By Lisa Guerriero
Part 1 of 2
Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) is a core method for printing onto fabric. There is a variety of equipment and inks for dye-sub graphics, ranging from entry level to industrial.
Dye-sub printing requires heat—the act of sublimation occurs when the inks are warmed, turn into a gaseous state, and permeate the substrate. With direct dye-sub, the sublimation process occurs directly on the fabric. With transfer dye-sub, a graphic is first printed onto transfer paper and then infused on the fabric through an external heat source. Although the transfer and direct methods differ, they also share many common benefits.
Here, Digital Output explores the applications and situations when it’s advantageous to use dye-sub for fabric printing. We also highlight dye-sub printers and ink.
Benefits of Dye-Sub
No printing method fits every application, and each approach and technology offers benefits. However, dye-sub is a go-to method of fabric printing for durability and color.
Dye-sub delivers a wide and vivid color gamut, often with only four colors. It’s easier for the print provider to capture and replicate the nuances of the graphic. Michael Syverson, director of special projects, PrinterEvolution, explains that the richness of the graphic is due to how the dye or ink directly infuses into the substrate.
“This level of saturation produces superior output and a high-quality appearance. Sublimated fabrics can also be stretched into an infinite number of shapes and forms so the only limitation is the imagination. Other technologies will see cracking and crazing with stretching and folding,” he observes.
Dye-sub is appropriate for both long- and short-term applications.
“Both transfer and direct are good for short- and long-term indoor applications such as point of purchase (POP) and trade show displays.” suggests Tommy Martin, director, textile business development, Mimaki USA, Inc.
The two dye-sub methods each have unique benefits. Some print providers prefer transfer dye-sub, finding it easier to print directly on paper rather than on fabric.
“The transfer process enables printing onto a wider variety of substrates, some of which are a challenge to print to directly—e.g. velour and most fabrics with less than 50 percent polyester composition,” explains Brent Moncrief, VP, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US, LLC.
Transfer doesn’t have the same UV resistance as some printing methods, so it’s not used as often for outdoor applications. However, if offers rich, deep color that makes it popular for many other uses and settings.
“Dye-sub transfer, because of its high definition and color pop, is preferred for indoor signage, home decoration fabrics,” shares Catalina Frank, product manager, Epson. She adds that transfer provides sharper images and contours that are ideal for applications in this segment.
Direct dye-sub usually requires coated textiles. “Direct dye-sub is interesting because it is possible to check the proof at the printing stage without transfer and there’s less risk of failure by skipping the transfer process. Paper and ink can be also saved,” observes Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporated.
Direct dye-sub is well-suited to outdoor applications, partly due to durability and partly because the process enables front-to-back bleed, which is ideal for banners and flags.
Selecting an appropriate ink increases the durability and longevity of directly-printed sublimation graphics.
“Whether you choice to print to paper and then sublimate to fabric or direct print to fabric, there are applications that are challenging for low-energy disperse dyes to meet. Applications that require outdoor—UV and wet—usage as well as high contact applications—rub fastness—can be a challenge for low-energy dyes,” explains Ted Zhi, textile marketing manager, DuPont Digital Printing.
Vendors expect dye-sub to gain in popularity. This is partly due to emerging fabric applications that benefit from the color and depth of dye-sub graphics. Soft signage and apparel are among the most promising segments.
“This is due to the increased availability of new fabrics for high fashion, performance apparel, and industrial textiles. With an increasing selection of fabrics comes new and emerging markets that are open to this technology. The equipment and ink technology is improving to adapt to these new markets,” advises Martin.
Dye-Sub Printers and Ink
Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd. offers Eden SD Textile, which is a high-performance aqueous ink for direct dye-sub printing on high-content polyester fabrics. The Eden products are based on a high-color density ink formula for ink yield as well as lower costs. Eden SD is ideal for high-speed printing and long production cycles. It contains high-performance dyes to prevent dye migration and bleeding. Eden ST Textile offers outstanding color vibrancy, high image quality, and ink yield for high printing speeds for transfer dye-sub. Both are compatible with the printer pumps and pressurized feeding systems of the most sophisticated high-speed printers.
d.gen Inc. has several devices for textile printing. Its latest offering is the Papyrus G5, an industrial transfer dye-sub printer. Its Ricoh Gen5 printheads provide native resolution of 600 dpi and up to 2,400 dpi with seven-picoliter droplet size at eight levels of greyscale. Designed for around-the-clock printing, it produces over 2,000 square meters per day directly onto transfer paper. It features “one-time ink refill and paper loading, which allows for reduction of not only labor cost but also material cost,” says Jandee Kim, senior staff, international sales, d.gen. The device is equipped with an automatic take-up roll system and a roller that automatically controls the tension of substrates. It uses d.gen’s Sublimation inks, developed for transfer dye-sub printers. They are water-based textile inks that are REACH compliant.
DigiFab Systems Inc.’s StampaJet line of printers includes options for direct dye-sub printing. The BP and XP series are entry-level machines with integrated curing ovens. This feature enables direct printing and curing on dimensionally stable fabrics, using tension as the transport. With the IN series, DigiFab integrates a belt transport to facilitate printing on a wider range of fabrics. DigiFab offers its DigiDye series of inks in three iterations, DigiDye Textile Dyes, DigiDye Vibra Sublimation, and DigiDye Acid/Reactive.
DuPont carries a full line of Artistri disperse dye inks, including Artistri 2500, 3500, and 4500 inks. The three products are high-energy, direct to fabric disperse dyes. They are formulated for industrial aqueous compatible, medium to high viscosity piezo-electric printheads. They are well suited to printing on polyester, with excellent wet and dry crock, UV, and washfastness properties. Applications include interior, apparel, flags, and banners. The company’s most recent introduction is the DuPont Artistri Brite pigment ink set, which prints to a full range of fabrics.
Durst offers the Rhotex series of printers, designed for high-volume direct dye-sub printing. The Rhotex HS prints up to 10,000 square feet per hour (sf/h) in flag mode and approximately 4,000 sf/h when in typical soft signage production mode. It is available in up to seven colors and can utilize media up to 10.8 feet wide. It uses water-based dispersion inks. The Rhotex 322 has similar features, but for comparatively smaller scale production. For most soft signage work, the Rhotex 322 delivers about 1,500 sf/h throughput. It is configurable with up to seven colors, handles media up to 10.5 feet wide, and uses water-based dispersion Rhotex inks. Durst’s latest offering for the soft signage market is the Rhotex 180 TR, its first transfer dye-sub printer. This model offers industrial productivity at about 2,000 sf/h, a maximum printing width of six feet, and water-base dye-sub inks.
Epson offers several transfer dye-sub printers, in the SureColor line, ranging from low-medium to mid-high volume. The line includes the 44-inch SureColor F6070 and the 64-inch SureColor F7070. In addition, the 64-inch SureColor F7170, introduced last Fall, features an automatic take-up roll that comes standard to ensure uninterrupted production. The roll-fed devices provide photographic output up to 720×1,440 dpi, and support an extensive range of applications. Epson developed them for producing quality soft signage, sportswear, apparel, accessories, and customized promotional items. They feature single-operator media loading and set-up features, such as automatic media tensioning and an intuitive LCD control panel. They print up to 634 feet per hour, depending on the application, and feature Epson’s PrecisionCore TFP printheads. Coupled with UltraChrome DS inks, the printers produce vibrant graphics with strong light- and wash-fastness and resistance to abrasion and perspiration.
Expand Systems, LLC classes its transfer and direct dye-sub printers according to speed. Its class 1 device, for direct printing, is the Diva. It is compatible with any water-based textile ink and handles most fabric types. It features a proprietary roll-to-roll fabric handling system. For class 2, Expand Systems carries MS Italy printers. The JP5 Evo prints both transfer and direct dye-sub, 50 to 100 linear yards per hour. The JP4 is for transfer dye-sub and prints 120 linear yards per hour. Its class 3 machines include the MS JP6, JP7, and JPK Evo. They print onto transfer paper or direct to fabric at speeds ranging from 100 to 600 linear yards per hour. Finally, “the class 4 machine is the MS Lario and is currently the fastest printer in the world capable of printing at a speed of 70 linear yards per minute,” says Mark Sawchak, managing partner, Expand Systems.
Gandy Digital recently introduced the Softjet, a roll-to-roll direct dye-sub printer. The 11-foot printer is designed for polyester or 50 percent polyester blend. It uses Ricoh Gen5 printheads, and “we have an extra printhead to apply a special clear ink that helps to make the penetration on flag-type materials very even on both sides,” notes Hary Gandy, president, Gandy Digital. The Softjet prints up to 1,400 sf/h, and features a heated drum that ensures even color across the full width of the material. It also features an effective fume extraction system.
Gans Ink & Supply Co.’s PyroJET sublimation inks deliver color and performance. They can be used in transfer or direct dye-sub processes to create products that range from garments, textiles, custom team wear, and gaming tables to trade show graphics and POP displays.
Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd. plans to unveil a new, high-speed dye-sub printer this year. The G5-1850DS model will be useable by both the transfer and direct dye-sub methods. It will feature Ricoh’s Gen5 printhead, 1,280 nozzles, and 600 dpi resolutions with grayscale. The G5-1850DS will print up to 110 square meters per hour, and be available with either four, six, or eight colors. It offers smooth feeding and take-up and an ink collection system that reduces ink waste by 98 percent. “The printer is equipped with heating system, convenient to print different materials in a timely manner,” notes Edmond Fung Po Keung, managing director, Gunsjet.
INX Digital International Ink Co. supplies Triangle brand water-based textile inks, referred to as DTX. These are for Epson printhead-based printers. The inks are intended for direct dye-sub on polyester or mixed synthetic fabrics that contain a minimum of 60 percent polyester.
Kiian Digital manufactures both transfer and direct dye-sub inks, including sublimation, disperse, and pigment. It already offers products for Epson printheads and is expanding to serve other industrial printers, such as those with Ricoh and Kyocera printheads. “For example, at Fespa in Cologne we will launch three new inks designed for Ricoh printheads both for transfer and direct printing,” notes Marco Girola, marketing specialist, Kiian.
Marabu North America offers the TexaJet DX-SHE water-based sublimation ink system, suitable for transfer sublimation. It is for those printers equipped with Epson DX4 and DX5 printhead technology. The substrate range includes polyester and polyamide, blended fabrics containing at least 60 percent polyester, or polyester-coated materials.
Meijet Inc. has new direct dye-sub printers, the MJ1800TX and MJ1600TX, with disperse dye ink. They eliminate the need for pre-coating or treating the fabric. These treatments add to the cost of printing and can potentially stiffen the output, Wen Chen, director, Meijet. “Our new technology bypasses this pre-treatment process, reduces the cost of fabrics, keeps the soft hand-feel, and expands the application of direct printing. The finished textiles have the same color and washing performance as printed with pre-treated fabrics,” explains Chen.
Mimaki introduced its Mimaki JV300 Series of printers in 2014. These devices use either eco-solvent inks or dye-sub inks. The series includes eight ink channels and can print at speeds of up to 1,200 sf/h when paired with Mimaki’s Sb53 dye-sub inks. The JV300 Series can create vibrant wearable textiles, unique home fabrics, or soft signage. The devices are available in 54- and 64-inch widths.
Mutoh America, Inc. promotes its direct and transfer dye-sub printers, the ValueJet 1628TD and ValueJet 2628TD. The printers can run with dye-sub transfer ink, direct print sublimation ink, or water-based pigment ink.
PrinterEvolution’s Eos126 DS and Eos100 DS are direct and transfer dye-sub printers, available in 126 or 120 inches, with Eos DS water-based ink. Aimed at textile jobs, the devices have onboard sublimation units that are true calendars. The models offer high speed, quality, and capacity with a smaller footprint. They print on standard digital textiles as well as specialty fabrics like open weave and stretch. The company also offers the Kayo126 DS for fast, consistent, industrial-grade transfer dye-sub printing with Kayo DS water-based ink. Its Ricoh Gen 4 variable drop printheads provide precise color and are upgradable from eight to 12 colors. It features a large bulk ink system and an advanced media feeding system that uses Servomotors instead of pinchers and belts.
Roland DGA Corporation introduced its new Texart RT-640 dye-sub printer, as well as the Texart SBL3 inks. The company designed the printer, which is configured for either four or eight inks, for quality, productivity, and ease of use. Its features and design ensure quality imaging and color constancy at up to 351 sf/h. The SBL3 inks allow for rich colors, lightfastness, and durability.
Sawgrass Technologies, Inc.’s Sublim Dye Transfer Sublimation Ink is ideal for high-speed digital printing of sublimation heat transfers for both polyester fabrics and polyester-coated hard surfaces. Sublim Direct, Sawgrass’ direct print sublimation ink for industrial production, is ideal for high-speed, direct digital printing of polyester fabrics. Sublim K+ Dye Transfer Sublimation Ink for extreme speed printing is specifically formulated for high volume, production environments.
Sensient Imaging Technologies recently launched ElvaJet Swift ink for industrial transfer dye-sub printing. Designed for Epson DX printheads, the inks are ideal for apparel, interior textiles, banners, and flags. The high dye concentration allows for an average ink coverage savings of up to 40 percent, reducing the stress on the transfer paper, says Dr. Christophe Bulliard, marketing director, Sensient.
SPGPrints BV offers Flare reactive, acid, disperse, sublimation, and ReAcid inks, an eight-color ink set for all printers equipped with Epson printheads. Also for transfer dye-sub are the Nebula reactive, acid, disperse, and ReAcid inks, a six-color set for Kyocera printheads.
Valloy offers ink for both transfer and direct dye-sub printing. These products follow Oeko-Tex standards, and contain carcinogenic or allergenic dyes. The company anticipates releasing a belt-style textile printer, the Topazet. It is equipped with a vacuumed mesh belt with cleaning and drying units for thin and porous textiles.
Xennia Technology Ltd., recently acquired by Sensient, launched Xennia Corundum, a transfer dye-sub ink, last Fall. “The ink product shows excellent color performance when compared with the benchmark market inks,” notes Tim Phillips, marketing manager. The high-performance sublimation dye aqueous ink is for Kyocera printhead-based printers as well as Epson printhead-based printers.
A Fit for Fabric
Dye-sub, both transfer and direct, is a popular process for fabric printing. As a result, there are myriad options for equipment and consumables. Print providers can select products that complement the size of their business and the volume of textile printing they handle.
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Jul2015, Digital Output DOTP1507