Sublimation printing uses a heat sensitive sublimation dye to print graphics on a suitable surface. The sublimation dye is dissolved in a liquid in order to be used in a special inkjet paper, known as a dye sub transfer. A heat press is then used on the dye sub transfer and the suitable printing surface in order to print graphics and text. At this point the image has been transferred onto the surface. The image has become a part of the surface and cannot be felt by touching the surface of the sublimatable item.
Sublimation is always performed on a polyester, polymer or polymer-coated item. The sublimation dye penetrates the fibers, integrating itself into the fabric. These types of materials contain pores, which allow for the sublimation dye to enter the materials. The high temperature of the heat press converts the solid dyes directly into gas. The heat press is hot enough to do this without the solid dyes ever becoming liquid.
Natural Fibers and Non-coated Materials
Inkjet sublimation cannot be performed on natural materials, such as 100 percent cotton. The sublimated dyes, which have become gas, require pores in order to enter a printing surface. Without these pores the dyes will just sit on top of the fabric. Natural fibers and non-coated materials do not have pores; therefore these materials are not suitable for sublimation printing. Some commonly used surfaces are cotton T-shirts with micro-weaves of polyester on the outside, colored mesh ball caps with a polyester front, mouse pads, jackets, beverage insulators, ceramic plates, mugs and tiles.
White-colored materials are the most commonly used surfaces for inkjet sublimation printing and are preferred because the ink in the inkjet dyes is transparent when sublimated. This means the dyes require a background that provides the proper contrast to show up. White backgrounds provide the ideal contrast and enhance the colors. The white background allows sublimation printing of a wide variety of colors.
Gold and Silver Metal Imprints
Many award companies use gold and silver metallic colors in their logos and graphics. Although these colors will imprint, the background color will interfere with the imprint colors. For these types of projects, one may want to consider single-color laser sublimation or full-color laser sublimation methods.