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A Fabric Printing Appraisal

(January 2017) posted on Tue Jan 10, 2017

Dye sublimation or direct-to-fabric?

By Darek Johnson

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One common dictate is to choose direct printing for distantly viewed fabrics (think soft signage, banners, backdrops, flags) and dye-sublimation for fabrics that will be closely viewed (T-shirts, scarves, clothing and specialty items). Several manufacturers market print machines that offer both choices, but the dye-sublimation process provides more application choices for signmakers. Lily Hunter, product manager for dye-sublimation technology at Roland DGA said dye-sublimation-printed 100% polyester fabric products include soft signage, interior and exterior banners, flags, table covers and street and tradeshow graphics. Rigid products can include plaques, awards, promotional products, photo panels, memorial products, rigid signage, mugs, smartphone covers, laptop sleeves, stadium seats, pet products and more.

Dye sub isn’t a day at the beach, however, because some polymers (either fabric or spray-coated specialty items) may not withstand the temperature (up to 370º) and pressure required for sublimation, so test any new process before committing to the job. Regarding fabric choices, the fabric should be at least 60% polyester, but 100% polyester offers better color transfer and product life. This is because the heat sublimates the ink and causes the polymers to become more receptive to the ink. Once cooled, no drying time or post treatment is necessary.

Most dye-sub fabric printers suggest polyester as the best and least costly fabric, and your fabric buying choices should be easy because more than 50 trade names exist for polyester products.

Polymer-coated rigid materials – wood, metal, plastics, glass and ceramic – readily accept dye-sub processes, which expands the application list for signmakers. Note also that dye-sub transfer paper is unique to the process and constructed so the applied ink doesn’t penetrate the paper fibers, but instead rests on top, where it can easily sublimate and transfer to the media.

In this issue’s Tech Review (pg. 24-25), Chris and Kathi Morrison discuss an assortment of fabric printers, but also recognize that many desk- and tabletop dye-sub printers – and specialty presses for unique items – are available and can provide a reasonable entry into this field. Be aware that some dye-sub soft-signage products may require specialized finishing – pattern-cutting, sewing, seaming or dedicated frameworks to mount the printed signage.


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