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Sublimation 101: What Does It Mean?

Sublimation is the transition of a substance from a solid directly to a gaseous form without going through a liquid phase. 

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Sublimation is the transition of a substance from a solid, directly to a gaseous form without going through a liquid phase. For a sublimation heat transfer, this chemical transition occurs with specific temperatures, time, and pressure when applied to the garment.

The chemical foundation of the dye-sublimation ink in the transfer is designed to work with heat and pressure over a set time under a heat press. At that time, the ink will go straight from a solid to a gas without entering a liquid phase.

Dye-sublimation ink combines extremely well with polyester garments and to any product that has a polyester-applied surface coating. Sublimation heat transfers applied to white or light colored polyester fabrics exhibit a soft feel, excellent color fastness, and wash resistance.

When producing sublimation ink colors, the ink department will need to have an understanding of the sublimation ink capabilities, as the ink in its wet form will bear no resemblance to the garment’s finished color.

The temperature of the heat press setting is also crucial in determining the color strength and vibrancy of the chosen sublimation transfer graphic.

To achieve color specification, the heat press temperature must be set at 380-400 degrees F to create a vibrant color finish. The time for pressing the transfer onto the garment should be 20-25 seconds with a pressure around 40-50 PSI. Once the transfer is applied to the garment, the sublimation transfer paper can be removed immediately.

There are three basic types of sublimation transfers available: digital, offset lithographic, and screen printed. Digital transfers are the most commercial sublimation transfer medium. 

Sublimation transfer printing has been used for the imaging of apparel for a long time, and now with renewed interest for polyester fabric and its association with many new apparel styles, the opportunity for sublimation transfers to produce a wearable image that becomes an integral part of the garment is a value  more sought after now than ever.  

Chris Pluck

Chris Pluck has been involved with the imprinting of textiles for more than 30 years. He is a passionate and positive advocate for all aspects of apparel printing.  He is widely recognized for establishing inventive heat fusible printing products for the imaging of textile and won the 2015 SGIA Golden Image Award for Best Heat Transfer. Pluck is also Business Development Director at Insta Graphic Systems, Cerritos, California. For more information, visit www.instagraph.com and read their blog at instagraphicsystems.wordpress.com.

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