Dye sublimation wide-format inkjet printing on textiles is a growing and successful business.
Dye sublimation with wide-format printers onto textiles can be a profitable business. But it helps to first learn the jargon, gain knowledge of the textile printing workflow, and understand the different kinds of textile inks. So FLAAR Reports are being prepared to assist printshop owners, managers, as well as students and professors who wish to prepare themselves for this market segment.
Soft signage (meaning printing on textiles) continues to increase.
Every year textile printing slowly increases market share, largely because more diverse options in textile printers and inks became available. And the printers and textile inks today in 2008-2009 are a bit better. Also people got tired of printed on smelly vinyl. It also helped immensely that soft signage is easier to handle, less cost to pack and ship, and is more environmentally friendly.
Textile inks for wide-format inkjet printing of fabrics.
Acid dye textile ink
Learning about each ink is a lifetime in itself, and for every rule there are exceptions. But here in a quick and easy format are the basis.
Reactive dye ink is for cotton, other cellulose fibers. Linen. Post processing includes steam or hot air, and then washing.
Pigmented textile ink.
Pigmented textile ink is used especially on cotton. So far, pigmented inks are not as bright colors as are reactive dye inks. But in 1999, Epson did not even have a pigmented ink and many years later HP dye ink was much brighter and more colorful than any pigmented ink. But by 2006 most pigmented inks had reached par and today not many people would waste their time with dye inks for water-based printing for photography, giclee or indoor signage. So if enough time and money is invested, eventually pigmented textile ink will have better color saturation.
(regular standard) UV-cured ink for textiles.
Durst Rho 351R and Rho 320R are two examples of grand format industrial printers that do well handling rolls of fabrics over 3 meters wide. These use free radical UV-curable ink (with mercury arc curing lamps). I have tested both of these printers on fabrics from Dynajet – Dollfus & Muller in the Durst factory testing facilities in Brixen, South Tirol, Italy.
(hybrid) UV-cured textile ink.
The first hybrid curable UV ink that I learned about was from Aellora (Markem). They had lively exhibits and featured white ink on black materials at impressive quality for those years (2004-2006 especially). Unfortunately Markem disbanded that entire division.
Disperse dye is used on direct printing of textiles (sublimated inside the printer immediately after printing).
Dye sub ink is printed onto transfer paper and sublimated in a heat transfer press (a calendering machine). FLAAR is preparing separate reports on calendering heat press machines.
Oil-based dye sublimation inks.
Hilord, which makes all three kinds of dye sub ink (oil, water, and solvent) says that oil based dye sublimation ink has the lower print density.
Seiko Color Textiler 64DS uses oil-based dye sublimation inks
Water-based dye sub.
Water-based dye sublimation inks are for Epson piezo printhead machines such as Mimaki, Roland, Mutoh and Epson itself. So also d-gen. You may get the best colors and definitions with water-based dye sublimation ink (better than direct printing with disperse dye ink). But there are many factors to consider, since anything that is better at some aspects has one or two downsides too.
Hilord Chemical Corporation makes water-based dye sub ink.
If your printer is a switchable version of a Scitex XL or VUTEk solvent printer, then you can’t use water-based dye sub ink easily. For these two large printers you need a solvent-based dye sub ink.
Solvent-based dye sub.
Hilord Chemical Corporation makes all three kinds of dye sublimation inks: water-based dye sub, solvent-based dye sub, and oil-based dye sub. Their first introduction was on a Keundo SupraQ 3300 DS printer (Hilord via Next Wave media solutions).
Transfer Paper vs Direct
Mutoh intelligently offers both its Viper and Viper TX. The Viper is to print onto transfer paper. The Viper TX is to print onto fabrics directly. Most major printer manufacturers now offer textile printers. But the primary advantage of after-market specialized textile printers (Yuhan-Kimberly and DigiFab are two examples) is that these companies concentrate exclusively on textiles and textile inks and special RIP software for printing on textiles. So their solutions are better prepared then merely a stock printer with a textile label simply stuck onto it. And more importantly, the textile companies have better trained people on their staff who know textiles inside out. I have been to the headquarters of DigiFab and twice to DTP Link (Yuhan Kimberly). They know fabrics better than you get at a printer company whose real main business is signage, labels, or vehicle wrap.
AW Specialty Papers offers AW Subli-Trans SJ, oil-based; does not list solvent but “s” is in product name
Beaver is another brand name for dye-sublimation transfer paper: TextPrint is their jargon.
Coldenhove Jetcol OS, for solvent-based and oil-based ink.
APPLICATIONS for dye sublimation.
Although most dye sublimation is to textiles, you can also do gorgeous dye sub onto aluminum. Just realize that all dye sublimation has to be to a polyester coated material, but you can easily find coated aluminum.
If you are clever you can also sublimate onto snowboards, skis, skateboards and other spots materials. But still, most of the dye sub is onto polyester or polyammid materials (used in sportswear).
FLAAR Reports are full-color PDFs varying from 8 to 30 or 40 pages that offer longer more comprehensive discussions of textile printers. On a single web page there is space only for some highlights.
Full-color reports are available when we have access to the printer by inspecting the printer inside out in the factory, testing the printer in a demo room, and when possible, eventually evaluating the printer at work in a printshop. Of course the first step is to visit every booth at all the major trade shows in Italy, Germany, and the USA. FLAAR attends every ISA, SGIA, FESPA, VISCOM, and also wide-format printer trade shows in Mexico, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.
Mimaki TX2 1600
Mutoh Viper (transfer paper)
Roland Hi-Fi Express FP-740
TexPress (Japan), DSS-1800 II (direct to fabric with heat unit on board)
VUTEk 3360 Fusion (change-over system, solvent-based)
Xerox X2, oil-based dye sub inks; dye-sublimation is not the full original intent of this aging printer, but it works okay if this is the only machine you have available. I visited one company in Slovenia that still uses this relic in 2009 (he has several of them for spare parts too).
There are another dozen brands of printers, especially in Italy. But many of the other brands of textile printers pop up at one trade show then you never see them again. FLAAR can only write about a printer if we see it several times a year at different trade shows. If the printer never appears in public, then we need to be brought to the company factory, demo room, etc. So we prefer to work with the brands and models that are accessible.
Posted Feb. 11, 2009.