Getting Started in Dye Sublimation

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing, more technically known as dye sublimation printing, is a printing method for transferring images through transfer paper onto synthetic (e.g. polyester) or rigid substrates. During sublimation, the ink moves from a solid to a gas state surpassing the liquid stateThis printing method is named dye sublimation because it leverages dispersed dye as the coloring source. If you do not want to print on common sublimation substrates, you can pre-treat the substrate for sublimation.

You interact with sublimated materials all the time. Any textile (especially colorful patterned ones) containing polyester such as jerseys, leggings, duvets, pillows, carpets, sneakers etc. are sublimated. Plastic cell phone cases, snowboards, skis, floor mats, privacy screens, coozies, etc. are sublimated. Your mugs that do not fade in color are sublimated. If you can scratch or scrub off the design, it probably wasn’t sublimated.

What’s the process of sublimation?

  1. Use a sublimation printer to print your design onto transfer paper.
  2. Use a heat press at temperatures of 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit to press the transfer paper onto your desired substrate. At these temperatures, the pores of the substrate open and absorb the ink in its gaseous form. Once taken off the heat press, the ink solidifies and the color is in the fibers of the substrate.

What’s special about sublimation? What are the benefits of sublimation?

Because the ink is solidified in the fibers of the substrate, the design won’t fade, crack, peel, tear, etc., and the only way that the color will be impacted is if the substrate is affected. This means your design will last a long time no matter how many times you wash it.

Sublimation prints a wider color gamut/range than screen printing. Dye sublimation prints darker shades and saturated colors better than pigments inks, and even within dye sublimation, Summit inks print a greater color gamut than your OEM-provided ink.

While screen printing is the most accepted textile printing method in 2017 accounting for 35% of the total global printing market, inkjet printing is expected to replace screen printing as the main printing method in 2021 with 18.5% annual growth rate.

With the customer habituation of customization on-demand, on-shore printers are best positioned to capture the market opportunity. Textile printing which left US in the 1970s is returning to the US in the form of sublimation printing. Most of the growth in apparel printing is captured by sublimation printers.

What is the cost of dye sublimation?

The start-up costs of having your own sublimation shop is the greatest barrier to entry. To start your sublimation print house, you will need ($ figures are approximate minimums)

  • sublimation printer ($5,000)
  • RIP software for sublimation printer ($750)
  • heat press ($1,000)
  • ink (Summit $59/L, OEM $80-105/L)
  • transfer paper
  • synthetic (polyester) substrate or alternative substrate that may need pre-treatment
  • spectrophotometer ($1000) for color management, mandatory if you want to hit your customer’s requested colors

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