Dye Sublimation Printing Process

While the terms “dye sublimation” or “dye sub fabric” seem to be somewhat complicated or very technical, the dye sublimation printing process is actually quite simple. Dye sublimation printing is used to create custom printed images in full color on a number of different substrates and most popularly, fabrics such as polyester.  It’s a two-step process that creates some of the most vibrant and durable prints we offer.

Step one

Using special inks (CMYK) are used to print custom images in full color onto a ‘high-release’ transfer paper that is heat resistant. The images are produced in reverse of the original artwork on the sublimation sheet from the panels that hold the ink. The large format digital printer produces a continuous print and tone, which prevents inks from dotting or “dithering” meaning any ink droplet can be any color and won’t run, creating photo quality clarity graphics.

Step two

Once the transfer paper has the reverse image printed, it is ready for the heat press stage of the dye sublimation process. This is where your images are printed onto the fabric banner. The transfer sublimation printed is inserted into a heat press set at 370F. The polyester, dye sub fabric banner is inserted into the heat press.

This is where the actual “sublimation” occurs because the printed image on the sublimation paper is transferred into the fabric material from the heat and pressure of the heat press. The sublimation process takes the ink, which was a liquid before being printed onto the transfer paper and becoming a solid, to a gas, by passing turning the ink back into a liquid and then turning it back into a solid that becomes part of the fabric.

The fiber absorbs the ink without it becoming a liquid thanks to the heat and pressure, which allows custom image to be clearer and vibrant and prevents and smear or smudging. It looks almost as if the image was woven into the fabric originally.

How it happens

The dye is infused into the substrate at a molecular level rather than topical as you might see in screen printing onto fabrics or other garment materials. The print is 100% dry once it leaves the printer so it the image becomes permanent and doesn’t peel or fade. The printed colors are more vivid because of the dye bonding to the fibers of the fabric and continue tone of the print can be achieved without having to use any special techniques. This process also creates a higher print quality because the image can be printed edge to edge on the materials.

Benefits of Dye Sublimation Printing

  • Clearer, vibrantly colored images
  • No dotting or dithering or ink
  • Edge to edge printing
  • Printed image doesn’t peel or fade
  • Indoor/outdoor use
  • Special layer protects dyes from UV and moisture
  • Machine washable in cold water
  • Quick drying time
  • Few moving parts of printer
  • Cleaner printing process

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