Sublimation printing, or dye-sublimation printing is a printing style that uses a computer printer which uses heat and pressure to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, paper, or fabric. The name sublimation was first given to this process because the dye makes the transition between the solid and gas states without a liquid stage. This concept of the process was later shown not to be entirely accurate, as there is a little liquefying of the dye. Since then, the proper name for the process should be known as dye-diffusion, though this has not changed that people still prefer the original name. Many dye-sublimation printers are designed and used for producing photographic prints, ID cards, clothing, and more.
These, however, should not to be mistaken for dye sublimation heat transfer imprinting printers, which use specialized inks to create heat activated transfers designed to be imprinted on textiles, and in which the dyes do actually sublimate. These are accomplished with lower temperatures but higher pressures, most often in all-over print processes.
For things like ID card printing, text and bar codes are necessary, and are printed by an additional black panel on the (YMCKO) ribbon. This added panel uses thermal transfer printing instead of dye diffusion: an entire layer, instead of just a little of the dye in a layer, transfers from the ribbon to the substrate with the pixels being defined by the thermal head. This overall process is then sometimes called dye diffusion thermal transfer or D2T2.
Dye-sublimation printing is digital printing technology that uses full color artwork that works with polyester and polymer-coated substrates. This process has also been referred to as digital sublimation, the process has often been used for decorating things like apparel, signs and banners, as well as many novelty items like cell phone covers, plaques, coffee mugs, and other products with sublimation-friendly surfaces. This process uses the science of sublimation, in which heat and pressure can be applied to a solid, then turning it into a gas through a process known as an endothermic reaction without going through the liquid phase.
When sublimation printing, special sublimation dyes are printed on to sheets of “transfer” paper as a liquid gel ink through a piezoelectric print head. The ink is printed on these high-release papers, which are then used in the next step of the printing process. After the design is printed on the sublimation transfer paper, it is then placed into a heat press along with the product that is to be sublimated.
In order to properly transfer the image from the transfer paper to the product, it requires a heat press process that uses the proper combination of time, temperature and pressure. The heat press then applies the proper combination, which can be different depending on the product or surface you wish to “transfer” the sublimation dyes at the molecular level into the substrate. The most commonly used dyes for sublimation activate at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though the dye activates at 350, a range of 380 to 420 degrees Fahrenheit is what is normally recommended for the best and brightest colors.
What you end up with from the sublimation process is a nearly permanent, full color, high resolution, print. Because these sublimation dyes are infused into the products on a molecular level, instead of being applied at a topical level (like with screen printing and direct to garment printing), you know that these prints will not crack, fade or peel from the product under normal conditions.
This process has many advantages that create high quality prints for all the different kinds of products that it is used for. This quality will last a long time look amazing. You will not regret purchasing any products printed in this style.