White Sublimation Printing

Many garment printers around the world surely have asked the question a million times: Can I use sublimation on dark textiles? This article is giving you a look into the technology and what is possible with sublimation today.

Sublimation on dark substrates

Many garment printers around the world surely have asked the question a million times: Can I use sublimation on dark textiles? This article is giving you a look into the technology and what is possible with sublimation today.

What is sublimation?

Sublimation is a transfer technology where a dye changes it’s aggregate state from solid to gas without passing through the liquid stage. This happens under heat and pressure. Thus, a design or photo printed with sublimation ink or Ghost Sublime Toner can be transferred into a polyester fabric.

A design will be printed with a sublimation printer on a normal sheet of copy paper, or on special sublimation paper. This sheet is then placed on the polyester substrate in the way you want it printed afterwards. Under heat and pressure, the dye will change its aggregate state from sold to gaseous. The gas then will connect with the fibres of the polyester fabric.

This way the design becomes a permanent part of the polyester fabric. Since the toner is sublimated into the fabric, the substrate naturally does not change, it feels the same as before printing. Also, will this method provide a very durable result which last many washes.

Choice of fabric

Due to the process, sublimation is suitable only for light (white) fabrics. Let’s imagine that the fibers of the polyester garment are colored or black: any gaseous dye that tries to combine with these fabrics will eventually be contaminated by the color of the fiber itself.

Of course the darker the color of the fibre is the more this issue worsens. While sublimation in black color on a yellow safety vest still works great, sublimation in yellow on a black vest is impossible.

White Sublimation printing

Since White Toner has become a very popular technology to decorate fabrics of all kind customers often ask when White Sublimation will be possible? Looking back at how the sublimation process works it becomes clear that any white dye in a gaseous state trying to marry a dark (ie.black) polyester fibre will be contaminated by the color of the fibre itself.

Solutions to White Sublimation printing

The need to print in white on dark polyester and other substrates has been identified by the industry early on. While sublimation technology is loved by customer for its vibrant colors and superior image quality it was always lacking versatility. Although the industry has developed a huge variety of sublimation-friendly blanks for almost any desire all these are still white or lighter colored.

We will explain a few solutions on printing in white on polyester substrates and others. Of course, there are many technologies in the market, and we cannot touch base with all of them here. Customers should always check all available options and find which best matches their application.

Sublimation on dark surfaces

Many companies from the transfer paper industry offer special coated one- or two-step transfer papers which enable customers to use their existing sublimation printer with dark polyester and other textiles. These products are carrying a sublimation enabled polyester coating on the printing side and an adhesive coating on the other side.

The downside is that because two coatings are needed the feel on the textile after application is very heavy. Most of these solutions offer the option to be used on other non- polyester materials such as cotton. The color representation of these product unfortunately often lacks the vibrancy so loved by the sublimation community.

Another option is to use toner transfer. In difference to sublimation toner transfer requires a laser printer with white toner but offers a wide range of possible applications on either dark or light substrates. With toner transfer the desired design is printed on a transparent media called A-Foil.

Customer using Ghost White Toner will print the colors of their image/design first. Then they will reinsert the A-Foil and run a second printing pass with white toner. The Ghost White Toner will replace the black toner cartridge in the customers laser printer. It is recommended to overprint lighter colors and halftones to get the best result. Simple designs with solid colors are totally possible in one pass.

After having printed their design customer will marry the A-Foil with the so-called B-Paper using a heat press. The B-Paper contains a thermal reactive adhesive. Under heat and pressure, a thermal activated reaction is happening where the adhesive from the B-Paper marries into the printed areas on the A-Foil. After this process the A-Foil and B-Paper are separated immediately while still hot.

The A-Foil can now be placed on the desired fabric. This is very easy as the media is transparent. After pressing the A-Foil to the textile on the heat press the print is now a part of the garment. The remaining A-Foil can be removed while only the print has transferred.

This method works on many different substrates such as polyester, cotton, felt, leather, silk and more. The feel on the textile is soft to the touch and the results last many washes.

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