What Is Sublimation?

In this post, we explain everything you need to know about sublimation printing, answering some of the most common questions about its uses and limitations.

Printing Explained

What exactly is sublimation?

In scientific terms, Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from a solid state to a gas state. It does not pass through the usual liquid state, and only occurs at specific temperatures and pressures.

It’s a general term that is used to describe the solid-to-gas transition and refers to the physical change in state only.

What is sublimation shirt printing?

Sublimation shirt printing is a specific process of printing that first involves printing onto a special sheet of paper, then transferring that image onto another material (usually polyester or a polyester mix).

The ink is then heated until it disintegrates into the fabric.

The process of sublimation shirt printing costs more than other methods, but it lasts longer, and will not crack or peel over time, like other shirt printing methods.

Are sublimation and heat transfer the same thing?

The foremost difference between heat transfer and sublimation is that with sublimation, it is only the ink that transfers onto the material.

With the heat transfer process, there is usually a transfer layer that will be transferred to the material as well.

Can you sublimate onto anything?

For the best sublimation results, it is best used with polyester materials.

It can be used with a range of materials that have a specialist polymer coating, such as those found on mugs, mouse pads, coasters, and more.

In some cases, it is also possible to use sublimation on glass, but it needs to be normal glass that has been treated and prepared correctly with a specialist spray.

What are the limitations of sublimation?

Aside from the materials that can be used for sublimation, one of the core limitations for sublimation is the colors of any materials. Because sublimation is essentially a dye process, you get the best results when the fabrics are either white or light-colored. If you want to print onto a black shirt or darker materials, then you could be better off using a digital print solution instead.

Can a sublimation printer print white?

Sublimation uses MCYK printing, and there is no combination of any base color ink which is able to produce the color white. You can print onto white materials and any other lighter color for that matter. But, if any of your design has white within it, this will not work with sublimation.

Is sublimation better than screen printing?

When done correctly, both printing methods will produce long-lasting prints that should neither fade nor crack, even with prolonged washing.

While it’s true that both printing methods have their individual benefits, there are a few key factors to consider when trying to decide whether dye sublimation or screen printing is best:

Size of the Order

This is usually the first thing you need to consider. Of course, the higher the volume, the more cost-effective it is going to be for screen printing. Because dye sublimation is a little more time-consuming, it is not the most practical solution for larger orders. So, for smaller orders, sublimation is likely going to be a better option. Most printers will have a minimum order quantity in place for their screen printing services as well.

Setup of the Job

One of the most significant limitations of screen printing is that only a single color can be applied to the substrate at any one time. There is also the added concern of the alignment of the different layers of color. As such, screen printing setup times can be extensive when there is more than one color involved.

On the other hand, with sublimation, there is no need to worry about the alignment of the individual colors as this process will print all of the colors at once. Designs can be more easily customized with this process, as you will only need to change the article work and print out a new transfer for the changes to take effect.

Choice of Materials

For some, this recent technology is a game-changer, and it can often either rule in, or rule out a specific printing process. Screen printing is the most versatile in terms of what you can print onto. With it, you can print onto virtually any type of material, in any location. However, with dye sublimation, this is typically suited to polyester or polyester mix materials that are either white or light in color.

In Summary

There are pros and cons for each printing process, and as we’ve just covered, there are lots of moving parts that will determine whether sublimation is best, or whether you should consider an alternative, such as screen printing, heat transfer, or direct-to-garment printing.

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