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What you Need to Know about Sublimation Printing

August 25, 2018

What you Need to Know about Sublimation Printing

With the technology we have today, most of you know there are many ways to print t-shirts and apparel. Many of them are great for a variety of reasons but in the article we will focus on dye sublimation, the process we use all of our imprinted gifts and some of our apparel.

What is Sublimation Printing?

Dye-Sublimation is a printing technology which “dyes” polyester fabric by transforming the inks into a heat-activated gas which bonds with the “fibers”. This results in a brilliant finish with a wide photographic gamut. Instead of traditional inkjet transfers which print the ink on top of the apparel or item you are working with, sublimation ink actually becomes part of the apparel/item. How is that possible? Simply put, once the ink from your sublimation transfer paper is heat pressed onto the item you are printing on, it opens up the pores of the fabric that you are pressing heat onto. In the case of gift items they are specially coated to receive the sublimation ink and the heat prints the image under the coating and once it cools the ink will turn back into a solid form and will be protected by the coating. Images on hard substrates will not chip, peel or scratch.


The Benefits

We love this process because it ensures your photo/artwork you print onto your item will not fade, crack, peel or lose its vibrancy over the life of the item. The finish is also smooth, clear and vibrant because it literally becomes one with the item. This is a great benefit is you want to keep the original soft feel of the apparel. Another great benefit we love this process is the fact that it allows you to print full color transfers and heat press them onto your item without any special setup. For apparel no setting up additional screens as in traditional screen printing.

What is Direct to Print?

Most direct to printing has to be done on fabrics coated for direct print which ensures that the image does not bleed while printing. This coating produces a barrier between the fabric and ink. Once you print to coated fabrics your ink sits on the surface of the fabric adding another layer to the fabric. This again increases the crunchy feeling of the fabric and causes the material to have more memory for wrinkles.

Does Direct to Garment Printing compare?

No, it does not. Just doesn't have the richness of colors and no bonding to the apparel itself.

Why is the Dye-Sublimation Printing Process better

  • The print is dry and ready to handle as soon as the transfer process is complete
  • Colors are vibrant, clear when bonded with synthetic fibers and high polyester fabrics.
  • Dye does not build up on the fabric because it is infused into the fabric.
  • Artwork/photos are permanent and do not peel, fade or crack and will last the life of the apparel/item.
  • The finished product results in material that is easy to handle, washable, and reusable.

Does Dye-Sublimation have limitations?

Some restrictions are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

While we do use screen printing for our motivational t-shirts, dye-sublimation is our is our go to process for customization and flexibility. Sublimation simply opens up a whole new world of customization and unique one-of-a-kind designs.

What do you think about sublimation?


Steve Lee

Steve Lee is graduate of Wayne State University with Bachelor's degree in Graphic Design, Co-founder of Rare Breed Apparel and all around social instigator. He gets a kick and thrill out of watering other peoples gift and watching them grow.

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