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What Is Sublimation?

Posted by Ryan Bolin - Outside Sales on 3/28/2014

Wikipedia tells us that Dye Sublimation is a computer printer which employs a printing process that uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as plastic, card, paper, or fabric.  But can your business profit from the investment? 

What Do I Need?
Before you jump in head-first, you must first consider the cost and complexity of the process. Sublimation is not just printing and applying - there are more factors that contribute to a perfect print. Here are some of the things you will need.

- Sublimation Ink Compatible Printer such as Epson and Ricoh printers.
- Sublimation Paper such as Image Right or TexPrint.
- Sublimation Ink available in cartridges, bulk bags and bottles.
- ICC Color Correction Profile to ensure that your colors come out perfect.
- Heat resistant tape if you are doing mugs, tiles, or caps, to keep your image from moving during the transfer process.
- Sublimatable Items - products that are compatible with sublimation. *note: not all mugs, tiles, t-shirts, and other imprintable items, are sublimation compatible*
- Heat press for bonding the image to the item. If you are doing mugs or caps, you need a mug or cap press, or attachments that can be bought for compatible presses.
- An ICC Profile compatible program, such as Photoshop, or CorelDraw. (Currently, the ICC Profiles cannot be managed in any other programs.)

So sublimation needs special ink, paper, and substrates with a polyester coating in order to work.

What sublimation can not do -
- Imprint cotton shirts. As mentioned before, sublimation needs polyester in order to complete the process of transfer. Sublimation will turn out best with only 100% polyester shirts. Cotton shirts should be completed with heat transfer paper.
- Imprint 65/35 and 50/50 shirts with bright colors. Since a percentage of the shirt is still cotton, the sublimation ink does not have enough polyester to create a vivid transfer. The image will end up with dull colors, especially after washing. Again, using heat transfers for cotton shirts is really the best option.
- Imprint colored shirts. Any colored background drastically alters the imprint colors. Since sublimation will become part of the shirt, any color already on the garment will overwhelm the transferred image.
- Imprint non-polymer-coated items. Remember that sublimation is printing into the coating, not the item.
- Imprint gold/silver metal used by award companies. This is another instance where the background color of the substrate will interfere with the image.

There are other factors in sublimation that will be determined by what equipment you have, such as substrate size and type, printer and paper, etc.  With the wide variety of products available to be sublimated to, you should easily be able to fill the needs of your customers with minimal investment of time and money.

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