Q. What is Sublimation?
A. Sublimation is the conversion of a substance from a solid to a vapor without first becoming a liquid. A common example of this is dry ice when placed in an environment that is standard room temperature.
Q. What is Sublimation printing?
A. Sublimation printing uses the basic theory of sublimation through the use of specific sublimation dyes in the ink and special heat transfer papers. Once the image is printed on to the paper a heat press using pressure and a temperature around 200degreesC turns the solid dye particles into a gaseous state. In this state the particles when bond with polymers in the final substrate before changing back into a solid. The print is now fixed and cured to the textile or polymer coated material.
Q. What can I print sublimation ink onto?
A. Sublimation ink needs polymers to bond with which is why Polyester is the most popular textile to use. But basically any substrate that has been coated with a special polymer layer and can withstand the high temperatures needed for a successful transfer can be sublimed onto. Ceramics, metals, mugs and mouse mats are amongst the more popular items. We are even starting to see 100% cotton t-shirts with micro-poly outer weaves that now enable the sublimation process to take place.
Q. How does it compare to direct to textile printing?
A. Although the additional process of the paper transfer is often thought to make sublimation the more expensive and drawn out printing technique, this is not necessarily correct. The initial print of direct to textile is indeed faster but the steaming, washing and drying processes involved in the direct to textile print greatly increase the turnaround time when compared to the simple heat press procedure with sublimation ink.
Sublimation will generally offer more detail and sharpness of print.
Q. How is sublimation transfer different from transfer papers?
A. Prints from transfers papers and created using a special polymer coated paper but use standard inkjet, waxes, or laser prints. When printing garments the hand (feel) of the garment is superior with sublimation. There is no "decal" effect with sublimation and therefore no chance to peel or crack unlike that of transfer papers. Images from transfer papers are also more likely to discolor over time.
Q. What are the limitations?
A. The process involved in sublimation gives excellent results when printed onto light colored synthetic materials such as polyester. As the process dyes the final substrate, sublimation does not work well on dark substrates and as polymers are needed to bond with the dye particles sublimation will not work with untreated natural fibers such as cotton.
Q. Can I get Pantone matches with Sublimation?
A. Although many thousands of color variations can be achieved it is very difficult to hit specific Pantone references.
Q. What about fade resistance?
A. Like most forms of inkjet, sublimation will suffer from UV fading over long periods of time. The length of time the print will keep its strong vivid colors is dependent on whether it is outdoors (in direct sunlight) or for indoor display (which will last much longer).