My Cart

Close

What is Dye Sublimation

A dye-sublimation printer is a computer printer which uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, paper, or fabric. The sublimation name was first applied because the dye was considered to make the transition between the solid and gas states without going through a liquid stage. This understanding of the process was later shown to be incorrect. There is some liquifying of the dye. Since then, the process is sometimes known as dye-diffusion, though this has not eliminated the original name.[1] Many consumer and professional dye-sublimation printers are designed and used for producing photographic prints, ID cards, clothing, and more.

These are not to be confused with dye sublimation heat transfer imprinting printers, which use special inks to create transfers designed to be imprinted on textiles, and in which the dyes do indeed sublimate.[1] These are done at lower temperatures but higher pressures, particularly in all-over print processes.

Some dye-sublimation printers use CMYO (Cyan Magenta Yellow Overcoating) colors, which differs from the more recognized CMYK colors in that the black is eliminated in favour of a clear overcoating. This overcoating (which has numerous names depending on the manufacturer) is also stored on the ribbon and is effectively a thin layer which protects the print from discoloration from UV light and the air, while also rendering the print water-resistant.[2]

For ID card printing, text and bar codes are necessary, and they are printed by means of an additional black panel on the (YMCKO) ribbon. This extra panel works by thermal transfer printing instead of dye diffusion: a whole layer, instead of just some of the dye in the layer, transfers from the ribbon to the substrate at the pixels defined by the thermal head. This overall process is then sometimes called D2T2 (Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer).

Printing Technique:

Dye-sublimation printing is a digital printing technology using full color artwork that works with polyester and polymer-coated substrates. Also referred to as digital sublimation, the process is commonly used for decorating apparel, signs and banners, as well as novelty items such as cell phone covers, plaques, coffee mugs, and other items with sublimation-friendly surfaces. The process uses the science of sublimation, in which heat and pressure are applied to a solid, turning it into a gas through an endothermic reaction without passing through the liquid phase.

In sublimation printing, unique sublimation dyes are transferred to sheets of “transfer” paper via liquid gel ink through a piezoelectric print head. The ink is deposited on these high-release inkjet papers, which are used for the next step of the sublimation printing process. After the digital design is printed onto sublimation transfer sheets, it is placed on a heat press along with the substrate to be sublimated.[3]

In order to transfer the image from the paper to the substrate, it requires a heat press process that is a combination of time, temperature and pressure. The heat press applies this special combination, which can change depending on the substrate, to “transfer” the sublimation dyes at the molecular level into the substrate. The most common dyes used for sublimation activate at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a range of 380 to 420 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for optimal color.[4]

The end result of the sublimation process is a nearly permanent, high resolution, full color print. Because the dyes are infused into the substrate at the molecular level, rather than applied at a topical level (such as with screen printing and direct to garment printing), the prints will not crack, fade or peel from the substrate under normal conditions.