The printing industry has undergone tremendous change during the past decades. Today, consumers are demanding high definition graphics be printed precisely on different forms of materials. Printing that results in vivid images that don’t fade is made possible by digital printing, with dye sublimation and UV printing being dominant.
When you’re running a creative design business with clients who will settle for nothing less than perfection, it helps to understand what dye sublimation and UV printing are and how they differ from each other. It helps you to make an informed decision when liaising with the printing company.
How Dye Sublimation Printing Works
Dye sublimation is a printing method that has been in use for decades and remains popular in today’s printing industry. Printers that are driven by dye sublimation technology uses a special transfer paper where the dye is printed on.
This transfer paper is then placed onto materials like polyester before undergoing a heating process. The heat will turn the dye into gas and impregnates and bond with the polymer. That creates a vivid image that is part of the fabric itself. There are no layers or protruding texture as you rub your hand across the surface.
It is interesting to note that the dye on the transfer paper looks nothing like the final image on the polymer. That is because the color will only materialize once it is heated up. This molecular bonding process limits the materials that can be used in dye-sublimation printing. This printing method does not work on cotton or other natural fabrics.
In the printing industry, dye sublimation printers are used to print products like soft signage, tablecloth, backdrops, and other textile items. You can also print on hard-surface materials like glass, ceramics, and metals as long as they are treated with a polymer-based coating.
How UV Printing Works
UV printing is a single process that directly prints the ink on the material and uses ultraviolet light to dry the ink immediately. It is quite similar to commercial inkjet printers for regular home use, except it doesn’t have any smearing issues.
The ink used in UV printing has a unique characteristic. The ink contains photoinitiators, a compound that reacts to UV light and undergoes a series of chemical reactions. In a UV printer, the ultraviolet light shines on the ink immediately after it is printed on the material, curing the ink instantly.
UV printing not only offers versatility in colors but also texture and a broad range of materials to choose. The printer prints with full CMYK color, white and transparent ink. This enables UV printing to print on materials with a dark background and finish the printing with a layer of transparent coating.
This new form of digital printing also takes creativity to the next level. You can print layered text or visuals that create a physical contoured or 3D effect on the material. Theoretically, almost any materials can be used on a UV printer, including ABS, acrylic, foam board and glass.
Dye Sublimation vs. UV Printing
Both forms of printing produce high-quality results, with the printed images or texts being smooth and fade resistant. But being able to print in full-color resolution is about where the similarity ends. Here are how both printing technologies differ from each other.
1. Ink Transfer
The dye sublimation printing method involves a two-step process. First, the dye is printed on a special transfer paper, which is then placed on top of the printing material. Heat is applied to turn the dye into gas which then molecularly bonded with the material.
On the other hand, UV printing is a single process. The printer prints a particular type of ink on the material and a built-in UV light cures the ink immediately. The final output does not involve heat and is a much greener approach.
Dye sublimation printing has been around for decades. Despite its popularity, the materials are confined to synthetic fabrics like polyester or acrylic fiber. Due to its chemical process of ink transfer, this printing method does not work on natural fabrics like pure cotton. It is also able to print on rigid materials like glass, aluminum or acrylic, provided that they are coated with a layer of the polymer compound.
UV printing has an almost limitless range of materials that you could work on, as long as you can fit them into the printer. Materials like paper, wood, Styrene, aluminum and foam board are commonly used in a UV printer.
3. Substrate Background
It is not impossible for a dye sublimation printer to print on a dark background, but you wouldn’t get the desired quality for the image. Colors will appear duller when the dye bonds with dark substrate. Instead of getting a bright red, you’ll get a softer red.
The UV printer solves this problem. The printer prints a layer of white ink before printing the final image on it. This result in vivid results that is not achievable when dye sublimation printing is used. Besides, the same approach also makes printing on transparent surface possible with a UV printer.
To print in dye sublimation, you’ll need to invest in two pieces of equipment, the printer, and a heat press machine. This is because this method involves heat transfer before the artwork materializes on the substrate. The quality of the heat press machine is equally important as the printer itself to produce a decent result.
With UV printing, you’ll only need a UV printer. A UV printer functions by printing the ink on the substrate, curing it with a UV beam and applying a layer of clear coating for a smooth, glossy appearance. The UV printer applies a white coat on a dark or transparent substrate.
Speed is a critical factor for printing companies, and it translates into significant cost when there’s a volume involved. Generally, a UV printer edges out its dye sublimation counterpart when it comes to printing efficiency.
The ink used in both printers is different. The ink, or dye, used in sublimation is a mixture of the dye and solvent. Eco-solvent ink, which is more environmentally friendly delivers higher quality output but is more costly.
The ink used by UV printers has a unique characteristic. The ink contains tiny molecules of photoinitiators, a chemical compound that reacts to UV light. When exposed to UV light, the chemical reactions dry the ink instantly, creating a perfect printed output.
7. Printed Items
Dye sublimation printers have been around for quite a while. It is still a popular printing method used in wide format printing. You’ll find products printed with this technology such as soft signage, banners, apparels and other forms of fabrics.
With UV printer, you’ll see it being used for printing on rigid items like pens, golf balls, phone cases, cigar boxes, and glasses. Thanks to the ability to print in layers, you can print Braille on a flat surface with a UV printer.
How RIP Software Prepares Your Graphics For Printing
You’ve got a great picture of how both types of printing technologies produce high-quality output and how they stack up with each other in different aspects. But none matters if you the printer does not work with decent RIP software.
So what is RIP software?
RIP stands for Raster Image Processor. A RIP software converts your image file into formats that the printer understands. It sounds like a typical printer driver, but a RIP software offers more features than a driver does.
A RIP software has no problems in taking a huge image file and yet ensure the printer prints efficiently. It also allows you to print different files on multiple devices at the same time. Ultimately, choosing the right RIP software is vital for economic and quality reasons.
If you’re printing on your UV or dye sublimation printer, having a RIP software allows you to work on other creative works as a good RIP software does not clog up resources on your computer when it processes the files for printing.
Should You Print Your Next Design With Dye Sublimation Or UV Printers?
A head-to-head comparison between both printing technologies seems to favor UV printers. But this doesn’t mean the UV printing is preferable for every single design or products. UV printing does have its drawbacks in certain circumstances.
For instance, UV printing may have problems with adhesion on certain types of substrates. UV ink can also cause skin irritations, making it an unfavorable choice when you’re printing clothes and other apparels with direct skin contact.
Dye sublimation is still a preferable choice for printing with fabrics. This is because dye sublimations do not change the texture and feel of the fabric while UV printing does. You’ll still find banners, soft signage, sports apparels and photo backdrops being printed with this decades-old technology.
In the end, the decision of choosing between dye sublimation or UV printing depends on the nature of design that you’re doing.
Make sure to learn about our Screen Print Process.
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