By Olivia Cahoon
Direct and transfer dye-sublimation (dye-sub) is used to print on textile applications from sportswear to trade show signage. As this technology expands into segments beyond the graphics arts, manufacturers enhance ink sets with new color options like high-density black. High-density black ink produces a better and richer tone ideal for apparel and signage production. The increased contrast makes colors appear vibrant and durable.
Above: Nova Print, based in Riverside, CA, used J-Teck J-Next Subly Extra Black ink to create 12 54×240-inch panels for a trade show backdrop for customer Get Suppli.
A Richer, Denser Black
High-density black ink is used for apparel, backlit applications, commercial applications, décor, point of purchase signage, soft signage, and trade show graphics. The demand for specialty colors varies in each segment.
In the commercial space, special colors like high-density black are developed to produce a bold hue that combats washed out and faded colors. “Backlit and certain commercial applications tend to wash out with constant bright light applications, which then shows through the fabric graphics,” explains Tommy Martin, product manager, textile and apparel business development and marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc. This drives the demand for richer colors.
“Vibrant, strong color and dense black reproduction is crucial for high-visual impact soft signage,” adds Tony Cox, business manager, Sun Chemical Corporation.
Tim Check, product manager, Epson, believes printers seek high-efficiency ink that delivers rich black tones and doesn’t oversaturate transfer paper. “Oversaturated paper requires that the printer slow down for the ink to dry and uses high amounts of ink, which increases production costs,” he continues.
Apparel applications like Spandex and team uniforms also benefit from specialty ink. Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation, says print providers want a true black that’s rich and dense. “You don’t want this type of apparel to be transparent or even blue black or green black.” These applications require rich, opaque black dye-sub ink.
According to Check, all textile applications benefit from high-density ink because of improved image quality and ink efficiency. He says the ink produces a very dark neutral black on fabrics and boosts the surrounding colors’ vibrancy with added contrast.
Rob Almstrom, CEO/president, American Print Consultants LLC and representative for INX International Ink Co., agrees and says while any application benefits from high-density black ink, it’s especially important for applications such as backlit fabric displays and other direct-to-textile printing applications where deep, rich color is desired.
“The market is becoming more competitive, with an increasing amount of print shops throwing their hats into the dye-sub ring every day,” admits Almstrom. This creates the need for increased quality and color ranges to compete for end user work. “Offering a superior product with richer, denser color is one way production houses achieve this.”
Other sources driving the demand for high-density black ink are educated printers and competitive manufacturers looking for a distinct advantage. Matt Gusse, VP, sales and marketing, Advanced Color Solutions, says one of the first questions potential buyers ask at trade shows is to see printed black ink samples.
“Generally speaking, these clients have seen or had issues trying to achieve the deepest, darkest black without brown or blue tints,” shares Gusse. “Apparel items with two- or four-way stretch fabric like leggings, compression shorts, and rash guards look better and feature denser color with high-density black ink.”
These inks generally show less fade with extended UV exposure as well. Gusse cites items like metal signage, wakeboards, snowboards, custom pool tiles, and backsplashes as holding their true color for longer periods with less coating or protection.
As printers turn to high-density dye-sub ink for brighter and stronger colors, there is a demand for shorter sublimation times to increase productivity and reduce transfer paper weight for cost savings. Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Incorporation, stresses the importance of reducing ink drying time and preventing issues with stamping and artifacts caused during material take up.
Recipes for Success
Dye-sub applications are either transfer or direct-to-textile printed. The differences between the inks used in these methods are caused by specific chemical formulations generally guarded by ink vendors. High-density black ink is no exception.
“Specific chemical formulations are proprietary, but I can say that the colorant and pigment is higher for both processes in order to produce a deeper, bolder black,” admits Martin. Average black dye-sub ink is generally used for graphics with gradients that require a wider range of black shades. Alternatively, in high-density black ink the dot gain is usually deeper and larger for applications that don’t require gradients.
Jack Papaiacovou, VP/GM, Hilord Chemical Corporation, agrees and says while chemical formulations are proprietary, the challenge of creating darker blacks is in balancing high dye loads in a stable formulation.
“Dye-sub ink is unique in that a true black ink does not exist,” explains Check. Manufacturers mix different colorants to create black. For example, black can be made with cyan, yellow, and magenta colorants.
“The mix of colorants used by each manufacturer is a closely guarded trade secret,” adds Check. The first generation of high-density ink originally created printhead issues. He says customers once had to choose between regular black ink with low maintenance and high-density black ink with increased maintenance.
Today, ink vendors work to deliver low maintenance. Because high-density black ink consists of a different chemical formulation than regular ink, it uses less water. Milling technology is important to prevent nozzle clogging problems. “Particle size is now more uniform due in part to the sonic milling machines employed in the process. This permits new formulations to meet today’s dense black ink demands,” suggests Kim.
Out With the Old
High-density black ink is used as a replacement for black ink but can also be switched out with a different channel. Replacing traditional black ink is the popular option. However, Almstrom says it is possible to add the ink as a separate channel to increase overall gamut, special colors, and traditional dilutes like light cyan and light black.
“This allows for smoother light colors and flesh tones, as well as a better penetration for direct disperse applications where double-sided printing is desirable,” explains Almstrom. Higher density ink is less wet and may hinder the inks ability to migrate through the print’s second side in low saturation areas.
Steven Greaves, director of operations, Alpha Inkjet, believes high-density black can be switched out with any channel as long as the print provider implements the proper RIP software.
Mimaki printers use high-density black ink as a replacement for regular black. Martin says in some solutions, the printers can install light black, regular, or deep black. “In those cases, the printer is capable of using a profile to print deep black with better gradients.”
According to Check, Epson developed UltraChrome DS high-density black ink to be the only black ink used in its SureColor F-Series dye-sub printers. In these situations, high-density black ink is used as a replacement ink.
Besides high-density black ink, other notable trends in dye-sub inks are apparent. Ink manufacturers offer fluorescent colors to create vibrant graphics. Gusse says fluorescent ink is extending into all sports and fashion applications including corporate logos. It is also used with metal and canvas art to create abstract effects.
Aside from black, CMYK ink sets with higher density are popular but also subjected to the same benefits and limitations as black, according to Almstrom.
While most dye-sub ink trends are progressive, some present challenges. Gusse warns of unlicensed and illegal ink marketed by email for pennies on the dollar. “It can be difficult for a printer not to want to try a low-cost alternative,” he admits.
Unlicensed dye-sub ink manufacturers can supply low-grade, non-nano, less consistent products. Gusse believes the most common ink sets have less pigment, the possibility of particles to damage printheads, and variances from batch to batch. “Any of which can be catastrophic to the color, or even worse, your equipment.”
Special colors like high-density black ink are rich and dense and ideal for applications from apparel and décor to soft signage and trade show graphics. Other trends occurring in dye-sub ink sets include fluorescent colors. Print providers, end users, and ink vendors drive demand for high-density ink, requesting features like dense color on stretchy fabrics and resistance to fading.
Aug2017, Digital Output