each product type has its own formula for time, temperature and pressure for optimal decorating. The proper temperature usually hovers between 385° F to 400° F, time varies from 50 seconds for a Vapor Apparel t-shirt to over seven minutes for a glossy, ceramic tile.
- After the time expires, remove the product (using protective heat gloves is recommended when handling many sublimation products), tear away the transfer and admire the finished image. Besides assembly for some products (e.g. gift boxes, tile murals, etc.), the product is ready for delivery after cooling.
In order to determine whether you can imprint a product with a wash-fast, scratch-resistant, full-color sublimation image, you’ll need to check three items:
- Is the decoration area polyester-based? Sublimation only works on polyester because it relies on it’s unique molecular structure. You can not sublimate to cotton, nylon, vinyl, wool, leather, etc.
- Will the product hold up to the optimal temperatures (up to 400° F) and pressure required for the dye sublimation process? For this reason, we do not allow clients to supply their own products for sublimation.
- Is the color of the product light enough to take an image? Because this is a dye technology, the color of a sublimation product’s decoration surface can affect the final colors of your graphic. True white works best, but you can still decorate lighter colored products such as t-shirts or sand-colored stone tiles while achieving 70-80% of the printer’s available color gamut.
There are hundreds of ready-to-sublimate products specifically made for the sublimation industry with more and more being introduced on an almost daily basis. There are products for practically every business market.
Here are just a few things that can be done with Dye Sublimation.