By Melissa Donovan
Polyester and polyester blends are digitally decorated. but aren’t necessarily printed to directly. Known as transfer dye-sublimation (dye-sub), an image is output to transfer paper and that graphic is transferred to the polyester to achieve a final print.
Above: The Beaver Paper TexPrint Moda family of sublimation transfer papers are designed for high-speed, high-volume printing.
Sublimation transfer paper is a necessary consumable for any print provider thinking about adding dye-sub transfer printing to their business. Beyond the cost of the ink and fabric, the expense of transfer paper must be considered. The average price point is weighed against the volume of paper a print service provider (PSP) expects to use on a typical job.
“Volume varies from job to job and dependent on the application. Customers printing textile and apparel tend to use more transfer paper than those printing décor or rigid substrate applications,” explains Kara Work, global product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation.
To estimate the amount of transfer paper needed, Chad Koppelman, digital division manager, Gans Print & Media Solutions, recommends the print job be larger on paper than the final material so paper usage is overestimated by job. “Roll-to-roll printing is the most predictable for paper usage as the transfer is one to one, while single sheet wastes more paper than necessary.”
John Ingraham, senior marketing specialist dye-sub, Canon Solutions America, says “most print jobs use 75 to 90 percent of the printable area with about ten percent waste with printer calibration and rework of jobs.”
“With large format, roll-fed, dye-sub printers, the cost of media can be as low as a few pennies per square feet,” explains Bill Rossi, owner, AW Specialty Papers. The PSP in this example “may be satisfied with a lower quality transfer due to the competitive dye-sub market and desire to cut costs.”
In the pricing equation, Bradley Rappoport, VP, specialty papers division, S. Walter Packaging, says basis weight, coating type, and roll put up are essential components. When this is totaled, pricing ranges from 2.5 to 7.2 cents per square foot of material.
“Paper selection depends on the type of printer—how fast the inks need to dry, how much ink the paper needs to hold, and how fast you need the paper to gas,” notes Paul DeWynGaert, business manager dye-sub, Sihl Inc. Depending on the type of paper and quantity, a PSP should expect to pay between $0.07 to $0.11 cents per square foot from most distributors, he says.
Reasons to Choose
There are different types of transfer papers. Some are heavier than others, while tackiness varies from low to high. Coatings are also a consideration. The application, for example a garment versus soft signage, dictates when one is best used over the other.
For a PSP looking to transfer to a slick fabric, this calls for “a sturdier paper with a tacky coating to prevent moving and ghosting during the process,” notes Rossi.
“Elastic type textiles, or apparel fabrics, are recommended for use with a transfer paper with a tacky surface to prevent slippage between the paper and textile during the transfer process,” explains Work.
Light weight, mid-range, and heavy weight transfer papers are common. “Light weight papers as low as 40 gsm are for long, seamless runs of textile. These products help reduce ink costs and are still efficient in providing the largest color gamut. Mid-range grades from 50 to 70 gsm encompass the light weight paper cost benefits, but with a sheet that can take a heavier ink load, for deeper color penetration,” explains Michael Davis, technical sales, specialty papers division, S. Walter Packaging.
When it comes to gram weight, Koppelman suggests it match both the printer’s capabilities and material requirements. Carpets and mats for example require a heavy paper in the 140 gsm range. “These rough surfaces with long fibers benefit from the increased volume of ink being transferred and the paper not tearing or ripping against rough surfaces.,” he continues.
There are tradeoffs. “Some papers that absorb a lot of ink are somewhat lower cost and demand less attention in production, but the transfer yield is lower and produces less vibrant detail. Other papers with special coatings will keep the ink at the surface and consume much less ink while giving sharp details, but tend to need more scrutiny in production,” adds Rossi.
“Customers ask for lighter papers near the 50 gsm range to save money, but these can come with problems. Too much pressure can imprint the paper and leave marks. But for printing thin garments and lace, then 50 gsm holds enough ink to transfer with good quality color,” concurs Koppelman.
Recent advancements in high-speed, high-volume printing influence sublimation transfer papers. “As printers, inks, and printheads advance, these machines are capable of lighter weight dye-sub papers,” explains Bill Shuford, sales manager, Americas, Beaver Paper.
Guy Spinelli, president, Spectra Jet, agrees that the introduction of faster printers affects the production of transfer paper. This, paired with the manufacturing of fabrics optimized for digital print, presents new application options like home furnishings including furniture, drapes, and bed sheets.
“In addition to paper tack and basis weight, the quality and uniformity of the paper coating on the transfer paper impacts the transfer efficiency of the inks to the media,” says Ingraham.
DeWynGaert agrees that the coating found on a transfer paper is a main focus. “The combination of the coating and dye-sub ink used controls how much ink is needed to achieve a given color. Some high-speed printers may reach speeds of 2,050 square feet per hour but that does not mean the paper or ink can print that fast or dry that fast to be handled by rewind units. This is why coating is so important, it needs to handle most of the work. The paper is the disposable carrier to move the coating, which manages the ink performance.”
All for One
Multi-purpose and application-specific products exist. Application-specific paper is ideal if only one sublimatable item is sold, multi-purpose is preferred for shops with many offerings.
Shuford gives an example of a shop that produces hard and soft substrate promotional items. “A quality multi-purpose clay-based paper can be used for both. This is useful when the shop only has one dye-sub printer. Another advantage of a 100 to 105 gsm clay-based paper is the robustness and ease of use. It handles high saturations of ink, rarely cockles, and is forgiving in almost any environmental condition.”
A universal standard, in Koppelman’s opinion, is a 70 gsm paper, as it can transfer to most products successfully and run in nearly all printers with no challenges. “Most companies run with a standard paper and only use specific papers for certain projects.”
It’s also important to note that just because one sublimation paper has always worked well, doesn’t mean considering another product is off the table. “Sublimation paper is constantly evolving and even if the paper you have been using is working for you, it is still a good idea to evaluate new offerings for the potential improvements in color, ink usage, and production efficiencies,” shares Rossi.
“Lastly, it is important to note that dye-sub is a system where the right combination of transfer paper, ink, media, printers, and heat presses yields the best printed output performance,” adds Ingraham.
PSPs should be prepared to do their homework when it comes to choosing the appropriate dye-sub transfer paper. Considerations like weight, tack, and coating all play a role in the best material for a transfer printed product. Multi-purpose and application-specific sublimation papers are available to ensure the end result is exactly what the PSP and its customer desire.
Nov2020, Digital Output