Last week we discussed transfer dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing. Graphics are printed in reverse on transfer paper, and then transferred to polyester fabric using a heat press. Direct dye-sub is another option for textile printing. It involves the act of sublimation onto a coated fabric. The coating on the fabric functions like the transfer paper, it controls dot gain.
Quality and Speed
"Anybody in traditional dye-sub transfer looks at direct dye-sub and says, ‘Great! I can eliminate the cost of transfer paper.’ They are not taking into consideration that directly printed fabric has to be coated. Once you coat the fabric, the cost of the coating actually replaces the cost of paper," explains Michael Labella, product manager, US Sublimation. The company manufactures the Velotex line of direct dye-sub printers.
"Direct dye-sub is commonly used because it increases productivity," explains Patti Williams, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies. Steps involving the removal of transfer paper from the finished output are eliminated, speeding up the process. When a direct dye-sub device incorporates an inline heat fixation system, the amount of fabric handling time is also reduced, shares Mike McEvoy, director of commercialization, Sawgrass Technologies, Inc.
Splash of Color offers the HeatWave DFP-74 and HeatWave DFP-104 direct to fabric printers, which utilize a Roland DGA Corporation print engine in combination with a media feeding system and an on board sublimation unit. A precision feeding system draws digital information from the printer enabling adjustment on the fly. The HeatWave system is equipped with a heated Teflon covered steel cylinder, which handles the act of sublimation. This design ensures that fabrics are sublimated at a consistent temperature, resulting in uniform color.
Image quality differs between direct dye-sub and dye-sub transfer. Typically, dye-sub transfer produces a crisper output. "Transfer paper generates a better line definition and sharper images because the dot gain on paper is controllable. Ink wants to wick into fibers and spread out on a textile, and without the transfer paper preventing it from doing so, textiles printed by direct dye-sub are a bit less sharp," states RJ Sullivan, product manager, EFI VUTEk.
American Flag Store is a provider of flags, flagpoles, and other flag accessories. The company employs six people and operates out of a 5,000 square foot building in Mauriceville, TX. American Flag Store’s client orders mainly come from the Internet, and include corporate logo flags, real estate flags, and message banners for businesses and organizations. The company invested in a direct dye-sub printer to bring production in-house, lower the cost of flags and banners for customers, and speed up delivery.
The flag store uses FuZion fabrics and prints with a Velotex Xpress. "Our main reasons for purchasing a textile printer were to lower cost to customer, speed up production time, and develop more control to lessen outsourcing," states Christopher L. Baugh, president, American Flag Store. The Velotex Xpress is for indoor and outdoor applications. The maximum printing width is 64 inches and the maximum resolution is 1,440 dpi. It uses dye-sub dispersed, acid, and reactive dye; and textile pigments.
"We chose the Velotex because it is an all-in-one printer. You simply print and cut," explains Baugh. After researching paper transfer machines, the company found them to be more expensive.
The learning process for printing on fabric is ongoing for American Flag Store. "However, basic operation was simple after the introduction by the technical team at US Sublimation," he says.
Direct dye-sub printing is a growing opportunity for the company. "We believe the quality to be equal to paper machines. We base the quality on customer comments and so far all are positive," says Baugh.
Part three of this series highlights digital direct to print. Many print service providers utilize this technology to print on natural fibers such as cotton or silk.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Textile Growth.