Most of our products are printed using one or more of a variety of dye-sublimation (also called dye-sub) techniques.
Dye Sublimation Printers
A dye-sublimation is a computer printer which employs a printing process that uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, paper, or fabric. The sublimation name was first applied because the dye was considered to transition between the solid and gas states without going through a liquid stage. This understanding of the process was later shown to be incorrect; since then the process is sometimes known as dye-diffusion, though this has not eliminated the original name. Many consumer and professional dye-sublimation printers are designed and used for producing photographic prints, ID cards, and so on.
These are not to be confused with dye sublimation heat transfer imprinting printers, which use special inks to create transfers designed to be imprinted on textiles, and in which the dyes do indeed sublimate.
Some dye-sublimation printers use CMYO (Cyan Magenta Yellow Overcoating) colors, which differs from the more recognized CMYK colors in that the black is eliminated in favour of a clear overcoating. This overcoating (which has numerous names depending on the manufacturer) is also stored on the ribbon and is effectively a thin layer which protects the print from discoloration from UV light and the air, while also rendering the print water-resistant.
For ID card printing, text and bar codes are necessary, and they are printed by means of an additional black panel on the (YMCKO) ribbon. This extra panel works by thermal transfer printing instead of dye diffusion: a whole layer, instead of just some of the dye in the layer, transfers from the ribbon to the substrate at the pixels defined by the thermal head. This overall process is then sometimes called D2T2 (Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer).
Textile and Fabric Printing
The dye-sublimation printing process is used to print on polyester or other synthetic fabrics (as in our mouse pad surfaces, messenger bags, handbags, coasters, and more). It is used for applications such as T-shirts, banners, table covers, id cards, sportswearand flags. The original printers were an electrostatic technology using toners but now are generally large format inkjet printers using specially formulated inks. The dye sublimation inks are a pigment suspended in a liquid solvent, like water. The images are initially printed on coated heat-resistant transfer paper as a reverse image of the final design, which is then transferred onto polyester fabric in a heat press operating at a temperature around 180 to 210 C (375 F). Under high temperature and pressure, the dye turns into a gas and permeates the fabric and then solidifies into its fibers. The fabric is permanently dyed so it can be washed without damaging the quality of the image.
Advantages of dye-sublimation over other methods of textile printing:
- Images are permanent and do not peel or fade.
- Dye does not build up on the fabric.
- Colors can be extraordinarily brilliant due to the bonding of the dye to the transparent fibers of the synthetic fabric.
- Truly continuous tones can be achieved that are equivalent to photographs, without the use special techniques such as half-screen printing.
- The image can be printed all over the entire item, with no difficulty in printing all the way to the edges.