Sign & Digital Graphics

March '18

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40 • March 2018 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S DIGITAL PRINTING AND FINISHING DIGITAL GRAPHICS "The dye-sublimation printing pro- cess is really no different within the sign industry than any other industry," Hunter says. "Typically, the transfer sublimation process involves first reverse-printing onto transfer paper with a wide-format dye-sublimation inkjet printer. A heat press is then used to transfer the image from the paper to the substrate. The type of heat press you use—a calender heat press or a flatbed heat press—will depend upon the product you'll be making (i.e., rigid signage or soft signage)." The advantages to transferring, according to Garcia, is "typically lower cost equipment; however, you need to buy extra consumables such as transfer paper." Direct printing is a completely differ- ent process and occurs when "fabric is fed through the printer and the sublimation inks are printed directly onto the fabric," explains Hunter. "Sign makers should be aware that, regardless of whether trans- fer or direct dye-sublimation is being used, they will still need to 'fix' the inks onto the substrate at the heat press. Traditionally, soft signage that requires heavy saturation, such as flags, are pro- duced using the direct printing method." There are certainly benefits and draw- backs to direct printing as well. Garcia says there is "Less human handling, hence faster outcome and fewer chances to making mistakes." On the other hand, Kavanagh points to the newness of this technology to highlight its limitations. "Currently, the direct-printing pro- cess can only be used with fabrics and fixation takes place in a wide format calendar press," she says. "The dyes are applied directly to the fabric and pen- etrate further, which can result in some blurring and lighter coloration." Sign makers will likely have their own perceptions and comfort level with these processes. And again, the nature of the job may dictate which method is best suited. For instance, fabric projects are a natural fit for direct printing. "We believe the most productive method of printing is direct to fabric with an inline calendar," Lamb says. "It offers fast finished productivity and a lower cost of production due to decreased labor and the elimination of transfer paper. As an example, if you consider the methods of transfer versus direct at a speed of 1,000 square feet per hour, the inline system offers finished goods at that print speed." "Transfer sublimation," Kavanagh counters, "offers much more flexibility for sign makers, as they can use small systems and create transfers for many other types of substrates in addition to polyester fabric." Today and Tomorrow Looking ahead, there undoubtedly remains a fit for dye-sublimation in the signage world. Many argue that some of the current applications can still be expanded to include sublimation print- ing. Point of purchase is one of those areas. "The retail point of purchase space is seeing wide adoption with the advent of SEG (silicon edge graphics) framing for both backlit and front lit applications," explains Lamb. "Fabric eliminates many of the issues associated with traditional vinyl applications such as installation, glare and higher freight costs. Consider SEG framed fabric at H&M store. (Image courtesy of Global Imaging)

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