How fashion houses profitable textile designers use dye sublimation inks SAM★INK® January 15 2019, 8 Comments
I will share with you how fashion houses and profitable textile designers use SAM★INK® dye sublimation inks for the likes of Chanel, Dior, Louis-Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Victoria's Secret.
The best sublimation inks for haute couture, blouses, skirts, dresses, lingerie, swimwear, scarfs, shawls, bags, shoes, jackets, shirts, shorts, ties, socks, sportswear, merchandise.
Dye sublimation is a method of applying an image to specially coated ceramics, metals, and polyester fabric. Sublimation ink is unique in its ability to convert from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid form. The conversion is initiated by heat and controlled with pressure and time.
A dye-sublimation printer is a computer printer which uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, paper, or fabric. The sublimation name was first applied because the dye was considered to make the transition between the solid and gas states without going through a liquid stage.
Man-made materials such as nylon, certain plastics, and polyester fabrics contain polymers that when heated, enable the bonding of ink. Dye-sublimation printing yields beautiful and permanent colors that are embedded in the substrate or fabric, rather than printed on the surface.
Starting your own sublimation printing business?
THE AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE
Everything You Need to Know About Dye Sublimation Printing
Dye sublimation printing is one of the fastest emerging techniques for product decoration. While it may not be applicable for certain surfaces, this process fills many unique niches in the promotional printing market and is the ideal choice for printing on polyester fabrics and polyester resin coated products.
How Does the Process Work?
While the multi-step process might seem intimidating, it’s actually very simple. To get started, you’ll need:
- A dye sublimation printer
- A heat press
- Transfer papers
- Disperse dyes (aka dye-sub inks)
The process is distinctive in that it creates graphics by using inks – disperse dyes – in their gas form. First, graphics are printed onto transfer paper. Using a heat press, the transfer paper is then placed on the item you’re decorating. The heat allows the dried inks on the transfer paper to turn from a solid form into gas and penetrate the polyester fabrics.
When heated, the polymers in the polyester encourage the inks to bond, which creates permanent graphics that are fully embedded into the material.
What Can I Sublimate?
Anything polyester or with polyester resin coating can be printed on with the dye sublimation process. This includes fabrics and hard goods, such as:
- Micro Fiber Screen cleaners
- Coffee Mugs
- Metal Plates
What About the Disperse Dye (inks)?
Dye sublimation printers don’t yet have the capability to print using white ink, so you’ll need to make sure you’re printing on white or light-colored items.
Even with that limitation, the color gamut is still fantastic. SAM★INK®, for example, has four colors black, cyan, magenta, and yellow inks that can be used as individual spot colors or blended to make millions of any color.
Why Should I Use This Method?
Dye sublimation is THE process for printing on all things polyester. That’s because the gaseous state of the ink results in a completely washable, smooth image that’s fully embedded into the material. Plus, the quality is high resolution consisting of vivid, vibrant colors.
The alternative process of UV printing is not effective on polyester fabric items. On polyester coated hard goods, UV prints can feel more textured and look like a label or sticker. With dye sublimation, the texture isn’t rigid or crusty and there’s no threat of scraping or scratching a print.
If you’re strictly an apparel printer, dye sublimation can open up more opportunities to expand your business. Once you have a dye sublimation printer, it’s easy to add hard goods into the mix to broaden your product offering and increase revenue.
How Dye Sublimation Has Evolved?
In the early days of dye sublimation, the equipment was expensive and users were intimidated by the multi-step process. Even just a few years ago, the least expensive large format dye sublimation printer on the market was still around $20,000. That’s not even including a heat press, which is an absolute necessity for dye sublimation printing. Around the same time, rotary drum heat presses cost at least $40,000, meaning you’d be spending at least $60,000 to get your dye sublimation operations up and running.
Today, it’s a much different story. There’s more variety in the market and the technology has become less intimidating, making the prices more affordable. Mimaki and Mutoh, two of the top brands for dye sublimation printing, have equipment options running at $10,000 and under.
Heat presses have also matured, and there are more options available for under $20,000. There’s also a huge demand for niche heat presses, with models available for solely printing on items like coffee mugs, footballs, hats, and other products.
So, in just a few years, the cost of entering into dye sublimation production has been cut in half.
What Kind of Dye Sublimation Printers Are Available?
As mentioned earlier, Mimaki and Mutoh are two of the biggest names in dye sublimation printing. The Mimaki TS30 is a great entry model, while the TS300 is wider and faster. Mutoh’s entry-level model, the RJ-900, is a great four-color roll-to-roll printer but doesn’t offer fluorescent ink compatibilities. Mutoh’s VJ-1638WX and Mimaki’s TS300P are both eight-color printers with more advanced features like longer and wider print capabilities and faster print speeds.
Contact SAM★INK® to learn more about the American perspective on dye sublimation process and to see if it would a good fit for your business!
THE ASIAN PERSPECTIVE
What is Sublimation Printing?
Sublimation printing is the process where ink is sublimated into the fabric (100% nylon/polyester) at high temperature.
The ink undergoes a process from solid to gaseous state without undergoing the liquid state.
This process of sublimation allows the ink to be part of the fabric. In the end, it feels that you printed directly onto the fabric itself, as you cannot feel the ink, unlike silk screen printing or DTG Printing where you can feel the ink.
The unique feature of sublimation printing is exactly that the ink is in the fabric. This is in contrast to other digital transfer methods such as digital heat transfer printing where the printing is done on the exterior of the fabric.
Sublimation printing services may have a lead-time of about 3-4 weeks from the start of processing orders.
With only a minimum order quantity of 50 pieces, you are able to customize your all-over printed apparel.
1. How did Sublimation Printing Come About?
Interestingly, the origins of sublimation printing are a result of the discovery of piezoelectricity and research of inkjet printers. Noel de Plasse first invented sublimation printing in 1957.
He cleverly discovered that high temperatures could cause specific dyes to sublimate. But, this was later discovered that his dye didn’t really sublimate and that it was more of a dye-diffusion process.
The subsequent events that took place are then subject to debate. On the one hand, it has been said that Nobutoshi Kihara, who worked for Sony, adapted dye diffusion into a proper dye-sublimation process primarily for the purposes of printing video stills.
But, at the same time, across the other side of the world, Wes Hoekstra in California was thought to have developed the first computer-driven sublimation system.
What’s important to know is that – the advance of technology and the increased demand for such high-quality products have caused an increase in the prevalence of sublimation printing today.
2. What is Sublimation Process?
I mentioned above a very brief idea of what sublimation printing is. If you are eager to learn more about it now, fret not, because this section will be dedicated to elaborating on the process of sublimation printing as well as the equipment and materials that you might need.
The idea of sublimation is crucial in this process. To refresh your memories from the glorious days in schools, sublimation is essentially the process where a substance transitions from the solid state into the gaseous state.
The important thing to note here is that the liquid state is leapfrogged. Conversely, the process of deposition is the opposite.
In this process, a substance transitions from the gas phase directly into a solid, again leapfrogging the liquid phase. Do keep this in mind, as this will then help you understand the later sections of this article.
3. The Process of Sublimation T-Shirt Printing (Step-by-step)
Basically, successful sublimation printing can be done in this two-part process:
- Printing the design onto a special transfer paper using sublimation inks.
- Using a heat press to transfer the design on the special paper (in Step 1) onto the t-shirt
As you can see from the process above, the crucial equipment used in sublimation printing is:
- A sublimation printer, sublimation inks, and software to control your printer.
- Transfer paper (or sublimation paper)
- A heat press
Printing the design onto the transfer paper
The sublimation printing process begins with a printer and unique sublimation inks.
A dye-sublimation printer uses heat to transfer dye onto various materials. Sublimation ink is unique because of its ability to convert from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid form.
- First, the printing process starts with films that contain dyes (ink). The film typically includes 4 color pigments, cyan magenta, yellow and gray.
- Typically, this could either take the form of a single film with 4 layers of colors, or 4 individual films for each color.
- Then, during the printing process, the pigments in these films are heated up and transferred onto the transfer paper through a piezoelectric print head. This print head is capable of printing at least 200 different shades of each color!
- The pigments will then transition into the gaseous state and leave the film.
- The pigments will subsequently cool and solidify onto the transfer paper. This is the sublimation process!
Transferring design on the paper onto the t-shirt
Now that you have successfully printed your design onto a sublimation paper, the next step is to transfer this onto the final product – your t-shirt.
In order to do this, a heat press is required. With the application of heat and pressure for a period of time, the design can be imprinted onto the t-shirt. The period of time is dependent on the dye formulation and the type of fabric of the t-shirt.
Again, this requires the process of sublimation all over again. The high temperature from the heat press causes the dye on the paper to sublime into a vapor/gas. At the same time, the pores of the t-shirt that you’re pressing heat onto will also open up. Once pressure is released and heat is cooled, the dye will then turn back into solid form.
The result? The pores of the t-shirt will then close and the gas reverts back to a solid state. Because the pores of the t-shirt have encapsulated the ink whilst it was closing, the ink is now part of the fabric.
What's the difference between Inkjet and Sublimation Printers?
The comparison between inkjet and sublimation printers can be useful to further show how sublimation printers work!
One interesting fact about the sublimation printer is that the color produced by it is of a higher quality than typical inkjet printers.
For one, inkjet printers print by spraying droplets of liquid ink from the nozzles. But if you magnify this result, you can still somewhat see the primary colors.
On the other hand, sublimation printers are capable of producing images with continuous tones of colors. These colors physically blend together.
We have shared many technical details about the process of sublimation printing on t-shirts (that’s our forte!)
4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Sublimation Printing
To help you make a better choice when deciding on the type of t-shirt printing services, I have also come up with some advantages and disadvantages of dye sublimation printing method.
- An all-over print effect on the t-shirts is achieved as ink is printed from seam-to-seam.
- You can’t feel the ink as it will become part of the fabric and the end product is a soft-hand feel.
- Long-lasting quality design as the printing becomes part of the fabric.
- Thousands of colors to choose from!
- Type of t-shirt is restricted as only certain types of fabric are suitable for sublimation printing. eg suitable for 100% nylon/polyester material only.
- The color of the t-shirt is restricted to white or light-colored ones.
5. Sublimation printing can be used for the following products.
- Polo t-shirts
- Singlets and tank tops
- Caps and hats
- Business uniforms
- Shorts and pants
6. Recommendations for Sublimation Printing
Sublimation printing is recommended for customers who are looking to print all-over full-colored designs.
Popular apparels would be cycling apparels & jersey printed apparels as well as retail fashion brands.
For cycling team apparel, you can match this method along with embroidery for that professional team outlook.
Many of our corporate customers opt for sublimation printing as their designs and customization of colors throughout the apparel can be very complex.
The costs are not cheap but you get one-of-a-kind corporate apparel!
If you need cotton or honeycomb material for customization, then this method is not suitable.
Contact SAM★INK® to learn more about the Asian perspective on dye sublimation process and to see if it would a good fit for your business!
THE EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE
Sublimation ink technology is based on the property of certain dyes to sublimate at warm temperatures and to permanently color textile fibers or synthetic materials with which they are in contact with during sublimation.
The application of the ink is made by means of inkjet printing on sublimation paper followed by drying, and heat transfer of the color, by means of a calendar or a flat press, at elevated temperatures between 180 and 220 degrees Celcius for a period which can vary between 30 to 180 seconds.
The time and temperature of the transfer phase, however, may vary depending on the type and the nature of the material used.
In case you want to decorate rigid materials which, by nature, are not compatible with sublimation inks, you must get this affinity by applying a pre-coating on the surface you want to decorate.
What is Dye Sublimation?
Sublimation printing is a process whereby full-color images, text, and other graphics can be transferred into a receptive item. The process relies on a specialized ‘dye sublimation’ ink, which when heated changes from being a solid dye to being a gas, without passing through a liquid stage. Taking this a step further, if this gas encounters polymer fibers as it moves, it will penetrate those fibers, permanently dyeing them.
Dealers supply a number of options for this unique, exciting process. Starter Kits are available for those taking their first steps into personalization, while dealers also supply printers, sublimation inks and heat transfer presses for those who simply wish to upgrade or expand their existing system.
The products dealers supply should be polymer coated (or otherwise produced from polymer-based materials), and therefore sublimation ready. This range includes items such as ceramic & bone china mugs, photo slates, acrylic photo blocks, aluminum, woods and much more besides.
The process is quick and easy and as the equipment is quite compact, minimal working space is required. You can print as many or as few prints as you need therefore producing a 'one-off', short run or multiples to suit your requirements. End results are vibrant, photo-realistic images on a wide range of unique personal and promotional products that your customers will love. All of this can be done in five simple steps...
Create your artwork on your PC or Mac using a standard graphics programme. Packages such as Adobe Photoshop, CorelDraw or Illustrator are all fine to work with.
Use a product template for fast accurate sizing and shaping. Photos or logos can be scanned and for the extra scope, you may want to add a digital camera to the system.
Some printers have the benefit of using online design suites. Some software offers the ability to design artwork on any internet connected device (PC, Mac, tablet or phone) and access a library of hundreds of templates, with thousands of customizable designs - all at no extra cost!
- Print your artwork from your dye sub printer. Dealers can supply sublimation inks for a range of printers - which range from A4 to A1 in size. For optimum results, it is important to select a printer and inks suitable for your needs and dealers should be available to discuss the available options.
The majority of our sublimation products have a printable face, therefore mirroring your artwork when printing is required to ensure your artwork appears upright once you have transferred it onto a product. This rule, however, doesn't apply to glass and acrylic products as the receptive side of these products is the rear.
- Prepare your product. The transfer is printed on to a specialist inkjet quality paper. The print is then placed on the polymer coated blank, and secured in place with a small amount of heat resistant tape.
- Transferring your artwork. Choose from a range of high-quality presses to print onto flat products. The comprehensive range of flat sublimatable substrates includes plastic, metal, slates, glass, wall mount photo panels, jigsaws and much more. The item is positioned in the appropriate Heat Transfer Press and heat and pressure are applied for the recommended short time. A full wrap Mug Press can print from top to bottom of a standard size in approx 2½ minutes.
- The finished product. Remove the paper (taking care as the item is hot) and the process is complete. No mess, no fuss, no costly or time-consuming set-ups. Sublimation is simple, fast and versatile. Produce a ‘one-off’ or larger quantities. Just print and press to create a variety of unique, personalized items.
PAPERS FOR SUBLIMATION PRINTING
Sublimation papers are specially treated papers developed for digital printing with sublimation products.
They are classified by weight from 45 to 130 grams per square meter.
45 to 70 grams are considered lightweight with a low ink absorption capacity. It is ideal for high productivity industrial printers. Suitable for all types of applications, it has the transparency for the ideal positioning of the paper onto the substrate and, when inside a calendar, it prevents the formation of creases.
80 to 130 grams are heavyweight papers for the latest generation of plotters which deposit a large amount of ink. It is designed for sectors requiring high color saturation.
Tack papers are classified by weight from 80 to 110 grams per square meter.
They are designed to eliminate 'ghosting', where an image decouples during transfer, one the most important part of the production process. Tack's particular structure and finish allow for perfect adhesion to the substrate to sublimate and also for easy detachment after the transfer. Tact is recommended for applications on technical fabric for sportswear.
BULK INK SYSTEMS AND FEEDER
The feeder or the bulk ink systems is a printing accessory developed for the proper inkjet feeding of inks.
The advantages are an easy change of bottles or ink bags without interrupting production printing.
Perfect feeding of inks to the printheads. Ensure a continuous and consistent flow of inks to the printheads, eliminating print defects like banding, misfiring, and dropouts.
Textile standards specify limits of certain chemicals, compounds, colors, and auxiliaries commonly used in ink formulation.
SAM★INK® certifies that her inks comply with the following textile standards:
- European REACH
- Adidas A01. http://www.adidas-group.com
- Nike Restricted Substance List (RSL). http://www.nikeincchemistry.com
- Clear-To-Wear INDITEX. http://www.inditex.com
- OEKO-TEX® 100. https://www.oeko-tex.com
SAM★INK® is free from
- Allergenic Azo-dyes.
- Polychlorophenols (Pentachlorophenol (PCP), Tetrachlorophenol (TeCP) & Trichlorophenol (TriCP) and Ortho-Phenylphenol (OPP)).
- Heavy metals (Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Nickle, and Mercury).
- TBT, DBT, and other organotin compounds.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- Pesticides and Herbicides.
- Phthalates plasticizers.
- Chlorinated carriers of organic compounds.
- TRIS, TEPA, 2, 3-dibromopropyl phosphate (TBPP), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame-retardants.
- Dimethyl Fumarate (DMF).
- Alkylphenols (AP) and Alkylphenol-polyethoxylated (APEO).
- Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
- Polyvinylchloride (PVC).
SAM★INK® Features & Benefits
Product Description & Application
SAM★INK® nanotechnology delivers high-quality and lowest-cost sublimation inks. Developed for the most popular piezo printheads in sublimation printing, she is loved and adopted worldwide across 100 countries. She qualifies for the highest textile standards of European REACH, RoHS, Adidas A01, Nike RSL, Clear-To-Wear INDITEX, and OEKO-TEX® 100.
Market research & forecast on inkjet textile printing
The textile inkjet market is one of the most dynamic ink jet printing markets in the world.
Breakthroughs in inkjet productivity plus the creation of the “Fast Fashion” business model by apparel retailers have opened up a new chapter for production inkjet technology in textile printing.
The ink jet textile print market can be segmented into three segments: Direct-to-Garment (T-shirt printing), Roll-to-Roll < $200,000 printers (mostly soft signage), and Roll-to-Roll >$200,000 printers (apparel printers).
The ink jet textile market is projected to reach equal revenue to production inkjet document printing markets by 2018, with a completely separate set of manufacturers, different distribution channels, and different customers.
Even within the textile ink jet market each of the three market sectors has different manufacturers, distribution channels, and customers.
I will only talk about dye sublimation. Demand for these products is growing moderately, at an estimated 8% compounded annually from 2013 to 2018. It could grow faster, contingent upon two factors not included in our projection assumptions:
- A dramatic reduction in retail cost/print for soft signage, making it competitive with vinyl printed signage (soft signage is 2-3X more expensive than vinyl signage today).
- Faster than expected adoption of these <$200,000 devices (at the expense of >$200,000 devices) for apparel production in emerging countries within 24-hour driving distance of developed economies.
It is unlikely a dramatic reduction in the retail price of soft signage will occur during the forecast period. Due to the higher cost (and value) of soft signage compared to vinyl signage soft signage works best economically where it can be hung 2-3X longer than vinyl point-of-purchase signage. This cost premium effectively eliminates, for now, a large portion of point-of-purchase signage, the largest application in the wide format graphics signage market.
Regionally the majority of these printers are sold in Asia, as this is where the majority of sampling printing and apparel production occurs. Chinese players occupy a large share of the market.
The majority of these products print using dye sublimation inks. Using a transfer process is most common, rather than printing directly. Dye sublimation inks work well on polyester that is common to both soft signage and apparel – especially sporting wear apparel whose function has extended well beyond sporting activities into daily wear clothing. With improvements of the look and feel, no longer is polyester considered an inferior material for clothing.
Dye sublimation is edging into the production apparel inkjet market and is a market that has crossed the “Chasm” and is in the beginning phase of its inflection point upward. Fast fashion retailers like Inditex (Zara), H&M, C&A, Forever21, Uniqlo, and others dramatically altered the business model of the fashion industry during the last five years. Instead of only competing on the lowest price, they have discovered that competing on the latest fashion (and turning that fashion more frequently) has enabled them to dramatically reduce the industry standard discounts (typically in excess of 30%) at retail. As a result, those fast fashion retailers have become more profitable than the industry average – and spurred on by their success – are continually looking to speed up the time to market. For those fast fashion, retailers production is starting to shift out of Asia (and corresponding time on the slow boat to market) to other merging market economies closer to the point of retail (Turkey, Mexico, etc.).
Inkjet printing of textiles is further enabling the fast fashion retailers to compress the turnaround time from design concept to the retail rack. Due to the volumes required, the <$200,000 inkjet roll-to-roll printers are often not productive enough. This, coupled with dramatic increases in inkjet productivity through wide array serial printing and now even single-pass inkjet printing is causing the >$200,000 to grow upwards of 20% compounded annually from 2013-2018.
Regionally nearly 50% of units are installed in the European Economic Community (incl. Turkey). Other Asian countries outside of China also play a large role (Vietnam, Bangladesh, Philippines, etc). The majority of these models use reactive and disperse dye ink as much of the output is focused on higher value cotton products. Dye sublimation inks are also used in this product category.
Of note is that MS was sold to Dover Corporation in early 2014 and that Robustelli is closely tied to Seiko Epson Corporation. Reggiani is the last remaining large independent manufacturer left in this >$200,000 inkjet textile printer market.
Textile ink types
There are many different types of aqueous inkjet inks used in textile printing. The difference is dictated by the type of fabric and the number of post-processing steps required. Ultimately there is a desire to print with fewer steps, favoring aqueous pigmented ink. However, the performance of pigments inks for vibrancy and washability are not yet at the level required by users of natural fabrics.
Inkjet textile printing is a dynamic market poised for fast growth. Demand is driven mainly by the technologies’ ability to compress turnaround cycles in fast fashion, the ability to add-value to display signage through more luxurious and lighter to transport substrates, and the ability to print micro-runs as low as one piece (DTG). There is little overlap between ink jet textile and other inkjet applications in terms of substrate and distribution channels, and even within the three textile segments, there is a great difference between these. This fragmentation has kept the market in the hands of smaller, fast-moving printer manufacturers. With the scale and growth rates of this market now in view of larger inkjet players, we expect upcoming participation from larger ink jet players as well as consolidation/acquisition of existing manufacturers to continue.
I will also update you with new sublimation technologies that are trending and evolving every week. If you find that this post was helpful to you, please share and like it.