By Cassandra Balentine
Color options from light inks to fluorescents on dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printers offer an extended gamut.
“Expanded color ink options on dye-sub printers allow designers and print service providers (PSPs) to produce vibrant textiles to match apparel trends, safety apparel requirements, sports jerseys, soft signage, and décor that often include specific colors,” shares Tim Check, senior product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.
Where is the Need?
As hinted above, several applications benefit from expanded ink sets on dye-sub devices.
“Fluorescent inks greatly increase the visibility of printed fabrics, ideal for sports apparel and soft signage,” says Check.
Dries Hublin, inkjet application specialist, Agfa, also identifies sportswear as a market that requires expanded color options.
Colors like orange and violet inks increase the range of vibrant colors for fashion apparel and décor.
Light cyan and light magenta inks offer smooth tones and gradations well suited for photographic reproduction on rigid materials, offers Check.
Mike Syverson, textile manager, North America, Durst Image Technology US, LLC, sees backlit prints as another area benefiting from added colors.
There is also the practice of accurately hitting brand colors. In some instances, Syverson admits that a gamut expansion might be required to get the right match.
“Any opportunity to expand the color gamut outside the traditional CMYK, which alone can deliver great, sellable output, can help print providers meet branding color requirements. Print providers can now confidently match color output from dye-sub to other high color gamut print technologies,” agrees Check.
Syverson points out that while light inks do not really expand the color space, they do help in more accurately matching corporate account colors. “That said, many of our customers opt for a four-color system due to the wide color space of the CMYK set on the Durst P5 TEX iSub.”
Demand for expanded color options varies by market and region.
For example, in Asia signage tends to utilize more fluorescent colors in signage and sportswear. “In Asia fluorescent colors are more important,” asserts Hublin.
From a design perspective, hitting new colors is essential. And expanded color options help extend the gamut print providers are able to offer with their dye-sub processes.
“The increased awareness of dye-sub and its benefits for designers has ultimately driven demand for expanded color gamut options,” asserts Check.
Expanded color options give designers a way to meet changing fashion trends. “With the increase in onshore textile production, dye-sub has become a key method for producing textiles quickly and efficiently to meet increased needs and quicker required turnaround times,” he adds.
Syverson sees some of its customers curious about the benefits of expanded color options such as light inks or gamut expansion. “Companies interested in adding light inks or gamut expansion usually have a specific requirement, such as high-end retail graphics or a corporate color that requires an expanded gamut, such as orange.” However, he adds that for many, the four-color base option provided is generally sufficient.
Expanded color options are utilized in both transfer and direct dye-sub processes.
“We see benefits on both transfer paper applications and direct,” notes Syverson. “In fact, we see more use in direct applications than transfer when talking about light inks and gamut expansion. The key is having a versatile system capable of utilizing transfer paper and direct sublimation.”
Check points out that dye-sub transfer printing produces images with much greater vibrancy and detail than directly printing on treated fabrics. “As such, transfer printing achieves the most realized benefit from an expanded color ink set.”
Epson incorporates expanded color options on multiple transfer dye-sub printers. For high-production print shops, the industrial-level 76-inch SureColor F10070H includes ink options beyond the traditional CMYK. “Customers can pick between light cyan/light magenta or fluorescent pink/fluorescent yellow, allowing them to deliver bright and vivid customized apparel, décor, and novelty goods with round-the-clock productivity and unmatched print speeds,” notes Check.
Additionally, the 64-inch Epson SureColor F9470H includes fluorescent yellow and fluorescent pink in addition to CMYK ink offerings. Recently, Epson announced the SureColor F6470H—a 44-inch, entry-level dye-sub solution that offers customers an option of either light cyan/light magenta, or fluorescent pink/fluorescent yellow, or orange/violet, in addition to CMYK.
When adding any specialty features, like expanded ink sets, cost is always a consideration.
“The cost varies from supplier to supplier, but any extra color, other than CMYK, will increase ink consumption and will cost more money to keep stock,” admits Hublin.
Check says there is difference in cost for some of the expanded color ink sets, however they do not significantly change the print cost to produce a product. “The expanded gamut orange and violet inks do cost more, however the cost is offset as less ink is used to achieve rich colors. Likewise, fluorescent inks allow print applications that are not possible with just CMYK inks, and prints that do not call for fluorescent inks, the print will only use CMYK,” he explains.
Syverson says using light inks can increase your overall ink usage compared to CMYK as you are laying down an additional color channel in the light tones. “Using tools such as the Ink Saver in Durst Workflow software can mitigate this largely,” he points out.
“One interesting data point we have seen is a reduction in ink amounts when using gamut expansion, depending on the color space of a graphic. For example, some skin tones generally use a high amount of yellow and magenta. When you have orange ink installed, a portion of the magenta and yellow is replaced with orange, reducing the overall amount of ink,” comments Syverson.
When it comes to onboarding inks, adding to CMYK configurations varies by manufacturer.
Hublin explains that the process depends strongly on the headbox configuration of the printer.
Durst equipment is designed to be field upgradeable. “If a customer chooses to purchase a four-color system and later add light inks or gamut expanding colors, it is a straightforward process,” offers Syverson.
Additionally, he says adding these colors does not affect the speed or quality of Durst’s print devices as they are designed to handle multi-channels from the factory versus sacrificing print speed to re-purpose color slots with light inks or expansion colors.
“It is important to consider the products, services, and quality needs that you and your customers demand before purchasing equipment,” asserts Check.
He stresses that PSPs need to know that the decision to incorporate expanded ink sets starts at point of purchase. “The additional ink requires the printer and printhead to have the hardware to support it, therefore there’s no way to add this option on later to an existing model.”
It is worth addressing whether or not expanded color gamuts add challenges to color management.
Syverson says the good news is today color management is very straightforward. “Modern RIP software, such as Durst’s Workflow Print software, is designed to support light inks and gamut expansion. The process to set up media profiles is largely the same as any standard CMYK workflow would be.”
Check feels that it could go either way. “Managing colors with an expanded ink set can be very simple or extremely complicated depending on how the overall system is put together. Selecting a solution from a vertically integrated manufacture that produces the ink chemistry, printer hardware, printheads, and print software is the most straightforward solution to get highly accurate color matching out of the box. Epson dye-sub solutions are designed so that all the components work together seamlessly to help print providers spend more time producing.”
Going beyond CMYK has several benefits, especially when it comes to certain applications like sportswear, safety, décor, or hitting specific brand colors.
Whether it its fluorescents, lighter versions of standard inks, or new options like orange and violet, the decision to incorporate additional colors should factor in the ease of upgrading and the cost/benefit of the applications you’ll see.
As always, when looking at new equipment, it’s recommended you think beyond today and instead consider what the future might look like.
Feb2023, Digital Output