3 Things you should know about Sublimation

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Mark Elvidge
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3 Things you should know about Sublimation

Post by Mark Elvidge » Fri Aug 12, 2016 3:18 pm

Our Texart RT-640 & XT-640 Dye-Sublimation Printers allow users to digitally create custom clothing, signage, upholstery, snowboards, fabrics, promotional products and much more.
For many sign and graphics businesses, this quick, Eco-friendly and effective digital print method is replacing traditional screen-printing or sign making methods for output that requires multiple colours and photographic imagery.

If you’re considering adding this type of technology to your business, here are three things you should know about dye-sublimation.

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1. There Are Many Profitable Items You Can Sublimate

When people use the phrase “dye-sublimation”, I’m sure that snowboards, metal sheets, and floor mats are not the applications that naturally come to mind. However, dye-sublimation of both fabric and rigid materials is now possible thanks to wide-format printers such as the Texart range that enables the cost-effective creation and customisation of everything from large banners to ceramic tiles.

Dye-sublimation works by penetrating the surface of the substrate with ink. Man-made materials such as nylon, certain plastics, and polyester fabrics contain polymers that when heated and applied with pressure, enable the bonding of ink.

Dye-sublimation printing creates beautiful and permanent colors that are embedded in the substrate or fabric, the inks become the substrate rather than just being print on the surface. Images on fabric won’t fade or crack even after multiple washes or seasons of tackling on the rugby pitch. Images on hard substrates will not chip, peel or scratch. Want to check if an item is sublimated? take a look at a sports jersey, the outside could be covered in amazing colours and logos but the inside will be white. All the colour you see on the exterior is dye-sublimation ink that has been transferred over. Even those bright fluorescent shades that you keep seeing on sportswear? Yes that's Sublimation.

Here are some of the possibilities you have with dye-sublimation:

Rigid Substrates – No longer limited to just fabric substrates, there is a wealth of variety in product and promotional possibilities available. New polymer coated materials have been developed specifically for dye-sublimation applications that include aluminum, brass, glass, fiberglass, ceramics, acrylic, plastic and hardboard sheet materials.

Rigid Products – The rigid “blank” products that are widely available include, mouse pads, key chains, mugs, smartphone cases, flip-flops, clocks, pet bowls, light switch plates, aluminium panels and more. These are easily sublimated and represent fantastic additions to the range of custom branding items your business can offer.

Soft-Signage – Create on-demand, high-impact POP, exhibition, interior & exterior signage such as teardrop banners, flags and customised gazebos . The sublimation process is fast and ideal for time-sensitive promotions. Also soft-signage substrates are lighter than tradition signage media and can be folded without damage allowing for lower logistics costs. Also with the inks being water based and the media often recycled or recyclable, sublimation offers a very "green" alternative for customers.

Fabrics – Choose from a range of 100% polyester fabrics or even blends. Polyester development has come on greatly in recent times and many 100% polyesters now mimic natural fibre for feel or performance. With the ink becoming the fabric it doesn't affect the feel or handle of the surface.The choices of fabrics come in two distinct types:

Woven texture for sturdy and hard-wearing banner stands, exterior banners, exterior signage, decor and upholstery
Knit material that drapes and flows more naturally, for custom apparel, fabric for fashion, indoor flags and banners, photographic backdrops, chair and table covers.
Sports and Fashion Apparel – Everything from all over print t-shirts and cycling jerseys to handbags and baseball caps is a possibility. The ever-growing popularity of sports and fashion apparel opens up new sublimation opportunities everyday.

Photo Printing – Sublimated items have incredible print quality. From personalised gift items such as magnets, wall mounts and photo-apparel to photo backdrops, sublimation is perfect for delivering high quality photo-realistic images to a wide range of markets.

Ceramic Tiles – Interior designers and decorators can create customised ceramic tiles for kitchens, bathrooms, foyers, museums, restaurants, and offices.

All the materials listed above are suitable for heat transfer or available as product “blanks” for immediate heat transfer. In addition, there are also pre-treatment options available to the user that enables printing on an even broader spectrum of items.
2. You’ll Need Other Equipment for Dye-Sublimation

Printing is only the first step of the process in dye-sublimation. For sublimation to take place, you need heat and pressure. The item/media you wish to create will determine what type or size of press you will need.

Successful dye-sublimation requires the following two-part process:

Print graphics onto special transfer paper using sublimation inks
Use a heat press to transfer the ink-on-paper to the item you want to decorate (think of the process you would use from childhood temporary tattoos)

Note: to ensure correct ink transfer, smooth saturation, and fine image quality, don’t cut corners on your paper and use a good quality sublimation paper with excellent ink-absorption and high-ink release.


If you’re planning to use your dye-sublimation printer for applications that include everything from apparel to décor and soft signage, you’ll also need the following essential items:

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Computer and RIP Software

First and foremost, you’ll need a computer and software to design and process your digital graphics for printing and to manage your overall print production. Not all sublimation printer manufacturers supply software with their machine which means you’ll have to research different RIP software and ensure that it’s compatible with your printer. Fortunately, the Roland Texart range is bundled with ErgoSoft Roland Edition RIP that was created especially to support both 4-color and 8-color sublimation printing.
Cutting Device

Initially, this could be as simple as good quality scissors. For larger production runs a rotary blade and hot knife for simple cutting of materials may be beneficial. And for advanced production cutting of fabric on an industrial scale, larger hot knifes can be used to cut multiple pieces in one go. Another option would be an X/Y table cutter or digital flatbed plotter but these are only really needed when pin-point accuracy is critical to the finished article.

Sewing Device

Apparel and soft signage production requires some manner of sewing and hemming. A machine that can do a variety of stitching types and an over-locker for custom apparel, custom upholstery, banner pole pockets is beneficial. Many sewing machines also trim waste fabric as they sew creating a professional clean finish. As in most industries, production levels would determine equipment standard required but most good quality home use machines would be more than good enough for moderate production. As output demands increase, professional equipment can be introduced which can work for longer without overheating and also join a wider variety of fabrics.
3. You’ll Need a Quality Heat Press

Heat presses are available that vary in size and application. Despite these variations, they all function the same way; at around 200 degree Celsius, they simultaneously heat the ink on the transfer paper and the polymer fibers within the substrate, enabling the transfer of ink-to-media. After about a minute, the heat is removed and the transfer paper is peeled off, leaving behind a permanent, full-color graphic on the substrate.

Although this may sound daunting to some, it’s really a simple and effective method to apply graphics to fabrics and other media. In comparison to traditional print methods, it saves hours and even days of print work and with the right machine, the quality results are amazing.

If you only take one piece of information away from this document (hopefully you will take more) make it this one...Invest in a quality heat press regardless of what main application it will serve. A good heat press will not be the cheapest and they can vary in price dramatically. Try and resist "entry level" type products as it will probably be a false investment. A low quality, cheaper press may seem attractive on the price tag but very often they lack key functions or features that you will require to produce consistent, trouble free output. A reliable large format press should last decades and fulfill an increasing sublimation output as your business and printing machinery grows. Invest in reliable quality heat press and plan for business growth.

Of the heat press devices available, there are four main types:
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Small Format Heat Press

If you’re planning to sublimate on t-shirts and small items such as caps, mugs, plates, and shoes, then you might not need to spend a great deal on a heat press. Expect to pay around £800 and upwards for a decent small format press that has heat and pressure controls.

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Calender Heat Press
Manufacturers such as Klieverik, Transmatic and Monti Antonio have large format presses that are built for flags, sportswear, large exterior banners, soft-signage applications, fabric for fashion, interior decoration and upholstery sublimation. With the addition of table attachment to your calender unit, users can easily press cut apparel pieces.

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Flatbed Heat Press

Although they can’t effectively manage the kind of rolls and fabric sizes that a Calendar heat press can, flatbed style heat presses are versatile presses that can heat transfer onto fabric as well as aluminum, hardboard, floor mats and other unique media.

3D Vacuum Heat Press

A 3D vacuum heat press allows heat transfer onto materials with a curved edge or shape. Sublimation blanks and pre-treated objects, such as a smart phone covers, mugs, ceramic plates, picture frames, sporting goods, buttons and others are available for sublimation by this handy device.

These are just three of the many facets of dye-sublimation printing to consider. As you can hopefully see, it is a versatile application with growing appeal to many businesses – representing a convenient solution that not only enables apparel and product printing but also allows for signage output that is easy to transport and simple to install. Invest in a quality device from the Texart™ printer range and with Texart inks to open up a whole new category of custom graphics and profits.
Mark Elvidge
Business Development Manager
Roland DG UK LTD


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