What Is Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is a method using full color artwork, that works with polyester and polymer-coated substrates. Also referred to as digital sublimation printing, it’s commonly used for decorating novelty items such as plaques, coffee mugs, and other items. In the process of sublimation, heat and pressure are applied to a solid, turning it into a gas through an endothermic reaction without passing through the liquid phase.

In sublimation printing, unique sublimation dyes are transferred to sheets of “transfer” paper via liquid gel ink through a piezoelectric print head. The ink is deposited on these high-release inkjet papers. After the digital design is printed onto sublimation transfer sheets, it is placed on a heat press along with the substrate to be sublimated.

In order to transfer the image from the paper to the substrate, the right amount of heat, time and pressure needs to be applied. The heat press applies this special combination, which can change depending on the substrate, to “transfer” the sublimation dyes at the molecular level into the substrate. The most common dyes used for sublimation activate at 350 degrees Fahrenheit; however, a range of 380 to 420 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for optimal color.

The end result of the sublimation process is a nearly permanent, high resolution, full color print. Prints will not crack, fade or peel from the substrate under normal conditions.

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