Screen Printing - April/May 2017 - 27
The dramatic color capabilities of dye sublimation are increasingly
being leveraged in commercial and residential interiors, including
on rigid surfaces. Left, courtesy of Sawgrass; above, courtesy
Rising interest in rigid substrates for dye sublimation can
also be attributed to advancements in transfer ("ink release")
papers. In the early days of dye sublimation, separate papers
were required for textiles and rigid substrates. Manufacturers of
papers designed for textile sublimation were more concerned
about releasing ink deep into the fabric than with high quality
New hybrid dye sublimation transfer papers can transfer designs onto either textiles or rigid substrates. Hybrid papers make
sense for sporting-goods businesses that use a single dye sublimation printer to decorate a mix of sportswear and equipment.
But for higher-volume, color-critical printing of soft signage and
metal prints, you might want to load one wide-format printer with
transfer papers optimized for textiles and another with papers for
high quality imaging on rigid substrates. At Photokina 2016, Sihl
introduced one such product, SubliColor Impact Paper 110 Matte,
specifically for dye sublimation of high-resolution photos, images,
and graphics on coated metal, wood, or ceramic items.
Image permanence has been another focus of intense
research. ChromaLuxe, for example, has been working with
ink developers at Sawgrass to reduce the effects of UV light on
the colorfastness of dye sublimated photo prints. The eight-cartridge set of Sawgrass SubliJet IQ Pro Photo XF inks features
three shades of black inks that not only promote longevity, but
also enhance skin tones and the neutral blacks and detail that
fine art and photographic prints demand. The inks are used in
the Sawgrass 25-inch Virtuoso HD Product Decorating System.
Image permanence tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research
have given dye sublimation photo prints on ChromaLuxe
panels an image permanence rating of 64 years with Sawgrass SubliJet IQ Pro Photo XF inks and 65 years with Epson
UltraChrome DS inks. This means the unframed metal panels
are more stable and longer-lasting than prints on photo papers
used in traditional silver-halide photo processing.
Extending the outdoor life of dye sublimation prints on rigid
panels is another avenue of research. Currently, some dye sub
prints can last 12 or 18 months outdoors without fading. Advances in inks, coatings, and substrates might make it possible
to create signs that could last three to five years outdoors.
"Our current products are perfect for indoor use, but are
not rated to outdoor use," says Holtzman. "People do use them
outdoors, though, and have varying levels of success based on
placement. We will have a product coming out soon that will
be intended for outdoor use."
Wilhelm notes that not all materials for making metal prints
have the same properties: "Very complex interactions take place
between sublimation inks and the ink-receptive polymer coatings
of dye sublimation prints, both during the short, high-heat image
transfer step involved as well as very gradually over time, during
the long-term display and storage of the prints. What a print looks
like when it emerges from the heat press tells you nothing about
how long it will last." Such advancements will further refine a
technology that has proven itself in the market. "Dye sublimation technology can be considered mature in that it is stable and
repeatable," says Hope. He believes continuing innovation in dye
sublimation will reduce production times, bring costs down, and
increase the number of substrates for dye sublimation.
Barry Brown of Visigraph (visigraph.com) believes dye sublimation printing will continue to emerge as one of the favorite
forms of printing products, both rigid and fabric: "New breakthroughs are pointing to the potential for dye sublimation to
be used on printed signs and displays where long-term usage
is required," he writes in a recent blog. "Literally the sky is the
limit with dye sublimation printing on rigid substrates."