What is a Dye Sublimation Printer and How does it Work?

Last Updated on October 21, 2022

What is a Dye Sublimation Printer

The dye sublimation process is a method of digital printing in which an image is transferred to the target substrate by the use of heat. As a result, unique promotional items can be printed on mugs, t-shirts, etc. Printing with dye-sublimation produces vivid, sharp, and vibrant images.

How Does Dye Sublimation Printing Work?

Sublimation printing is accomplished via a ribbon containing solid inks that are designed for this purpose. As a result of the heating, the ink sublimates – a process in which it bypasses the liquid state and enters straight into a gaseous state instead. Images on fabric will not fade or crack even after repeated washings since colors are embedded in the fabric instead of being printed on the surface. It is also possible to use freeze-drying as an example of sublimation in this industry.

The material is printed in three primary colors. The ink transforms from a gas to a solid after it contacts the media, leading to a full-color image. A clear protective coating is applied to the paper/substrate at the end of the printing process to ensure that the ink does not smudge.

Two steps are involved in dye sublimation printing

The first step in the sublimation process involves the transfer of liquid gel ink from unique sublimation dyes to “transfer” paper sheets. Inkjet papers designed for high-release are deposited with the ink during the sublimation printing process. A second step occurs during which the printed transfer sheet is heated, which turns the solid dye into a gaseous state without having to undergo a liquid state. As a result of heat and pressure, the dye penetrates into the interior of the substrate, resulting in a permanent bond between the dye and substrate. When the dye has been removed from the heat, it returns to a solid state.

What is a Dye Sublimation Printer?

How Does Dye Sublimation Printing Works

Comparing dye-sublimation printers with traditional inkjet printers can help you better understand these devices. Dye sublimation differs from inkjet printing in three important ways:

Image Quality

The dye sublimation process excels in this area. To put it differently, dye sublimation can be compared to film, whereas inkjet printing can be compared to video. A continuous color range, similar to traditional photography, is a result of the former method. When magnifying an image printed on a traditional inkjet printer, you will be able to see the dots that make up the primary colors. You will be able to tell that this is a very detailed computer image.


As described above, a dye sublimation printer produces gas from heated ribbons. Contrary to this, the nozzles of an inkjet printer are responsible for controlling where the ink droplets are applied to the media. By sliding the cartridge from side to side, these microscopic droplets are arranged to create a spectrum of colors.


Inkjet printers are more efficient than dye-sublimation printers. There is some ink left on the trio of primary color panels in the latter, and this will end up wasting ink. By contrast, an inkjet printer will only use the ink required for a specific task.

What type of Ink to use in Dye Sublimation?

For printing on sublimation paper, inkjet printers utilize sublimation inks. As a result of this process, powdered dyes become vaporized and transformed into a gaseous form. By permitting the dyes to diffuse and permeate the surface of the printing media, a photo-quality print is achieved through subtle gradations. The printer’s roller is reset to prepare for the next color after completing a print job. After all, colors are printed and the substrate has been laminated, the image is given a glossy appearance by a final pass over the printed image.

A final design is created by printing dye sublimation inks on heat-resistant sublimation paper. A heat press is used in order to transfer the images to the polyester fabric. This press operates at a temperature between 1800C and 2100C (3750F).

Here is the list of benefits of sublimation inks over conventional inks:

  • Due to their high heat and coating, smudges can hardly occur.
  • Traditional inks are not as long-lasting as these inks. As a result, the image of the printed item will not wash or peel off.
  • Dyes sublimation inks are waterproof.
  • The accuracy of vaporization is extremely high (when compared to standard inkjet droplets since the vaporization allows for a greater level of specificity).

How to use Dye Sublimation Printing for Sportswear?

How to use Dye Sublimation Printing for Sportswear

Can sportswear be printed with dye-sublimation? If you plan to use transfer printing, the process consists of four steps:

Step #1. Design all of the graphics.

There are three sections of the jersey to design graphics for the front, back, and arm and cuffs. Create a master layout by combining all the graphics. This layout serves as the basis for printing the paper.

Step #2. On the transfer paper, print the dye sublimation ink.

A ream of transfer paper is printed with the sublimation ink. The ink quickly solidifies.

Step #3. Sublimate the material using the roller.

A bolt of synthetic fabric is positioned in front of the transfer paper. Sublimation paper is then applied to the bolt.

In order to sublimate the ink, high temperatures (350-420 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressure are used in the roller. On the transfer paper, the ink becomes so hot that it skips the melting process and evaporates immediately. By opening the pores of the textile in response to heat, the vapor can also penetrate deeper into the jersey.

Upon the removal of the heat, the jersey’s pores close, preventing the sublimated ink from escaping. In the jersey, the ink returns to its original solid state. Now, the fabric is permanently imprinted with a full-color image.

Step #4. Stitch the pieces together.

The transfer paper can now be discarded. Having determined your graphics’ parameters, you should now have a bolt of fabric whose components are all included. Cut the jersey pieces from the bolt and sew them together to construct your finished garment.

What Materials Can Be Used in Dye Sublimation Printing?

Dye sublimation printers are not exclusively designed to print onto common office supplies such as paper, labels, or envelopes. It is more common to print designs on novelty items, such as coffee mugs and T-shirts.

Rubber, synthetic fabric, and plastic are the most common substrates used for printing these designs. Cotton or other natural fabrics cannot be printed with this technology. Natural textiles do not bind to gaseous ink as they do with synthetic ones.

In addition to mousepads, floor mats, coasters, flip-flops, bandanas for events, shower curtains, and athletic apparel, there are many products available that provide the necessary materials for dye sublimation printing. Aside from these numerous marketing applications, the machines may also be used to produce photo prints or postcards using specially coated media, such as cards or paper.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it worth getting a sublimation printer?

As one of the most effective methods for printing all-over, sublimation printing excels at fine lines and details. As a result of its low set up costs, it is ideal for small runs, and due to its permanent printing, it is virtually unbeatable.

What is the drawback of dye sublimation printer?

There are some disadvantages associated with dye-sublimation printers in comparison to inkjet printers. In order to achieve optimal printing results, each color panel of the ribbon, along with the thermal head itself, must be sized to match the size of the media that is being printed on. A sublimated ink can only be absorbed by specially coated paper or plastics.

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