What are the uses of sublimation

Sublimation printing

What is sublimation printing?

Sublimation printing, often also known as transfer printing, is a printing process that has been around since the 1960s. In the process of sublimation, the dyes are applied to the printing substrate by heating. The ink is evaporated or sublimed. Sublimation printing is often used in the production of advertising materials or the printing of textiles.

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Materials and products that can be printed or manufactured using the sublimation printing process

With the help of sublimation printing, many different printed products can be produced. The most common example is probably the printed T-shirt. The following list shows other printable items.

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  • Glasses and cups
  • Vases
  • Bottles
  • Plate
  • Tiles
  • Cell phone cases
  • pendant
  • trophies
  • Signs
  • Jewelry and jewelry boxes
  • Cloth bag
  • Umbrellas
  • Bed linen
  • Lanyards
  • puzzle

In general, objects made of the following materials can be printed using the sublimation printing process.

  • Glass
  • Ceramics
  • plastic
  • Wood
  • stainless steel
  • aluminum

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How does sublimation printing work?

The name of this printing process is based on the physical process of sublimation. Sublimation means nothing else than that a solid substance changes into its gaseous state, i.e. evaporates. This principle is used in sublimation printing. In general, the printing process takes place in the following steps.

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  1. The print motif is mirror-inverted in the inkjet process on a special film or on transfer paper.
  2. The printed transfer film is placed on the substrate.
  3. With the help of a thermal transfer press or a calender, the transfer film / paper and the material to be printed are heated to up to 230 degrees.
  4. As a result of the heating, the sublimed dyes penetrate the fibers of the printing material and are transferred to the printing medium by additional pressure.

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What is needed for sublimation printing?

While industrial sublimation printing is done with the help of large-format printing machines, which can usually print directly on the substrate, sublimation printing is carried out for smaller runs according to the steps already described above. So if you want to produce printed products yourself using the sublimation process, you need the components listed below.

  • printer
  • Transfer press, calender or hot air oven
  • Sublimation ink
  • Sublimation / transfer paper
  • Suitable printing substrates

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What do you have to consider when using sublimation printing?

When it comes to sublimation printing, too, there are a few things to keep in mind so that optimal results can be achieved.

  • If textiles are to be printed, they must consist of at least 80 percent polyester - or alternatively - polyamide, polyacrylonitrile or cellulose acetate. If this is not the case, the textile to be printed must have been coated with a polyester layer beforehand.
  • Sublimation printing requires special printing inks - so-called dispersion inks - which are insoluble in water.
  • Due to the rather low opacity of sublimation inks, mainly white or pastel-colored surfaces are suitable for printing.
  • Textiles that have already been colored can only be printed in black.
  • Images and graphics must be of high resolution.
  • The print motif should always be slightly larger than the print substrate. This allows for some alignment latitude when using a heat transfer press.

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How can cotton textiles be printed using the sublimation process?

In order to be able to print directly on cotton fabric, either special printing inks are required or the substrate has to be prepared beforehand with a polyester layer. If you decide to print directly on wool or silk, reactive dye inks or acid-based acid inks are used. However, the reactive inks require heat fixation after printing, the acid-based inks require an alkaline cold bath.

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Sublimation printers and printing machines from various manufacturers

There are also differences among sublimation printers. In addition to printers for the production of smaller quantities, there are also sublimation printing machines that are used to process large orders. The following table provides an overview of some printer and printing machine manufacturers and various sublimation printers and printing machines. The full range of printing machines and all details on the respective models can be viewed on the respective websites of the manufacturers.

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ManufacturerPrinting machine modelsapplication areas
EPSONSure-Color SC-F9300
  • Sportswear, textiles for the fashion industry, home textiles and interior furnishings, promotional items and flexible signage
Sure-Color SC-F500
  • Cell phone cases, mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts, pillow cases or pillows
Roland DGTexart RT-640M
  • Banners, flags, sportswear, textiles and decorative items for interior decoration, printing on solid surfaces, promotional items, ...
EFIVutek FabriVU 340i
  • Banners, flags, wall coverings, interior decoration, ...
MimakiTS30-1300
  • Clothing and sportswear
TS3-1600
  • Banners, flags, jerseys, jackets, scarves, swimwear, home textiles and interior designs
JV5-320DS
  • large format banners, banners and flags
HPStitch S300
  • Room decoration, fashion and sportswear, soft signage
Stitch S1000
  • Banners, posters, displays, trade fair and event graphics, textiles, ...
thirstRhotex 325
  • large format direct printing on polyester materials
  • large format transfer printing
Rhotex 180 TR
  • large format transfer and direct printing
Rhotex 500
  • Large format printing on coated and uncoated polyester materials

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of sublimation printing?

Each of the numerous printing processes has strengths and weaknesses, or is better suited for some uses and less suitable for others. The following list shows the possible advantages and disadvantages of sublimation printing.

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advantagesdisadvantage
  • Materials can be printed in very high quality.
  • Allows photorealistic printing
  • Numerous different materials can be printed with this printing process.
  • inexpensive
  • more environmentally friendly than other printing processes
  • The print is UV-resistant and has a high durability.
  • binder- and solvent-free printing process
  • It is also possible to print short runs.
  • Printing materials have to be heat-resistant and withstand high temperatures - not every material is therefore suitable for printing in this process.
  • Textiles to be printed should consist of 100 percent or as high a proportion as possible of synthetic materials.
  • Cotton or dark surfaces are less suitable for printing.

 

Article using contributions from Petra Ebeling.

First published in 2018. October 23, 2019.