Awards & Engraving

2014 Sublimation Report

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40 THE SUBLIMATION REPORT • Spring 2014 • • THE SUBLIMATION REPORT • Spring 2014 41 Road To Sublimation Success: New Substrates By DaviD Gross O ver the last 20-plus years, I have seen the sublima- tion decorating process go viral. I think there are many reasons for this "alignment of the stars" such as great printers, inks, and paper—but the key, of course, is the products that can be created with subli- mation. Starting with only a handful of products, our choices of substrates (what we call an imprintable blank product) are now in the thousands! From metal prints to iPhone covers, sublimation decorating delivers high-value, full-color, photographic-quality products in mere minutes—and with a minimum quantity of only one. What is the sublimation decorating process? No one invented sublimation; it is a phenomenon of nature. We have only learned to harness its power, much like gravity. My research indicates that subli- mation was first documented in the 1920s. It all started when someone accidentally observed special dyes that, when heated, turned into a gas and "dyed" acetate film. In the beginning, the special dyes were screen printed onto paper and then trans- ferred onto polyester fabric. Sublimation became a hit because it did not change the feel of the fabric, produced beautiful vibrant colors, and wouldn't wash out. Nowadays, we use offset printing presses and inkjet printers to print our transfers using sublimation inks (also referred to as disperse dyes). These inkjet printers use a piezo printhead (Epson and Ricoh) that vibrates the ink out onto the release paper instead of a thermal print- head that uses heat (HP and Canon). The release paper that is used should not be confused with transfer paper, although we often refer to it as transfer paper. Release paper is designed to "carry the ink" and then do a good job of "releasing the ink" as the ink turns from a solid to a gas during the heating process. To transfer, the printed image/paper is secured to the substrate and placed in a heat press where it is pressed at (usually) 400° for a dwell time and pres- sure that is dependent on the substrate. Most fab- rics are pressed for 45 seconds with light pres- sure whereas ceramics require several minutes with medium to heavy pressure (for additional infor mation, refer to our instructions at www. During the heating process, the sub- limation dyes turn into a gas and look for an oil- loving molecule (poly- ester) to bond with. At the same time, oil-loving molecules open up in what we call the glass transition state to accept the gas. It's important to note that cotton is a water-loving molecule and will not accept the dyes. Once the transfer is complete, we remove the sub- strate from the press and allow it to cool, thereby closing the pores of the substrate and trapping the dyes. What does it take to be a sublimation substrate? As strange as it sounds, when I wake up in the mor ning my ADD mind is thinking, What new products can we subli- mate today? Yes, friends, that may give the impression that I drank the Sublimation Kool-Aid, but it really just proves that I'm consumed with the dye-sublimation process and finding new and exciting substrates to offer this growing industry. I've tested countless potential substrates over the years with results ranging from total failure to tremendous success. Of course you can't just sublimate an image onto anything—there's more to it than "Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked. 'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat. 'I don't know,' Alice answered. 'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.'" —Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland the printed image is secured to the substrate and placed in a heat press. _SubReport 14.indd 40 2/28/14 9:26 AM

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