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What Is Sublimation Printing and How Does it Work?

Custom printing is getting more and more popular nowadays. One of the most popular techniques of printing is sublimation printing, before deciding whether you should go for it or not, you need to understand what even is sublimation printing.

What Does ‘Sublimation’ Mean?

What Does ‘Sublimation’ Mean?

‘Freezing’ is when liquids turn into a solid-state, like when water is cooled turns into ice. ‘Melting’ is when solids turn into a liquid state, like when ice is heated and turns into water.

Both the terms of ‘freezing’ and ‘melting’ are phase transitions, much like ‘sublimation’.

‘Sublimation’ is when solids turn directly into a gas without passing over the liquid states, a popular example of sublimation is dry ice. Dry ice is a solid material, and when exposed to heat, it turns into gas directly, you wouldn’t see a liquid form under normal conditions.

What Does That Have to Do with Printing?

Well, it is basically the same thing. Sublimation printing uses sublimation ink, printer, and transfer paper to print an image onto a material of your choice, let’s say a T-shirt for example.

The sublimation ink is printed onto the sublimation paper using the sublimation printer, then the ink on the transfer paper is heated. Heated sublimation ink turns directly into a gas, which is then absorbed by the material, the T-shirt, in this case.

So, How Exactly Does It Work?

Think of the T-shirt here as your skin, the pores of your skin open when exposed to heat, so does the T-shirt.

The fabric of the T-shirt open, much like pores, and then absorbs the sublimation ink under pressure. Once the ink is absorbed, it cools back down to its solid-state.

Solidified ink, in this case, rests inside the material itself rather than sitting on top of it, making the ink more durable. Because the ink is absorbed by the T-shirt, it can last longer without cracking or peeling off. There’s nothing to peel of, the ink became a part of the T-shirt.

When Is Sublimation Printing Better Than Traditional Printing?

The first and most important factor added to sublimation printing over traditional printing is longevity. Like mentioned before, the ink becomes a part of the material, it cannot peel off, crack, or fade.

Sublimation printing is known for ‘all-over-printing’, it is a better choice when you’re printing all over the material rather than a small part of it. If you’re only printing in small areas, then traditional printing would be a better choice.

Sublimation printing gives you space to endure your creativity because you can print all over the fabric. You can make the fabric look like a painting, or a mock-up of something (a cat, for example), your whole T-shirt will look like a cat, not just the small part that has the cat print.

In addition, the fabric, after printing, remains soft and smooth without having that annoying layer of ink on top.

Also, sublimation printing is eco-friendly. The sublimation ink is safe and the printing process has minimal waste.

Lastly, sublimation printing works for various materials, not just fabrics, like ceramic and PVC.

Is There Anything Sublimation Printing Cannot Do?

Is There Anything Sublimation Printing Cannot Do

Unfortunately, yes.

If sublimation printing was superior in everything why would traditional printing still exist? Simply because sublimation printing has its cons.

The most important con of sublimation printing is the lack of variety of fabrics. Sublimation printing needs polyester fabrics to work properly. Now, we are not saying it wouldn’t work on other materials, say cotton. It would, but you would lose the pros of sublimation printing. Longevity will decrease by decreasing the percentage of polyester in the material which defeats the whole purpose of sublimation printing.

Sadly, that’s not the only con. Problems may arise when it comes to sublimation printing. If the fabric is folded, even a small bit, or if the transfer paper is not completely dry, that can cause white creasing. 

White creasings are areas that remain white (or the fabric’s original color) after printing. Due to folding or moisture, the ink will not be transferred properly onto the fabric causing uncolored patches.

Also, sublimation printing may not work best when printing solid dark colors.

Now What?

Much like everything else, sublimation printing has its pros and cons. Deciding the best printing technique depends on the context and personal preferences.

Deciding whether you should go for sublimation printing or not depends on the materials you want to print on, the volume of the printing, and your budget.

If the mentioned pros are what you’re looking for and the cons don’t bother you much, you should definitely go for sublimation printing!

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