Dye sublimation printing represents the latest evolution in garment decoration. Arguably the most versatile technology available to the product decorator today, sublimation allows for the creation of thousands of full-color, true photo quality products in numerous markets. Whatever your business’ primary focus, dye sublimation allows for a wide interpretation of products. Though the production technique is relatively simple, it’s the chemical process that separates sublimation from any other form of digital printing.
Sublimation is defined as the phase transition of a substance from a solid directly to a gas without going through a liquid phase occurring under specific temperature and pressure conditions. What does that mean?? The dye bonds color into a material and this color change is permanent. Sublimation refers to the change from the solid, to the gaseous state without becoming liquid. Dye Sublimaton refers to solid dye particles that are changed into gas using heat and pressure, which then bond with any polymers present and change back into a solid.
Dye sublimation is always done on a polyester, polymer, or polymer-coated item. At high temperature, the solid dye vaporizes into a gas without ever becoming a liquid. The same high temperature opens the pores of the polyester fabric and allows the dye vapor to enter. When the temperature cools, the pores close and the gas reverts to a solid state trapping the dye into the fiber of the fabric. It has now become a permanent part of the fabric. This is why dye sublimation can’t be performed on natural fibers, such as 100% cotton. Natural fibers and non-coated materials which have no “pores” to open cannot accept the gas vapor. The dye particles are designed to bond with polyester, and ignore everything else.
Dark materials cannot be used with the spot sublimation process so a lot of our dye sublimated apparel starts out as solid white fabric. Garments decorated with dye sublimation cannot be removed like images on shirts decorated with screen printing. Again, this is not ink that sits on top of the fabric; it is a dye that penetrates and bonds with the fibers of the fabric. Run your finger across the surface of a sublimated garment and you will feel nothing but the fabric. This is why all of our dye sublimated performance apparel is guaranteed to never fade, crack or peel like a screen print will over time.
What Can I Sublimate?
There are products for practically every business market. On the awards and recognition side, sublimation allows for full-color, photo quality plaques, signs, name badges and other identification products. The apparel side offers variety and option for the decorator from trendy hooded sweatshirts to engineered, microfibers. Not only will a sublimated image never wash away, but sublimation is the only imprinting technology which doesn’t impede the wicking benefits of performance apparel, allowing you the ability to take advantage of a fully customized “Under Armour” type shirt.
How can I customize my apparel?
Dye sublimation does have some restrictions, though you may find that many of these restrictions aren’t the kind of deal breakers you might imagine due to recent innovations in the industry. These are the things you have to watch out for:
- White/Light garments only. Sublimated color blend with the color on which they are printed, so the best result comes from printing on white garments. That said, though it is more expensive, you can choose to have an entire garment printed! This means that not only could you turn your white garment any color, you could also cover it’s surface with any image you like!
- Polyester garments only. Though it is true that this process only works on polyester, the polyester garments of today aren’t the heavy, impermeable garments of the ’70s that usually come to mind. The largest amount of modern performance fabrics, moisture-wicking fabrics, and the like are made of polyester. Comfortable, even cotton-like textured garments are being made in sublimation-friendly polyester!
- Higher price per piece in large runs. There comes a point when a large enough run of sublimation will become more expensive than traditional screen printing. That said, even if the blanks are slightly more expensive, for small runs, the reduced setup fees often make sublimation more economical for full-color or photo-realistic designs.
Dye Sublimation differs from Screen Printing because the process actually dyes the fabric, instead of sitting on top of the shirt. Run your finger across the surface of a sublimated garment and you will feel nothing but the fabric. Fabric can be washed and reused because the dye is permanent. This is why all of our dye sublimated performance apparel is guaranteed to never fade, crack or peel like a screen print will over time. Finally…get all the wicking benefits of custom performance apparel without feeling the print through the shirt!!!
Is sublimation for you? That depends on your job; when you weigh all the facts you can see that if you want a small number of full-color printed garments, sublimation fits your needs perfectly. Moreover, if you are a fan of light-feeling prints and performance fabrics, you may find that you prefer it to traditional printing methods.