What is Dye Sublimation?
The market demand for customization has grown exponentially in recent years. With today’s technology, it makes it easy to get your gear customized just the way you want it. One of the coolest techniques for custom T-shirts is dye sublimation.
How Does Dye Sublimation Work?
Dye sublimation is when you turn a water-based dye ink into a gas that bonds with certain materials such as polyester and other polymers. This gas dyes the polymer molecule, creating a vibrant graphic that does not wash away. You can accomplish this technique with some transfer paper and a heat press.
The dye sublimation process is fairly simple. To get started with dye sublimation, you will need a few tools:
- Dye Sublimation Printer
- Heat Press
- Transfer Paper
- Disperse Dyes
First, print your desired graphic onto a sheet of transfer paper. Next, use the heat press to place the transfer paper onto the material you want to dye. The heat makes the dried ink on the transfer paper turn into solid to gas and penetrates the fabric. The polymers in the heated polyester allow the inks to bond, creating a permanent graphic that is embedded into the fabric.
What Makes Dye Sublimation Cool?
Dye Sublimation is interesting because it doesn’t add any ink, toner, or film to the fabric. Instead, it alters the fabric’s color. This approach makes the result super-soft because you don’t feel the texture of the graphic. You only feel the fabric. Dye sublimation is great for T-shirts, but you can use the technique on all kinds of apparel.
With dye sublimation printing, you get vibrant, rich colors that are embedded into the material instead of being printed on the surface. The cool thing about this technique is that you end up with graphics that won’t crack or fade on fabric (even after tons of wear and tear and washing). You won’t get any chipping, scratching, or peeling of the graphics printed on hard substrates either.
How Do You Sublimate?
Dye sublimation is the ideal printing method for anything polyester. You can use this technique to print on any polyester apparel. You can also use dye sublimation to print on a variety of materials that have polymer-coated plastics. This could include mouse pads, cell phone cases, laptop cases, ceramic tiles, floor mats, and luggage tags, to name just a few. A lot of companies are developing polymer-treated materials to be used for dye sublimation. These materials can be aluminum, glass, acrylic, plastic, and brass.
The temperature and time settings will need to be adjusted for different types of materials. For instance, polyester apparel should take about 35 seconds at 390-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cell phone covers should take approximately 45 seconds at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Polymer coated plastics should take approximately 75 seconds at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Settings will vary!
If your transfer does not come out properly, you may be using the wrong time or heat settings. Another possibility for the cause of a transfer gone wrong could be the actual temperature of the heat press. A common problem is the displayed temperature not matching the actual temperature. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep a contact thermometer handy and adjust the temperature settings accordingly.
What Can You Sublimate?
You can use dye sublimation on any polyester clothing. The possibilities are endless, from T-shirts and tank tops to baseball caps and tennis shoes, and everything in between.
You can print high-resolution photos on your favorite T-shirt, or on gift items such as magnets or mugs. In dye sublimation terms, these are called product “blanks” and can be used for immediate ink transfer.
Due to the nature of dye sublimation, synthetic materials like polyester, some plastics, and nylon work best. This is because these materials have polymers that allow the bonding of the ink when they are heated. Use 100% Polyester Fabrics. Use knit fabrics for custom apparel, table covers, indoor banners, and backdrops. Woven, textured fabrics are better for outdoor banners, signs, and upholstery.
The first step of the dye sublimation process is to print your graphic onto transfer paper with sublimation inks. Next, use a heat press to transfer the graphic to your material. Heat presses can vary widely in size and purpose. However, despite these differences, all heat presses function similarly.
A typical application at 400 degrees Fahrenheit will heat the ink on the transfer paper and the polymer fibers at the same time resulting in the transfer of the ink to the material. Wait about a minute (give or take depending on heat and material), then remove the heat and transfer paper. You should be left with a permanent graphic on your T-shirt (or whatever material you are printing on).
There are four basic types of heat presses:
- Small format Heat Press: You can purchase a small format heat press (typically 16×20) if you are interested in using dye sublimation on small items (mugs, magnets, shoes, etc.) and T-shirts.
- Flatbed Heat Press: Use a flatbed heat press if you are looking to use dye sublimation not only on fabric, but also on unique media, aluminum, hard surfaces, or floor mats.
- 3D Vacuum Heat Press: Use the 3D vacuum heat press for mediums that have a curved edge or a curved shape. Use this device on pre-treated items such as mugs, phone and laptop cases, ceramic plates, and buttons, to name a few.
- Large Format (Calendar) Heat Press: Use a large format calendar heat press for big projects, including banners, signs, and fabric.
Now that you know a little bit more about the dye sublimation process and its uses, you can see it is a highly versatile method for printing. If you are interested in getting sublimation printing in las vegas for your designs or logos onto a polyester T-Shirt but do not want to spend the money on a dye sublimation printer and heat press yourself, contact us today!