Q: What is Dye Sublimation Printing & Why Do I Need It?
A: If you want to print on mugs, license plates and other popular hard surface items then Dye Sublimation printing is the answer!
Dye Sublimation, as a process is really very simple. It is the method of applying an image to specially coated ceramics, metals and polyester cloth, using three main ingredients: sublimation ink, heat and pressure.
Sublimation ink is unique in its ability to convert from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid form. (Just like dry ice.) The conversion is initiated by heat and controlled with pressure and time. Hard items such as ceramic, fiber board, metals, etc. requires a special coating to accept the sublimation inks. You must purchase the mugs, tiles, metals, etc. with the coating already on them, it is not something you can coat yourself. We carry a full line of these sublimatable blanks. When you apply to 100% polyester (ie: our mouse pads and puzzles) you do not need any coating, it is applied directly to the 100% polyester fabric.
Q: What fabrics can be sublimated on?
A: The dye-sublimation printing process is used to print on polyester or other synthetic fabrics. It is used for applications such as T-shirts, banners, table covers, id cards, sportswear and flags. The images are initially printed on coated heat-resistant transfer paper as a reverse image of the final design, which is then transferred onto polyester fabric in a heat press.
Q: What are the advantages of dye-sublimation on fabric?
A: Images are permanent and do not peel or fade. Dye does not build up on the fabric. Colors can be are extraordinarily brilliant due to the bonding of the dye to the transparent fibers of the synthetic fabric. Truly continuous tones can be achieved that are equivalent to photographs, without the use special techniques such as half-screen printing. The image can be printed all over the entire item, with no difficulty in printing all the way to the edges.
Q: Why is there film with red, blue, yellow and black?
A: If you looked inside a dye-sublimation printer, you would see a long roll of transparent film that resembles sheets of red, blue, yellow, and gray colored cellophane stuck together end to end. Embedded in this film are solid dyes corresponding to the four basic colors used in printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The print head heats up as it passes over the film, causing the dyes to vaporize and permeate the glossy surface of the paper before they return to solid form.
Q: How long does it take to sublimate?
A:Based on the polyester coating, woven nature of the fabric or the other materials used in the manufacturing process, each sublimation substrate has a recommended dwell time when placing it under your heat press or within a convection oven. The harder a substrate's sublimation coating, the longer it will take to sublimate. Whereas you can decorate a t-shirt in 35 to 50 seconds, a large ceramic tile might take 12 minutes. Other factors contribute to dwell time, too. The condition of your heat press equipment, different paper types, the amount of ink saturation, and even altitude can affect the ideal transfer time. To determine the optimum results based on your conditions and equipment, you will often have to experiment with dwell times when you're starting out. Always check with your dealer or the manufacturer to determine the recommended dwell times, and use this as a starting place. If the image looks too light, try increasing the dwell time by five or ten seconds. If the image looks blurry, you might be leaving it under heat for too long.
Q: How much pressure is needed?
A: How tightly you close the heat press on a product or ratchet a wrap around a ceramic mug determines pressure. For the most part, sublimation requires medium pressure for most products. While this might not sound as scientific as the other factors, it means exactly that: not too much, not too little.
So, how do you determine what equates to medium pressure? With a manual, flat heat press, an easy way to determine medium is to loosen the pressure on the press to where there is very little contact with the product after closing. Then, tighten the pressure as much as you can by hand. This usually works best from a cold state or using an extra substrate on hand.
With a pneumatic press, medium equates to about 30 - 40 psi (pounds per square inch). With some substrates, such as tiles, you might want to lighten the pressure a little bit to avoid breaking the product.
More than anything, determining the best dwell times, press temperature and pressure is a matter of practicing. Each heat press operates a little differently, so it's a matter of determining what works best for you. Order some substrate test pieces from your dealer or buy some polyester fabric, and keep practicing! Once you get time, temperature and pressure dialed in, it's a matter of consistently following the same rules down the line.
Q:What temperature is needed for sublimation?
A:The temperature at which you press your product is critical for the sublimation process to occur. Typically, the sublimation industry uses 400 degrees as a benchmark. That being said, it is not unusual for some product manufacturers to recommend a reduced temperature coupled with a longer dwell time based on their product. For example, while you can transfer an image to polyester fabric in 35 seconds at 400 degrees, Vapor Apparel recommends 390 degrees and 50 seconds for their apparel to reduce press and achieve optimum results. Some sublimation films and other thin, soft products might have you drop the temperature as low as 350 degrees based on a lower melting point of the product. Again, always check with your distributor and the manufacturer to determine recommended temperature settings.
Q: Why isn't my image printing well mugs? (Or other hard surface substrates)
A: An obvious, but sometimes overlooked tip is to make sure your substrate is clean and damage free - check for any nicks or cuts before each heat transfer. Sometimes the surface of your substrate may have a protective coating - remember to remove any coating before sublimating.
It's generally a good idea to add a bleed to your images/artwork before printing. A bleed can be created by enlarging the image background so that it is approximately 1/8" larger then your substrate. Depending on your image type, it may also be useful to employ a gradient fade when enlarging your image.
Q: What size should I prepare my image for printing?
A:When preparing an image for large format printing, a ppi (Pixels Per Inch) of 150 to 300 ppi typically leads to superior print quality. Reserve higher ppi for end products that will be viewed close up. Lower end ppi can be used for banners/flags that will be viewed from a distance.
Ideally your original image size should equal the print size. Resizing a bitmap image in a graphics program like Photoshop results in a loss of image quality since the graphics program must add additional pixels to the image. On the other hand, vector images are resolution independent and can be resized without any loss of image quality. Unfortunately vector images are not suitable for photo-realistic images.
Q: Can I print cotton material with sublimation?
A:Sublimation only prints polyester and polymer coated objects. Cotton will not accept the dye.
Q: Why am I experiencing poor print quality?
A:Has the nozzle check pattern printed correctly? If not, run maintenance cleaning cycles and check nozzle print patterns until the pattern is correct. Make sure the ink cartridges are not empty.
Q: Can I sublimate on microfiber?