Everything You Need To Know About Dye Sublimation

Everything You Need To Know About Dye Sublimation

Dye Sublimation

Shall we begin? Unless you’re living in stone age, you’re probably aware that digital printing is the current trend in printing technologies. However, you may come across the term ‘dye sublimation’ when you’re printing some of your works. But If you’re wondering what dye sublimation is all about, this article will prove to be a good read. Let me explain why

History Of Dye Sublimation

In a nutshell, dye sublimation or dye-sub is a printing technique that involves printing graphics on a special transfer paper. The transfer paper is then placed on top of the target object before heat is being applied. The sublimation dye ink is then transferred over to the object at a molecular level.

For instance, while dye sublimation printing is gaining popularity thanks to the evolution of digital printing, the underlying technology has been around for centuries. The primitive form of dye sublimation traces back to the ancient civilization of Mesopotamian, where they created seals on clay tablets.

Throughout centuries, this primitive method evolves into woodblock printing. China developed it for textile printing. Noël de Plasse developed dye sublimation printing in 1957 after observing the characteristic of dye that sublimates.

This lead to the massive application of dye sublimation printing in the 60s and early 70s using ribbon transfer. The first computer-based sublimation printing system was developed during this period by Wes Hoekstra, who is recognized as the ‘father’ of computer image sublimation printing.

Not only that it wasn’t until the 1990s that digital sublimation printing actually took off. Digital dye sublimation technology produced concept designs for high fashion initially. As the technology evolves, dye sublimation printing found its way to signage and displays, before making its way to consumer fabrics printing.

How Dye Sublimation Printing Works

Everything You Need To Know About Dye Sublimation
Turning ink into vapor

Modern dye-sub printing technology has seen normal consumer products like T-shirts and mugs turning into works of arts. Captivating graphics and messages are printed on by the means of dye sublimation.

The process of dye sublimation involves the element of heat and pressure to transfer the dye ink to a polyester based material. In modern printing, here are what it takes to for dye-sub printing to works

Dye Sublimation Printer

The past few years has since tremendous evolution in dye-sub printers. Industrial dye-sub printers often cost more than $20,000 to own but have seen the reduction in the price of more than half. The primary function of a dye-sub printer is to heat up the dye and create a print copy on the transfer paper.

Heat Press

In industrial printing, the heat press is so as an equally expensive equipment that completes the sublimation printing process. At a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it causes the dye on the transfer paper to vaporize and sublimated into the molecule of the substrate. The end result is a print that doesn’t fade even after prolonged usage.

Transfer Paper

The transfer papers are the vital connecting element between printing and heat pressing the graphics onto the material. It usually has coats of pigment and wax.

Dye Ink

Sublimation inks are special inks that evaporate and permeate the substrate with the application of heat and pressure. This creates printing results that appear solid and doesn’t fade or crack.


Dye sublimation is often associated with printing polyester fabric materials. But recent development of dye-sub printing technology has increased the option of printing materials. Products like polymer treated brass, acrylics and aluminum and various other rigid products can now be printed with sub printing. You will also find sublimation printing on ceramic tiles, fridge magnets, and trade show signage.

Pros And Cons Of Dye Sublimation Printing

Everything You Need To Know About Dye Sublimation
Print graphics on mugs

Dye sublimation technology has definitely come a long way since it was first commercialized. Despite the increased popularity of dye-sub printing, it helps to be aware of both the pros and cons of the printing technology before deciding if it’s the right printing method to use.


Here are the obvious advantages of dye sublimation printing.

1. Non-Fading Ink

Dye-sub printing uses heat to vaporize the ink into molecules. These molecules will sublimate with the material to create long-lasting color. Instead of printing on the surface of the material, the ink and the material merge at a molecular level.

2. Diverse Printing Materials

You don’t have to limit to printing on polyester fabrics. Modern dye sublimation printing technology allows the use of materials like acrylics, tiles, glass, and brass. This has opened up to a new world of possibilities for dye sublimation.

3. Reduced Cost

As the technology evolves, the cost of owning a dye sublimation printer or printing has reduced drastically. This has made dye sublimation printing possible even for mere consumers.


Here are why you may have second thoughts on dye sublimation printing.

1. Speed

Compared to inkjet printing, dye-sub printers are generally slower. Regardless of printing a full-colored design or black and white text, the process requires a similar duration to transfer the ink over to the material.

2. Creased Fabric

This is rather an operational issue than the cons of sublimation printing itself. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that if the fabric is creased, the image will not be transferred properly on the material.

Dye Sublimation vs Inkjet Printing

With dye sub printers is making its way to consumers desktops, it’s worth to point out the distinction between dye sublimation and inkjet printing. While both may create high-quality images, both are substantially different.


Dye sublimation printer uses heat to transfer the colors from a special ribbon to a specially coated paper. The ink turns to gas form before bonding with the paper.

An inkjet printer uses a nozzle to spray tiny dots of inks precisely on a paper. The coordinates of the ink control the range and intensity of the color.


Dye sublimation printing creates images with full continuous color, similar to conventional screen printing technique.

Inkjet printer produces dots of primary color similar to the pixels on an LCD monitor. One will be able to identify the tiny specks of colors when magnified.


As dye sublimation require heat transfer of the entire image, the speed of printing a full-color graphics or plain text does not differ.

On the other hand, an inkjet printer is more efficient and only uses the amount of ink that it requires.

Modern Trends In Dye Sublimation Printing

Everything You Need To Know About Dye Sublimation
Kodak desktop photo printer with dye-sub technology (source: Kodak)

Recent developments in digital printing have taken the dye sublimation technology to a new height. The convergence of new demands and technologies has resulted in an upward trend for dye-sub printing.

Display & Signage

Dye sublimation has always been synonymous with textile printing while now it is making headways to other industries. Visual communications are one that features the application of dye-sub printing. The fancy word covers a broad category of display media often used for marketing and promotional purposes.

Soft signage is a popular display material that uses woven fabric material. Images printed on the soft signage creates a high-quality visual impression. They are often used as posters, banners, trade show displays, and backdrops. If anything, brilliant visuals are important for today’s brand marketing.

Desktop Printing

Gone are the days where dye-sub printing invokes images of huge industrial printers. This decades-old technology has evolved into modern consumer printers. Major printer manufacturers have launched models that utilize dye-sub for creating high-quality photo printouts.

In contrast, this allows photography enthusiasts to create vivid high definition color photos right from their desktop printer. These desktop printers are priced competitively compared to their inkjet counterparts. It may be only a matter of time before you print your first photo on a desktop dye-sub printer.

Personalized Printing

It’s not all about creating a bulk of T-shirts anymore. Dye-sub printing and digital technology have made personalized printing possible. Floor mats with customized greetings and logos are now possible at a reasonable cost.

The same goes for printing personalized apparels for your toddler. So these non-conventional applications of dye sublimation printing are turning mainstream. You can expect the trend to grow in the near future.

The Future Of Dye Sublimation Printing

Dye sublimation printing continues to drive the growth of apparel fashion and will also see widespread applications in visual communications. Consequently, the innovations of dye sub-printers will benefit both commercial and consumer sectors.

While the future points to a positive growth for dye sublimation printing, there are concerns that need to be addressed by industry leaders.

Printing Efficiency

Dye sublimation printers have a bottleneck in the printing process. Rather the heat transfer may take up more than the desired time. However, industrial printers suffer from unnecessary downtime due to parts failure. Really, it is so much necessary to address both the valid concerns to meet the growing demand for dye sublimation.

Competing Inks

Thus In spite of the advantages offered by sublimation printing yet, it may face stiff competition from other ink types. Let me explain why – Pigment ink is so serious contender if the suppliers could resolve the shortcomings that affect the reliability of pigment printing.

Above all what are your thoughts on dye sublimation? Therefore share the best products you’ve printed with this printing technology.


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