The Value of Sublimation
Dye-sublimation printing is not exactly a "new" technology; it's been around in various forms since the early 1970s, and the basic process used today was introduced in the late '90s. Because of the low initial investment, the simple production process and the high margins attainable on the products, this technology could be the new service that in-plants have been waiting for.
Simply put, dye-sublimation printing is the process of printing a transfer of a computer-generated image with a specific type of ink, and then using a heat press to apply the image to a variety of substrates. All of these substrates must be either made of 100 percent polyester or coated with a polymer that will receive and hold the sublimation dye. There are coated products made of ceramic, aluminum, plastic, wood and a variety of garments from T-shirts to athletic performance apparel.
Sublimation ink consists of a solid, heat-sensitive dye, which provides the color, dissolved in liquid. Under heat and pressure, the solid dye particles change into a gas and bond with any polymers on the substrate and then solidify again. The high temperature used in sublimation opens the pores of the polymer and allows the gas to enter. When the substrate is removed from the heat source and immediately begins to cool, the pores close and the gas reverts to a solid and becomes a part of the polymer.
Key to this process is the sublimation ink itself, and the right combination of heat press settings: 410 degrees F, medium pressure (around 50 psi) and a dwell time of 40 to 50 seconds. What you get is a bright, colorfast image that resides in the product, not on the surface. It will not chip, peel or fade.
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