What is Sublimation Printing? - sialkot fitness wear

In this article, we will explain what sublimation is and how a sublimation printer and how it works, and what surfaces you can apply images to. You will also learn what to look at when purchasing a sublimation printer and how it differs from an inkjet printer.

A dye-sublimation printer is an apparatus that prints an image on various surfaces by injecting a solid-state, most often crystalline, dye under the surface of the paper. In this case, the paint is converted from a solid to a gaseous state, excluding the liquid stage. This allows you to create “deep”, detailed images that are not exposed to the negative effects of adverse environments (moisture, sun).    

Sublimation Printer: Operating Principle

In the printing mechanism of the printer, there are two rollers – sending and receiving. A specialized tape goes from the sender to the receiving roller, on which there are several areas covered with multi-colored solid dyes. There is a heating element on one side of the tape, and thermal photo paper on the other. After the print task is received, the heating element begins to act on the tape and the dyes evaporate under the influence of temperature. The pores on the heated paper open up and absorb a gas cloud of paint, after cooling the paper pores close and the drawing is fixed. Modern models additionally fix the image by applying a specialized film to the sheet, as if sealing the image on the sheet.

There are two types of sublimation printing:

  1. Straight. The dyes are mixed inside the printing mechanism and then applied to the surface. This method is applicable for printing on plastic blanks.
  2. Thermal transfer. It consists of two stages: a mirror image of the picture is created on the siliconized surface, after which (using a thermal press) the image is transferred (printed) onto paper or another surface.

For the implementation of thermal sublimation printing, spools with specialized ribbons are used, on which there are solid dyes, they are three-color (cyan, magenta, yellow), four-color (black is added), and with additional colors (blue, silver, gold, etc.). The shades are achieved by mixing several colors, and the intensity of the color is adjusted by the degree of heat.

The printing process itself is carried out in several stages, for each tone its own call. By adjusting the temperature, the brightness of the image is determined, for pastel colors, the temperature is lowered, and to obtain a brighter and more saturated palette, they are added. This is how the smallest color nuances are conveyed – from pale and imperceptible to rich dark.

Sublimation printer: what surfaces you can print on

Using a sublimation printer, you can transfer specified pictures or text to literally any surfaces and materials:

  • Paper. It is used for printing ordinary photographs, flyers, posters, souvenir cards, etc.
  • Glass, porcelain. Images on souvenir dishes, mirrors and showcases.
  • Metal. Drawing pictures on metal dies, plates, flasks and other metal souvenirs.
  • Stone. Drawing text and photographs on tombstones, souvenirs, stone coasters, etc.
  • Textile. Application of inscriptions and pictures on items of clothing or interior design.
  • Plastic. Printing discount and membership cards, business cards, drawing pictures on trays or other souvenirs.

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Despite the wide range of materials suitable for sublimation printing, there are still some limitations. This printing method is not suitable for transferring the image to natural materials such as leather or wood. Also, before applying paint to glass, it is necessary to pre-treat it with a special polymer. In order for the sublimation print to adhere to natural fabrics, it is necessary to apply a primer to them. 

Color dye sublimation printer: what you may need for work

Direct printing requires specialized ink and paper, while thermal transfer printing requires a heat press. 

Types of heat presses:

  • Flat. For transferring the print to porcelain, glass, metal and textile surfaces.
  • Baseball. Used to transfer images to hats.
  • For dishes.

For sublimation printing, specialized paper is required, it has a special coating, which allows you to fix the dyes after transferring the image. Also, special solid dyes are used, which have the properties of being converted from heating into a gaseous state. Dyes for sublimated printing are different and when choosing them you need to look at the model of the device, the type of its print head, and the surface of the canvas. For example, dyes intended for transferring a picture to the fabric are not suitable for printing on stone, or glass, etc. 

Dye Sublimation Paper Sizes

Images of different sizes are created on sublimation printers, this indicator is limited only by the printer model. Typically A2, A3, and A4 sheets are used for printing. But sometimes it can be non-standard sheets, for example, A0, A1 and A5, A6. 

Large images are printed on large format sublimation printers. Paper for such printers is sold in rolls or sheets, the format is stamped on the packaging.

Comparison of inkjet and sublimation printer

Inkjet and dye-sublimation printers differ externally and internally, they have different productivity, print quality, and other parameters. At the same time, for some of the qualities, sublimation printers are better, and for some, inkjet printers.

Advantages of sublimation printers (compared to inkjet printers):

  • High quality of reproduction of tones and halftones, resistance to environmental influences. Unlike inkjet prints, best sticker printer sublimation prints have smoother and deeper colors with no visible streaks or borders. Also, the finished pictures are more resistant, do not blur from water droplets, do not fade in the sun.
  • Ease of use. Sublimated printers have LCD screens that display the printing progress and other useful information.
  • Large scope of application. Dye-sublimation printers print on almost all surfaces, while inkjet printers can only transfer images to paper or plastic blanks.

Cons of sublimation printer:

  • Poor performance;
  • High cost of consumables;
  • Pungent odor during printing.

What to look for when buying a Sublimation Printer

When choosing a dye sublimation printer, you should look at:

  • Device manufacturer. The best brands are Mimaki, Datacard, Epson, Canon, HP, Mitsubishi.
  • Number of colors. The most popular are three-band or four-band models, but there are also six-color options. The more colors, the better the color rendition and the image looks more natural and natural, but there is one drawback, printers with a lot of colors need to be cleaned more often.
  • Minimum drop volume (picoliter). The higher this indicator, the worse the picture is and the more blurry the drawing, and the smaller it is, the clearer the picture will be. A good indicator would be 1.5 picoliters. 
  • Use case. Plan ahead of time what you want to do with sublimation printing. From there, choosing the best printer for sublimation for your unique situation will save you from future headaches.

For standard printing, a device that supports A3 and A4 sizes is suitable, and for large posters, etc. it is better to purchase a device with large format printing capability. 

Dye-sublimation inks are made for a specific manufacturer and are not universal, so before buying, you should make sure that they are suitable for your model and specific material (glass, fabric, plastic, etc.).

In conclusion, using a dye sublimation printer you can create bright, durable images on any surface. You only need to purchase specialized consumables.  

It should also be remembered that when buying a specific model of a sublimation printer, it is necessary to determine in advance for what purposes it will be used, i.e. what size and on what materials you plan to apply the image.

For those new to sublimation printing, consider investing in the best sublimation printer for beginners as they are easier to pick up and learn rather than a difficult and expensive one