By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) transfer printing is a common method used for digitally printing to fabric. The process involves printing to transfer paper, which is then run through a heat transfer press or calender to sublimate the image to fabric. When it comes to transfer paper, print service providers (PSPs) pay particular attention to printer technology, garment intensity, and coating. Papers should be matched with fabric type, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Transfer Paper Features
Certain features are important when determining transfer paper including fabric, application, and weight.
Transfer paper weight helps to determine ink saturation and how vivid transferred images appear. As a result, Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation, believes the two most important qualities of transfer paper are weight and coating. For some applications, such as fashion apparel-related jobs, she says lighter transfer paper is satisfactory since achieving greater opacity or heavy ink saturation isn’t typically required. However, sublimated sports uniforms or sublimating to rigid substrates requires heavy transfer paper to yield better results. “Most PSPs use paper that’s about 100 gsm for apparel applications and heavier paper—about 140 gsm—for rigid substrates.”
The quality of the paper’s coating is equally important. According to Hunter, a good coating ensures the release of about 90 percent of the inks into the substrate during sublimation. “You certainly don’t want to waste money by leaving ink on the transfer paper,” she comments.
Transfer papers are available for light and dark garments. Properties enhance the graphic by garment intensity. “Transfer papers for light garments will not show up well on dark colored garments. While paper for dark garments generally transfers well on lights, it’s less cost effective than using paper made for lighter garments,” explains Brenda Fields, customer success manager, Coastal Business Supplies, Inc.
Transfer papers may be used in one- or two-step solutions. Fields says a one-step paper implies printing on the paper and then transferring the print to a substrate. A two-step paper requires an additional step of pressing an A and B paper together before transferring to the substrate. According to Fields, this creates a transfer that is entirely self weeding for even the most intricate designs and carries over no background to the garment.
Application also plays a role when selecting a transfer paper. In sports apparel, dye-sub printing is making strides for vibrant athletic wear. Marie Theulieras, marketing assistant, Guyenne Papier, says instant drying properties provide more productivity with the best transfer result possible.
Chase Pender, marketing manager, Supply55, Inc., sees most customers working with non-tacky or tacky paper based on the requirements of the application. Once the type of paper is identified, the next step is to create an ICC profile for the printer, ink, paper, and fabric combination. “Once the workflow is developed, the PSP should see repeatable predictable results with each production run.”
Michael Stark, sales/marketing manager, Joto Inc., explains that there are four main types of paper used for transfer dye-sub printing, and of the four two are primarily used for fabrics. The first, high-release paper, is designed to allow a high percentage of sublimation ink to release from the paper and transfer it to the substrate. “This paper is well suited and mostly used for fabrics,” he continues.
The second type of paper is tacky, and is specifically engineered for fabrics. It includes a heat activated adhesive that prevents the paper from moving—eliminating ghosting, adds Stark.
According to Jeff Smith, product manager, fine art/professional imaging paper, Epson, additional features to consider include dwell time, ink loads, and longer roll lengths to double production.
Transfer papers should be matched with fabric type as certain fabrics require special properties.
While there is transfer media that works with a number of substrates, these tend to be more expensive, comments Bill Rossi, president, AW Specialty Papers. “Most users select a transfer media optimized for the printing process or substrate at hand.”
According to Jimmy Lamb, manager of education, Sawgrass Inc., papers should always match the ink and fabric to complete the imprint process, whether laser, transfer, or sublimation. For example, when using papers for laser and OEM inks, a binder is included in the paper that helps adhere the ink to the product’s surface. “With an improper match, the image will crack, peel, and fade much quicker. The exception to this is sublimation transfer paper, since color transfer happens on molecular bonding rather than through a chemical fixation,” he explains.
Available Transfer Paper
A variety of transfer papers are available in multiple maximum widths, compatible fabrics, and pricing.
AW Specialty Papers offers a range of papers including the Jet-X (Coldenhove) series. A 57 gsm paper, it’s developed for water-based sublimation inks and sublimation inks with higher glycol content. Due to its base structure and coating, Jet-X provides optimal color and flexibility for printing.
Coastal Business provides Neenah and its own brand of inkjet transfer paper. Available up to 13 inches wide, Coastal Business’ paper portfolio is compatible with cotton, polyester, and poly/cotton blends. According to Fields, inkjet paper starts at 43 cents per sheet. “The versatility and durability of our papers and their ability to be applied to more than one type of fabric makes it stand out from the competition.”
Epson sells a variety of transfer papers including the DS Transfer Adhesive Textile paper released in April 2013. It’s available in rolls of up to 64 inches by 350 feet and features a tacky surface. According to Smith, it prevents ghosting, is ideal for textile piece work, and presents good color gamut.
Released in 2016, Guyenne Papier presents the DSC 95g and DSC Tacky 95g papers. The papers range in widths from 610 to 1,620 millimeters and are compatible with polyester. Price depends on volume size. According to Theulieras, quality, price, and service make it stand out from the competition.
Joto stocks the Paropy Sublimation Paper for fabrics. Released in January 2018, the Paropy line is available from 50 to 105 gsm with a maximum width of 65 inches. It’s also available in a tacky selection for all fabrics. The Paropy tacky paper features sticky properties for easy positioning onto fabric. It reduces the chance that the paper moves during the pressing process, thus eliminating ghosting, says Stark. Paropy 105 gsm tacky is available for $126 for a 63-inch by 328-foot roll.
Released in March 2015, DSM-RTP Roland Texart Sublimation Transfer Paper is available in up to 64 inches in width and is compatible with all polyester fabric types. As a high-quality 95 gsm transfer paper, it’s ideal for producing sublimated apparel, interior décor, soft signage, and hard goods. According to Hunter, the transfer paper holds ink well and dries quickly, allowing for immediate winding on the take-up reel. “High ink release from the paper during sublimation ensures an end product with vibrant colors, crisp lines, and exceptional detail.” It is available for $259 for a 64-inch by 443-foot roll.
Sawgrass offers the ChromaBlast Transfer Media, designed for cotton. It’s available in sizes up to 17 inches wide. “A cross link occurs between the cotton, ink, and media, which transfers and binds the image into the cotton fibers,” says Lamb. A 17-inch by 50-foot roll is available for $94. The company also offers True Pix Classic transfer paper, available up to 24.8 inches in width for polyester fabrics. It’s offered in a 24.8-inch by 200-foot roll for $90.
Released in 2015, Supply55 supplies the Prime Sublimation Transfer Paper. Available up to 64 inches in width, it’s compatible with all sublimation fabrics. “Full Release Technology provides faster dry times, superior ink absorption, and release, resulting in unsurpassed image quality during the transfer process,” says Pender. Pricing varies based on roll length and width.
A variety of transfer papers are available on the market, designed for a wide range of fabric types. Before selecting a transfer paper, PSPs should consider features such as paper weight, coating, and tackiness.
Part two of this series discusses heat presses and calenders used for transfer dye-sub printing.
Sep2018, Digital Output