By Olivia Cahoon
Sublimation inks utilize inkjet presses and heating devices to produce full-color, high-quality images for applications like apparel, banners, and flags. Inks are applied with direct printing technologies as well as a transfer printing processes.
Available for some time, sublimation remains popular in the textile market and offers advancements in both hardware and inks. Improvements in print stability and sustainability make it easier than ever to achieve cost-efficient, vibrant images and rich colors.
Above: Mimaki’s TS30-1300 and TS300P-1800 sublimation transfer models use single-phase AC 100 to 120V with a minimal amount of power consumption for sustainable textile printing.
When it comes to sublimation ink, features such as print stability, fast drying capabilities, color vibrancy, and reduced water and ink consumption are important. As a result, today’s vendors create ink sets that meet these requests and overcome associated challenges.
Print Stability & Fast Drying
Today’s print providers seek ink sets with print stability and fast drying characteristics to improve production efficiency and reduce the need for reprints.
Stability depends on several key factors including the colorant’s particle dispersion. Suitable dispersion grants constant ink flow at any printing speed without nozzle blockage or interrupting the printing process for cleaning, which generates a decrease in productivity, says Marco Girola, marketing and communication manager, JK Group and MS Printing Solutions, Dover Companies. Studying ink flux motion also allows accurate and consistent printed products over time, taking advantage of digital printing’s productivity.
Consistent color among each print is critical, especially for sublimated products. Accurate color is increasingly important in retail environments that display final products in varying sizes on one rack. “If the final products are going to end up on a retail rack where multiple sizes are placed next to each other, any noticeable differences in color are typically rejected,” shares Tim Check, product manager, professional imaging, Epson.
Along with print stability, ink sets with fast drying capabilities offer efficient products with accurate graphics. Fast drying prevents wet ink from transferring to the back of rolls and allows for increased productivity as well as continuous high-speed printing. Additionally, Girola explains that it reduces cockling granting long print runs, processing standardization, and meeting response times.
Sublimation inks are known for vibrant color, especially on polyester fabrics. Most expect the ink to provide eye-catching graphics. As a result, ink vendors work to make their products stand out from the competition with new features for expanded color gamut, including fluorescent colors, and high-density black.
An expanded color gamut helps print providers achieve difficult brand colors—maintaining accuracy for the end user as well as the product. This translates to brighter, more noticeable colors.
“High load inks may have larger gamut or the customer’s needs may be outside a four-color CMYK gamut—necessitating additional colors like orange, red, green, blue, or violet, which also work to reduce graininess in facial tones,” explains Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
Just as wide color gamut is important, so is color vibrancy. “A big part of the appeal of dye-sublimation (dye-sub) products are the vivid colors that really pop,” comments Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables supplies, Roland DGA Corporation. Specially formulated inks play a role in ensuring rich, vivid colors. This is further accomplished with the use of fluorescent options.
Print providers seek ink sets that complement brighter and stronger colors, such as high-density black. It produces a better and richer tone for apparel and signage. “Vibrant, strong color and dense black reproduction is crucial for high visual impact soft signage,” explains Tony Cox, business manager, Sun Chemical.
Color accuracy and repeatability are also important. “Color accuracy reach resthe colors the customer wants. Color repeatability reproduces those colors consistently. They need to be able to balance workload across multiple printers or locations, or deliver reprints weeks or months later,” adds Tom Wittenberg, HP Americas LF strategy, planning and content manager, sign and decor, HP Inc.
To offer print providers the best type of ink for sublimation printing, ink sets are formulated for reduced water, ink, and energy consumption. Typically, inks with less water in the formulation have higher dye content, which means a little bit of ink can go a long way.
“The environment is everything around us and we should treat it carefully and with respect,” adheres Monica Cingolani, image and communication manager, JK Group and MS Printing Solutions. Both printing professionals and large brand owners often share this sentiment with a common goal—to make the production chain sustainable. “Saving water is a fundamental stage of the global commitment.”
While ink sets and safe practices help reduce consumption, a complete sublimation solution—including presses—also offers print providers the ability to use less ink and energy for vibrant colors. David Lopez, textile solutions specialist, Mimaki USA, Inc., says certain printers use single-phase AC 100 to 120V with a minimal amount of power consumption for sustainable textile printing.
PSPs often seek sublimation inks with features that promote a better, higher quality product. However, technical support, transfer papers, and heat presses are just as important to the printing process as the ink formulation.
Syd Northup, inkjet division director, Gans Digital, finds that a print provider’s largest request is for technical support rather than chemical properties.
Technical support is integral, as one of the largest challenges PSPs face—especially those unfamiliar to the market—is understanding the requirements, standards, and financial commitments to purchasing a sublimation system. Northup suggests print providers better their understanding by creating internal procedures to maintain consistency and equipment upkeep daily.
In transfer sublimation printing, the overall printing process is especially important to achieve the best output. To do so, it’s integral that PSPs keep printers clean and well maintained, heat presses calibrated, and use transfer paper that provides consistent results. “If sublimation users don’t pay attention to the entire process, the quality of their output suffers. We find that many tend to focus just on the printer itself,” admits Robin Kavanagh, public relations manager, Sawgrass Inc.
Relevance & Users
With a variety of digital printing methods now available, sublimation technology maintains a strong position in the textile market. Its relevance is due to simple, sustainable processes and the extensive benefits it offers polyester applications.
“Dye-sub offers the lowest capital investment route to textile digital printing. It is applicable to polyester fabrics. It is particularly well suited for signage applications and most apparel segments. The majority use print and then transfer, which allows one paper printed pattern to be applied to several fabric types,” adheres Eric Beyeler, global marketing manager, DuPont Artistri Inks.
Polyester fabrics have an economical advantage over cotton fabrics. “In North America, fabrics composed of polyester represent a near equal amount as fabrics made of cotton,” shares Check. With polyester, he says sublimation technology is the most efficient means to color/dye the materials in terms of cost, productivity, quality, and environmental impact.
Additionally, more of today’s fabric manufacturers offer polyester fabrics that mimic the look and feel of cotton, silk, or linen. According to Hunter, this allows dye-sub users to increase their product offering with versatile looks.
While this technology is popular in fashion and athletic apparel, it’s also used for a growing number of home décor companies. “Exhibit and display companies use dye-sub as well to produce soft signage, as are businesses within just about every vertical for trade show booths and other promotional needs,” adds Hunter.
Lopez says polyester fabric manufacturers prefer sublimation technology over other methods because of the color vibrancy and how easy the post process is compared to acid dye or reactive dye that requires pretreatment, steaming, washing, and drying. “Since the rise in popularity of dye-sub, many polyester fabric manufacturers have huge success with different polyester fabrics.”
Because sublimation ink dyes the actual fibers of the polyester materials, it produces an image with a soft feel. There are also inventory and stock redundancy advantages with transfer inks compared to directly printing on the garment. “The financial risk of holding stock of printed transfer paper is lower than holding stock of finished garments, and the disposal cost of unwanted or unsold stock is significantly lower,” explains Cox.
Colorful & Vibrant
Sublimation ink offers vibrant colors while providing print stability and fast drying capabilities to improve efficiency. While pigment printing produces good quality on a range of fabrics, sublimation ink sets continue to dominate the polyester market with advancements designed for accurate color as well as reduced consumption.
Today’s newest sublimation ink sets reflect these needs, overcoming challenges and keeping users satisfied.
Sep2019, Industrial Print Magazine