With dye-sublimation (dye-sub), graphics are applied to virtually any surface—from fabric to plastic and metal. "Dye-sub printing is a perfect solution for not only low-volume, highly customized jobs, but also high-volume production," says Simon Song, president, WingWing America, LLC.
During the transfer dye-sub process, graphics are printed onto sublimation transfer paper with a piezo-based wide format printer. They are then transferred onto the final surface and sublimated using a heat press. "Paper used as a carrier is possible thanks to the ink becoming gaseous when heat is applied and therefore can move, or transfer, from one substrate to another in the right environment," explains Michael Labella, product manager, US Sublimation.
According to Marleen Ooms, sales director, Coldenhove Papier, the most important feature of the paper is the coating. It determines the highest transfer yield and fastest drying time, enabling the printer to produce sharp images and bright colors.
Transfer paper is one of the most important elements in the dye-sub process. A good product, shares Song, allows the user to save money consuming less ink and minimizing waste. He adds that a successful paper reaps, "end results with deep and vibrant colors and high-quality contour."
To perform well, paper should be stable and repeatable. David Gross, president, Condé Systems, Inc., warns that print service providers (PSPs) should be cautious with paper selection—paper that performs consistently is essential.
"PSPs must be able to reproduce the same product, whether it is an athletic jersey or a mouse pad. In the world of dye-sub papers, one wants to offer a product that can do this without making changes to printer settings," elaborates Rob Repasi, VP TexPrint sublimation paper group, Beaver Paper.
How the paper reacts to the ink is also important. The consistency of the ink released, the drying time of the ink, and avoidance of lateral bleeding are three factors to notes, states Guy Spinelli, president, SpectraJet. The company coats its paper as it is made, which results in maximum control of consistency when it reacts with ink.
Labella cautions that cutting corners results in problems. Too much humidity or water creates cockling. If the heat press’ tension and pressure are not calibrated properly the paper may shift. Also, PSPs should make sure fabric is pre-shrunk, if it isn’t, the fabric may shrink in the heat press, grab the paper, and cause it to wrinkle.
Issues that occur during the transfer dye-sub process are easily overcome. If too much ink is laid down, for instance, sublimation paper can cockle and fail. Song says its tacky feature helps to maintain a pleasant and tidy working environment because adhesive spray isn't needed.
Ghosting happens when paper is lifted and dropped back down on fabric causing a light image, it is common in the apparel industry. "Basically, a vacuum is created when the platen heat press is lifted up. The paper continues to sublimate even after the press is lifted," explains Repasi.
Another dye-sub option for fabric-based projects is direct printing with a special coating. However, there are advantages to sticking with transfer paper application. "Transfer paper allows for controlled changes in the print without wasting material," notes Bill Rossi, president, AW Specialty Papers.
Transfer paper is traditionally less expensive than the fabric. Once the profile on a specific paper is completed that profile is used on a variety of textiles. If a PSP directly printed onto a number of different fabrics, each textile would absorb and react to the ink differently. This results in multiple profiles.
Dye-sub transfer printing continues to grow in popularity, although sublimation is still in its infancy. "The process is popular because of the low cost, detail in reproduction, and the ability to create vibrant colors," says Spinelli.
Profiling, room temperature, and the use or overuse of water, are all components that must be just right to achieve the desired result. The second part of this series on dye-sub transfer paper focuses on products from vendors.