Dye-Sublimation Printing Explained

Dye-Sublimation Printing Explained

If you’re looking to print a design on a shirt or garment, dye-sublimation printing is the best digital printing method on the market. It’s a specialized printing method unlike any other that’s made to create high-quality, long-lasting products. But what exactly is dye-sublimation, and how does it work?

Today, we’ll go in-depth into what dye-sublimation printing is, how it works and its extensive advantages.

Table of Contents:

What Is Dye-Sublimation Printing?

Dye-sublimation printing, or dye-sub printing for short, is a specialized process for printing on nylon, polyester and polyester resin-coated products. 

This process is unique because the ink is heated, causing it to sublimate – or, in other words, allowing the dye to transition directly from a solid into a gas. 

Dye-sub inks are printed onto a transfer paper using a wide-format printer. Then, using a heat press, the ink is heat transferred directly from the paper onto the fabric. The sublimation process allows the polymers in the fabric to bond, allowing for a vibrant and long-lasting print.

How Does Dye-Sublimation Work?

Dye-sublimation is a multi-step process, but it guarantees high-quality and profitable products if completed with care. Here’s some insight into how it works:

What Are Dye-Sublimation Printers?

Dye-sublimation printers use a special type of dye to print designs. Unlike more traditional printers, these printers print directly onto a transfer paper rather than onto the product or fabric itself.

Dye-sublimation printing

What are Dye-Sublimation Inks?

Dye-sublimation ink, also called disperse dye, turns from a solid into a gas at high temperatures. The dye bonds to polyester fabrics, meaning that the design permanently transfers onto the fabric after the printing process is complete.

What Does a Heat Press Do?

A heat press infuses a design into a garment or other surface by opening the material’s pores and transforming the ink from a solid into a gas. The heat press allows the ink to penetrate the substrate, infusing the design directly into the fabric.

Advantages of Using Dye-Sub Printing

There are multiple advantages of dye-sublimation printing. Here are a few:

Ideal For Polyester and Nylon

Dye-sublimation works seamlessly on polyester and polyester blends (up to 65%) as well as on nylon and nylon blends. Polyurethane-based fabrics are also a great match with dye-sublimation printing.

Read: Comparing Polyester vs. Nylon

Dye-sublimation printing for activewear

Long-Lasting Results

Dye-sublimation produces long-lasting results. Since the inks are fade- and crack-proof, they create vibrant colors that don’t fade even after extensive wear and tear. . You can use, wear and wash your garments regularly for years to come!

Easy Care

Dye-sublimation products are low maintenance to care for. You can wash and bleach them without worrying about compromising the design.

Environmentally Friendly

This printing process is environmentally friendly. Dye-sublimation uses recycled paper and less dye than traditional printing processes, and there’s minimal post-print washing, drying and wrinkling. You can also dye-sub print in both small and large runs.

Quick and Fast Turnaround

Need five-star products in a short amount of time? Dye-sublimation is the way to go. The entire design-to-production process can be completed in as little as 20 minutes for one garment. 

Endless Possibilities

With dye-sub printing, there is unlimited design flexibility. Designs can be placed anywhere without color limits. You can also work with unlimited colors and combinations to produce elaborate and complex designs.

Dye-Sublimation Printing FAQs

As one of the most popular apparel printing methods, there are many questions about dye-sublimation printing. Let’s address the most frequently asked. 

How Does Dye-Sub Compare to Screen Printing and Inkjet Printing?

Screen printing is cost-effective and compatible with most fabrics – but it can’t accomplish the same tasks that dye-sublimation printing can. Because screen printing projects take time to set up, small or custom orders are often out of the picture. Furthermore, color variations are limited, and screen-printed colors often fade, crack or peel after only a few washes.

Learn more: Dye-Sublimation vs. Screen Printing

Similarly, inkjet printing often fades quickly. Because inkjet printing relies on the three primary colors, it’s difficult to get an accurate color match. Oftentimes, the primary color dots are visible on the fabric if you look close enough.

Learn more: Other Fabric Printing Methods and Techniques Explained

Can You Dye-Sublimate Cotton?

While dye-sublimation inks chemically bond with polyester and nylon fabrics, cotton is not susceptive to them. That said, you can dye-sublimate cotton but the results will be subpar and the ink will wear off after a couple of washes.

What Is Dye-Sub Best For? 

Dye-sublimation is compatible with a wide range of fabrics. Here are some common fabric applications for dye-sublimation printing:

  • Performance apparel Items like yoga pants or cycling apparel pair seamlessly with dye-sublimation.
  • Uniforms – Dye-sublimation is a great option for sports team uniforms.
  • Swimwear – Because the ink bonds with the fabric, dye-sublimation printed swimwear won’t fade when it’s exposed to chlorine, saltwater or sunshine.
  • Healthcare garments – Dye-sublimation printed healthcare garments – like masks and caps – are easily disinfectable. 
  • Banners and signage – Clothing isn’t the only thing dye-sublimation printing is great for! Use it to print for your business. 
  • Photography backdrops – The dye reflects less light, which is ideal for spotlights and flash photography.  
  • Custom tablecloths – This is a great way to enhance your branding efforts.

Dye-sublimation printing for surgical caps

How Durable Are Dye-Sub garments?

Dye-sublimation garments are extremely durable. They can survive a wide range of performance and high-impact activities plus wear and tear, so you won’t have to worry about your product losing its sharpness. They can endure anything from bleach to excessive sunshine without losing their vibrancy.

Choose Equipe For All of Your Dye-Sublimation Printing Projects

Equipe Athletics is a one-stop-shop microfactory for all of your dye-sublimation printing and garment manufacturing needs. Our meticulously calibrated dye-sublimation printers allow us to color match with 100% accuracy, ensuring that your products turn out exactly the way you want them.

Learn more about Equipe’s garment-making process here.

With over 30 years of industry experience, we’re confident that dye-sublimation printing will help you create high-quality, long-lasting products that will exceed your expectations. Request a quote today and let us bring your next project to life!