Question: This is probably a pretty basic question, but I was wondering what a dye sublimation printer is characteristically used for? Answer: Actually, this is a good question, and while I've written a lot on this topic, I enjoy continuing to do so because it keeps me sharp and learning more about dye sub printing and new developments in this arena of printing, which has some similarities to inkjet printing, and some significant differences. An inkjet printer in our business is typically at least 30 inches wide, but go up over sixteen feet in width, and these can be used as dye sublimation printers as well, although not generally interchangeably without flushing feed lines and some other technical "fixes" that need to be done before being able to convert from one type of ink to a dye ink set.
For one thing, CMYK sublimation Ink or four color process printing done with ink on an inkjet printer actually uses the 4CP ink set CMYK (short version of cyan-magenta-yellow-black), in contrast to the dye set used when printing in preparation for dye sub printing. The dye set is termed CMYO, which is short for cyan-magenta-yellow-overprint clear, where the dye is printed to a treated transfer paper, and in the heat transfer process becomes the black color. So, first, let me tell you what dye sublimation printers are NOT used for. They are not used for natural fiber fabrics such as cotton, linen, or bamboo. They are also not used for direct to fabric printing or what is erroneously called direct sublimation printing, which is really inkjet to fabric printing, or DTF (direct-to-fabric) printing (another term is DTS, or direct-to-substrate).
Dye sublimation is typically not used for materials like PVC (vinyl) decal stock or banner materials, as inkjet printing works fine as a surface print for these materials. Dye sublimation is generally not used for rigid plastics like styrene or polyethylene as flatbed digital UV printing is mostly used for this type of printing. Other rigids such as MDO plywood or heavier plastics are also printed on the flatbed UV inkjet digital printers. What dye sublimation is used for. With a special polymeric coating, there are many items that can be printed with the dye sub print process such as cups, metal or even wood plaques and awards, or anything else that can be inserted into a flatbed heated press.
And, of course, fabric. Polymer-based fabrics such as nylon or polyester can be printed using dye sublimation heat transfer from the treated transfer paper by printing a mirror image on the paper, matching it to the fabric, and sending it through heated pressure rollers. This process, like the flat press described above, converts the dye into a gaseous state and impregnates the heat-opened polymer cells with color, which, after the heat and pressure are gone, close in around the dye, leaving the color permanently as part of the fabric. This not only creates durable color, it also creates almost photographic quality continuous tones that are brighter and more colorful than an inkjet printer can normally achieve.
The printed fabrics can be used on X-banner stands, L-banner stands, Retractable or Adjustable banner stands, feather banners, blade banners, pop-up banner displays, teardrop banners, trade show displays, retail displays, hanging banner systems, garments, and anything else you can think of that is made from fabric in the commercial or non-commercial realm.