How to do Sublimation Printing


Many of our customers have been in the business of creating products with dye sublimation for years, and don’t need us to answer these kinds of basic questions. If you’re completely new to dye sublimation printing though, and you’re considering it for your gift / garment production business, then you may be googling to find out how to do sublimation printing. 

We will get into more detail shortly, but firstly just as a quick how to – this is how we do sublimation printing, to create personalised garments and giftware: 

Using a dye sublimation printer, we print the photo / image / text that we want on the item we want to decorate / personalise, on to sublimation paper.

This creates the sublimation transfer, and we then use a heat transfer press, to sublimate the image in to the surface of the item. We say “in to” rather than “on to”, because unlike other heat transfer printing processes such as inkjet or laser transfer, with sublimation printing we are actually dyeing the image directly into the surface of the item, rather than printing it onto a transfer which is then stuck to the item.

None of the sublimation paper ends up on the garment / item, the paper is thrown away after pressing, and the image is now in the surface of the item, permanently

It’s as simple as that, print and press. 

Now to get a bit more technical: 

By the way,  there are a couple of different types of sublimation printing. Photographic sublimation printing refers to a process for printing photographs onto paper, and this isn’t the type of sublimation printing we’re talking about here.  If you see brands such as Kodak and Canon in relation to sublimation printers, such as the Canon Selphy and Kodak EasyShare, these do use the sublimation process, but as an all in one method of printing photos, and not for personalising blank products. 

 

Complete Dye Sublimation Printing Packages

Complete Dye Sublimation Printing Packages

Printing Vs Dyeing 

The thing to keep in mind with dye sublimation, is that it’s actually a dyeing process rather than a printing process. It is a printing process in terms of using an inkjet / geljet sublimation printer in order to print the image onto the sublimation paper, but the sublimation “ink” is dye particles in a water based solution, and the sublimation paper simply holds these dye particles in place ready to be sublimated.

The part of the process where the image is transferred to the garment / item, isn’t a printing process, the printing has already been done, what happens at this second stage is that the heat and pressure required for the sublimation process to take place is provided by the heat press, and the dye particles turn from solid particles into a gas (without going through the liquid phase) and then turn back into a solid again, having bonded with any polymer molecules present in the substrate, or in the coating of the item. 

Dye sublimation is a permanent dyeing process. The image becomes one with the polymers present in the substrate, or in the surface of the item with regards to items such as blank mugs, aluminium photo panels, etc., So with Tshirts and other fabric blanks where the fabric is polyester, the image will not fade or peel or crack, in fact the image will last as long as the fibres of the garment, as the image became one with the polymer molecules that the fibres are made up of, when sublimating.

Whites / Light Colours Only

You will realise of course that you can’t put black paper into your office printer and expect to be able to print a photo on it and be able to see it? The same is true with dye sublimation printing.

If you wanted a coloured image on a black T shirt for instance, you would need to print an image onto a white transfer, and then transfer this onto a garment, or use a DTG (direct to garment) printer which is capable of printing white, onto a pre-treated garment, for instance. Sublimation only works on white or light items. 

For instance, you can sublimate onto mugs with white patches, and on black umbrellas with white panels, to give the impression that the item itself is black, but you couldn’t actually sublimate a black substrate or garment.

You can sublimate onto light and pastel colours, but just keep in mind that it depends on what you are printing, for instance black text on a light pink Tshirt may look fine, whereas a photo may look a bit strange on a pink garment as any colours in the foreground which are similar to the pink background colour will be lost. 

Polyester Required

If you were wanting to personalise 100% cotton garments for instance, this isn’t possible with sublimation without another step being involved to add a coating of some kind. 

You can sublimate onto 50/50 polyester cotton for example,  but keep in mind that to what ever degree the polyester is diluted, this is the degree of image vibrancy you will expect. So 100% polyester will give the best result in terms of vibrancy.

Items such as mugs and other ceramic blanks, metal blanks, wooden blanks, glass blanks and so on have a polymer coating to make them suitable for sublimation.

Heat Required

Sublimation is usually done at somewhere between 180 – 200C, which means that you need to take into account melting or sticking point of the item you’re wanting to sublimate.  Sublimation blanks that are sold specifically for dye sublimation printing, are made to withstand the required temperature, but if you’re attempting to sublimate onto an item which you think will work in terms of being man made and containing polymer molecules, it would be a good idea to sandwich the item in teflon or baking paper, parchment paper etc., just in case you end up with a sticky mess.

Pressure Required

You need to be able to apply pressure to the item, as well as heat. This means that the shape of the item is important. When it comes to tshirts, tea towels, and other fabric sublimation blanks then of course they are fine, and flat solid items such as placemats, coasters, subli slates, glass blanks and so on are fine as they’re flat.

If you wanted to print onto a mug, then you would need a mug press, or oven mug wrap  if you’re using an oven. If you wanted to print onto items with uneven surfaces though, you would more than likely need a 3D vacuum press, these apply pressure by sucking the air out of a space which contains a silicone membrane. 

So now you know, to do sublimation printing you basically need a sublimation printing setup including a sublimation printer, heat press and sublimation paper

Need more help? 

Just drop us an email, support at subli.co.uk, or telephone us on 01625 876949, we’re always happy to help.

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