A dye-sublimation ink consists of a solid pigment or dye suspended in a liquid vehicle. An image is printed onto a transfer paper—also called release paper—and the paper is brought into contact with a polyester fabric using a heat press. Under heat and pressure, the solid dye sublimates and suffuses into the fabric, solidifying onto the fibers. The image physically becomes part of the substrate.
For years, printing via a transfer medium has been the standard dye-sub method. However, there have emerged systems—called direct dye-sublimation or direct disperse—that can print directly onto a fabric without requiring a transfer sheet. It’s tempting to think, “Aha! Now I can save money on sublimation transfer paper,” but it’s not quite as simple as that. Both varieties of dye-sub have their advantages and their disadvantages, and if you’re new to the technology, or are looking to invest in a dye-sub system, it pays to understand the benefits and limitations of each.
The big benefit of using a transfer process is image quality. “You end up with a more detailed image, the edges are a little sharper, text is much more crisp and sharp, and colors are more vivid, Such as Professional Imaging for Epson. Epson SureColor F Series dye-sublimation printers comprise the F6200, F7200, and F9200. Mimaki TS300P 1800, TS500P 1800etc.
With transfer paper, during sublimation, the ink doesn’t penetrate far into the substrate, remaining close to the surface. In contrast, direct disperse penetrates further into the fabric, which—much like inkjet printing on plain paper—means that fine detail is lost and colors become less vivid.
“For me, the difference will always be clarity because you’re always going to get a cleaner, crisper print when you’re doing a print to paper and then transferring,”
Another advantage of using a transfer process is that you can work with any kind of surface with a polyester coating: banners, mugs, flip-flops, you name it. There are so many applications, and that’s really the benefit of a transfer process. It makes it a very versatile solution. Heat transfer is for a nearly endless array of applications—trade show graphics, high-end fashion, sports apparel, interior design, promotional products, interior signage, industrial and construction, retail and POP, etc