Dye Sublimation Printing – What is it, Why do it?

Sublimation printing / Dye Sublimation Printing / Dye Sub

…is a process which printing businesses use in order to permanently decorate a wide range of items with photographic prints, including T-shirts and other garments, mugs, coasters, mouse mats, smart phone & tablet cases, cushions, tea towels, wooden jigsaw puzzles, wooden table mats, ceramic tiles, metal keyrings, and much more.

Please note, we’re talking about the gift decoration dye sublimation printing process and not the photo prints dye sublimation process. Dye sub is also used for producing prints onto paper, using dye sublimation film. This is not a process that we’re involved in.

Sublimation printing is a relatively low cost and potentially high profit margin printing business process, allowing you to start printing from an investment from as little as around £500 – £1,000, producing in-demand products.

The running costs are relatively low, you need to keep very little stock, the start up costs are relatively low – and in fact incredibly low considering that this is in fact a manufacturing business. You’re starting out with blank, low value products, and manufacturing much higher value products, for a profit.

The science behind dye sublimation printing is the chemical process of sublimation, which is where a solid turns directly into a gas without going through the liquid stage. Dye particles turn into vapour, and then when they turn back into a solid, they become one with any polymer molecules that are present. What this means is that the photographic image which is printed onto the dye sublimation paper (which is a holding paper to simply keep the dye molecules in place) becomes one with the surface of the item you’re sublimating.

This is achieved by simply heat pressing the printed dye sublimation paper usually at 180 – 200 degrees C.

This process requires polymer molecules, therefore it does not work with natural fibres such as cotton. The dye sublimation printing process is mainly for polyester, although it will also work with Nylon.

As this is a dying process, you need to start out with a white or light coloured substrate. You cannot dye anything lighter, only darker – therefore you cannot print onto black or dark coloured items or substrates with dye sublimation printing.

Dye sublimation blanks are usually either made from polyester or a mix which includes at least 60% polyester, or they are coated with a polymer coating. With sublimation mugs for example, the ceramic mugs are dip coated in a special polyester coating (we supply blank dye sublimation mugs & many other blanks by the way, you don’t have to have your own coated), with fabric items the blanks are made from either 100% polyester or a poly cotton mix, wooden items have a polymer coating, as do metal items.

In order to do dye sublimation printing, you will need a dye sublimation printer such as the ricoh dye sublimation printer, a flat heat press for producing flat items such as garments, mousemats, cushions and so on and a mug press if you intend on producing mugs.

You will need dye sublimation inks, dye sublimation paper, heat proof tape (for some items, such as mugs) and dye sublimation blanks.

Once you receive your equipment (our dye sublimation equipment is usually despatched the same day of order, for next working day delivery) it is a very straight forward process to get set up, usually you’ll be up & running within an hour or two.

Dye sublimation printing is great for a wide range of items – but it’s not the best for T-shirts due to the fact that it’s for man made fibres only so you can’t print onto 100% cotton T shirts, and it’s for light or white surfaces only.

This process is mainly used for one off printing, and short – medium runs, and is a full photographic colour process so it lends itself to photographic images. If you plan on taking on huge print runs for single or two colour logos, you may be better of looking at screen printing. There is also the DTG process, laser transfer garment decoration, cut & stick vinyl, solvent printing & other print processes that might suit you better.

Most printing businesses have dye sublimation as a string to their bow, and there are many printers who solely print dye sublimation, due to what a simple and easy process it is to use.

Dye sub lends itself very well to the personalisation printing business, which is the business of personalising gifts with imagery and / or text, to produce custom, bespoke personalised gifts for your customers. This market generally produces the highest margin, although their is more work involved as you need to take instruction from your customers in terms of how they want the item to look, you need to get their image & do the necessary design work, which is more involved than other markets. You can find new personalisation customers via your own website, as well as via online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, and of course this process works very well if you have any kind of a physical retail presence.

Another market, is producing your own specific designs along a particular niche or theme, and producing a range of items from these designs. Many printing businesses produce their own brands, and sell via marketplaces such as Not on The High Street, Etsy, Folksy, eBay and Amazon. Amazon is particularly good for selling your own designs, because once you have a design and a product which you know is selling, you can send stock to Amazon and have them handle all the fulfillment for you, so you just send the finished items to Amazon and they ship them out when they sell. You can also approach retailers with your designs, we have customers who have their products in retail stores internationally.

The promotional industry is generally higher volume lower profit, and it doesn’t usually work well for dye sublimation printing since a lot of promo merchandise is printed via screen printing which is a much faster and cheaper process when it comes to images made up of a small number of colours or single colours, where you’re producing hundreds of items printed with the exact same image.

Many signage businesses have a dye sublimation printing setup in order to allow them to offer a wide range of different items to their customers. Embroiders also often offer dye sublimation printing, as do T-shirt printers and other forms of printers.

Some of the most popular items currently being produced with dye sublimation printing include iPhone cases, iPad cases and other smart phone & tablet cases, cushions, tea towels, ceramic mugs, wooden jigsaw puzzles, wooden drinks coasters, photo slates, fabric shopping bags and car sunshades.

If you need any more information on the dye sublimation printing process, feel free to give us a call on 01625 876949, or drop us an email: support@subli.co.uk







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