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Getting Started With Dye Sublimation

In order to sublimate you need five things. First you need sublimation ink. Then you need the printer for which the sublimation ink was designed. You also need some sublimation paper on which to print your transfers. Then you need some polymer coated blanks or polyester garments to which you can transfer your designs. Finally you need a heat press to facilitate the transfer of the ink to the substrate. It is also helpful if you have some sort of design software although that isn’t necessarily required.

One you have all these items sublimation really can be relatively easy. First you create your design. Then you print the design. Then you press the design. There are skills that need to be mastered and conditions that need to be met to help ensure that your sublimated project will end in success, but following these three steps will allow almost anyone to start from scratch and do well with sublimation.

Let’s start with Create. In order to create the graphics you want to print, you either need a source of photographs or a source of clipart or the ability to design graphics from scratch. You also need a graphic software program of some kind. What program you use is up to you. Regardless of which route you choose, you have to have the ability to maneuver a mouse and use a computer, and an understanding of whatever graphics program you choose to use, but that’s really all it takes.

After you’re created your artwork, your next step is to Print. If you wish to create sublimated items, then obviously you need sublimation ink and a sublimation printer. You need to be willing to maintain the printers and do the proper nozzle checks and cleanings so the printer stays in good working order. You also need to purchase sublimation paper and to keep that in an environment that will provide optimum printing capability. You need to understand how the Sawgrass PowerDriver software works and how to use it properly. Other than that, printing a graphic for sublimation is like printing anything else.

Finally, once you’ve printed your design, you need to Press it onto whatever substrate you’ve selected. The main requirement here would be a heat press. You need to make sure that you have the proper size and type of press for whatever it is you want to press. There needs to be an understanding of how variations in press temperature can impact the finished product. To ensure an optimum result, you need to make sure to follow the instructions given regarding pressure, temperature and time.



Obviously, this article only covers the highlights of the process. Each person will encounter their own learning curve when it comes to sublimation, and the steepness of that curve will largely depend on previous experience and willingness to experiment. All things being equal, however, sublimation has fewer barriers to entry, and less potential issues than other types of garment decoration, with the added benefit of offering the ability to decorate items beyond garments.
Kristine Shreve is Director of Marketing at EnMart, one of T-ShirtForums Preferred Vendors. Visit EnMart online at www.myenmart.com
EnMart also shares information about embroidery through the EmbroideryTalk blog (http://blog.myenmart.com) and about sublimation through the SubliStuff blog (www.sublistuff.com).
 

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This article only addresses one method for performing sublimation. Sublimation can also be achieved via screening, paint brushing and variations thereof, as well as airbrushing. These techniques can be combined, if desired, with each other as well as with the printed method that Ms. Shreve outlined.

The techniques that I have mentioned here do not require a special transfer paper. This allows one the ability to do all over prints without the need for expensive inks, large/wide format printers and rolls of special paper.

With a little exploring you will find that "OMG I CANZ UNLY YOOS WITE AND LITE COLURRED SHIRTS!1" doesn't really matter. You can sublimate a shirt that's black with a big ol' hamburger on it, if you really wanted to. Then send it over to DivineBling for some sesame seed rhinestones. ;)
 

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This article only addresses one method for performing sublimation. Sublimation can also be achieved via screening, paint brushing and variations thereof, as well as airbrushing
I thought the main method of sublimation was dye sublimation? I've never heard of sublimation screen printing.
 

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With a little exploring you will find that "OMG I CANZ UNLY YOOS WITE AND LITE COLURRED SHIRTS!1" doesn't really matter. You can sublimate a shirt that's black with a big ol' hamburger on it, if you really wanted to. Then send it over to DivineBling for some sesame seed rhinestones. ;)

I have just recently started sublimation and have been looking into paper to sublimate on dark and cotton shirts. How can you do it on dark shirts? Are you talking about using the dark paper?
 

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I have just recently started sublimation and have been looking into paper to sublimate on dark and cotton shirts. How can you do it on dark shirts? Are you talking about using the dark paper?
I think @rawbhaze might be confusing true dye sublimation with other forms of printing that "look like" sublimation, but aren't traditionally called sublimation.

For example, water based screen printing or discharge screen printing dyes the fabric of the garment, but it's not what people traditionally call sublimation.

Sublimation usually refers to a heat transfer process that works on white or light polyester garments only (100% polyester, 50/50) and can't be done on dark garments at all. The dye sublimation ink (printed from an inkjet printer) creates a chemical process that bonds with the fabric.

More info here: http://www.t-shirtforums.com/dye-sublimation/t126711.html
 

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"Sublimation usually refers to a heat transfer process that works on white or light polyester garments only (100% polyester, 50/50) and can't be done on dark garments at all. The dye sublimation ink (printed from an inkjet printer) creates a chemical process that bonds with the fabric."

Ya can do it on a black polyester shirt..but you ain't gonna see anything much!:)
 

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I am not confusing dye sublimation with anything else. Everything that I said is accurate but I did not use the best wording when it came to the hamburger on a black shirt.

Whatever the image or txt is that is going on to the shirt needs to be darker than the color of the shirt in order to show. One can sublimate a black image onto a navy colored shirt with no problem. ETA- Lighter but still darker colors will usually mix, however. I.E.: Yellow shirt + red transfer = orange image.

In the case of the hamburger shirt, you would start with a white shirt and go from there. You do not need a giant printer and heat press if it's not financially possible at the time. Having them would save time but you do not sacrifice quality by not using them.

•Start with a white polyester or similar synthetic fiber garment.

For the black:
•From a roll of butcher paper, cut a piece that is long enough to cover the shirt.
•Coat one side of the paper with the black dye. The coat needs to be relatively even. An airbrush or screening work great. Brushes leave fine hair lines that will sometimes show when transferred. This may be desirable if you want a distressed look. Speaking of distressed, you can also ball up the paper and flatten it back out to create lines and creases.

For the hamburger:
•Either print it via computer or screen it. If printing, use your photo/image editing software to either put a black halo around the hamburger or use a black background.

If screening, simply have a screen for black. Screen onto the butcher paper.

Bringing the two together:
•Get your measurements for alignment just as if you were doing vinyl, inkjet, etc.
•Lay the butcher paper out, dye side up.
•Place the hamburger on top of the black butcher paper, face up. Adhere it with high heat tape. (Between the papers, not around the border.)

Now you go through the heat pressing steps that we are all familiar with. If your press is smaller than the transfer then you will need to adhere the transfer to the shirt. Ideally you do not want to use anything directly (spray, tape, etc.) due to the possibilty of their chemical make up interfering with the sublimation. Use pins and the like when possible.

Posting from the iPhone and the battery is about dead. Hopefully this has been more clear.
 

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I have tried on 50/50 and you could not see the image. Am I using the wrong temp or time settings maybe? It would be sooooo much easier to be able to use some 50/50 shirts!!
Sublimation in its purest form takes place at 350*. If thickening agents are used, as is the case with computer printing onto transfer sheets, then temperature usually needs to be increased. Generally speaking, pressing dye sub takes much longer than inkjet, laser, plastisol transfer, etc. Your temperature may be too low or you may not be pressing long enough.

You say that you are not seeing an image on the shirt. Is this immediately after pressing or after washing the garment? As you know, it is physically impossible for sublimation to work on natural fibers. The "best" that it can look after a wash is light and blurred where the dye stained the fibers. However, if you transfer dye sub to a 100% cotton shirt you will still see the image up until the time that you wash it. During this time the dye sub is more or less acting as a pigment rather than a dye. It is sitting on the surfaces and edges of the fibers. Since there is not an adhesive additive as there is with pigments, the dye washes off. If you are not seeing an image after pressing, regardless of the material make up pf the fabric, then you are doing something majorly wrong. My guess would be the temp, the duration or both.

That or you are putting the transfer on upside down and your teflon sheet is looking quite colorful. ;)

So in the case of the 50/50 shirt that you mention, you should have a nice bold image that is rich in color (assuming that type of picture was used to begin with) after pressing but prior to washing. Once washed, the dye attached to the cotton would rinse away and the dye embedded into the polyester would remain. In theory, the image is half as bright as before it was washed. The reality is that while the fabric is 50/50, the threads are not equally woven. There will be patches or sections of the shirt that will contain more of one fiber than the other.

If your image is all over or small then there's a good chance that the eye won't pick up on inconsistencies in boldness of color. With an all over print, the shirt is half the brightness of its prewash state because you have dyed the entire shirt. With a small pint, there's a good chance that you pressed an area that was very close to truly being 50/50. The eye tends to "auto correct" inconsistencies in smaller images as well. You might notice it when scrutinizing under your working conditions but it will go unnoticed to the layman.

Pressing to poly blends where at least one of the other fibers is natural is not a good or bad thing. It has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the designer to find ways to exploit the advantages. One instance that went on to become mainstream popular is burnout, otherwise known as devore. Dye sub works on synthetic. Burnout works on natural. Perfect combo for a vintage distressed look on a poly blend.

With all of that said, I'm not sure why you think pressing on to 50/50 is "easier" than pressing onto 100% polyester. Are you referring to the actual process or just that it is easier to sell poly blends than it is 100% polyester?
 

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This article only addresses one method for performing sublimation. Sublimation can also be achieved via screening, paint brushing and variations thereof, as well as airbrushing. These techniques can be combined, if desired, with each other as well as with the printed method that Ms. Shreve outlined.

The techniques that I have mentioned here do not require a special transfer paper. This allows one the ability to do all over prints without the need for expensive inks, large/wide format printers and rolls of special paper.
Screen printing, paintbrushing, airbrushing etc. are NOT forms of sublimation. The term 'Dye Sublimation' comes from the process of a solid becoming a vapor without passing through the liquid phase, that process being called (ding ding ding) Sublimation. Thats why you have to have specially formulated inks and papers to do it.
 

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Screen printing, paintbrushing, airbrushing etc. are NOT forms of sublimation. The term 'Dye Sublimation' comes from the process of a solid becoming a vapor without passing through the liquid phase, that process being called (ding ding ding) Sublimation. Thats why you have to have specially formulated inks and papers to do it.
No, you are misinformed. The screening, painting, airbrushing, etc. are the tools used to apply the dye to either the paper to be used for transferring or directly to the surface of the fabric in some cases. These tools serve the same purpose as the computer printer.

These tools apply the dye. The same type of dye that is contained within the ink cartridges. The consistency of the dyes need to be altered (thickened) in applications such as painting, stamping and screening so that they may be applied via those channels just as the dye is modified in order to go through the tubing and printer head of the computer printer.

With airbrushing the dye is left alone. Airbush paints contain pigments and usually require thinning. The dye sub is not a pigment, just plain ol' liquid, so there isn't a need for thinning. Thickening the dye means clogging the hose and needle.

I do not know what the sublimation paper that is intended for computer printers are coated with. Whatever it is, it seems to at assist with the drying of the ink. The coating also acts as a carrier that assists with impregnating the synthetic fibers. Results of using dye sub paper compared to those of normal copy paper being ran through the same printer with the same sub inks are like night and day.

But the same can not be said for dyes (not ink) that were put onto ordinary papers such as copier, butcher, card stock, etc. via the aforementioned methods compared to the results of the same applications onto dye sub paper. They look the same.

That's one of the reasons that it is possible to combine the different applications such as the hamburger shirt example.

Sublimation, when referred to as the actual science, doesn't take place until the heat is applied. It doesn't matter how the dye was applied so long as any alterations to its makeup do not interfere with with the science.
 

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It's information, not a sales pitch. Any given person will use and dismiss whatever needed for their situation.

I have posted a handful of methods here and there are many, many others. Each having their own advantages and disadvantages. The answers to your questions would vary for each method.

The theme throughout is that the science and application of sublimation is more than what is currently pushed by the t-shirt industry. My assumption as to why is because the other methods do not require expensive inks and equipment (some of which are dedicated to providing one specific service) that vendors can make a nice margin of profit on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone making money. But because the other methods may not put money into their pockets doesn't mean that it can't put money into ours.

An example that has not been posted in the thread yet is with custom rhinestoning. Damn near everybody and their brother is doing it. What can someone who is currently only custom rhinestoning do to set themselves apart from the crowd? Sublimation. And right about here is when the excited soccer mom looking to make money on the side gets a wrinkled forehead and frown. They read "sublimation" and automatically dismiss it due to its cost.

Fact is, they can easily add sublimation of either an outline or silhouette to their design for as little as $4. And that $4 will add sublimation to their design for at least 100 shirts before having to invest another whopping $4. It will take maybe 15 minutes to do the initial setup and then you are good to go until the next $4 is spent. The sublimation is done at the same time as the rhinestones so there is only one extra step that takes a second or two and can easily be added to the workstation. For a more detailed design like that used in the stamping hobby/craft, the initial setup would take a half hour and be good forever.

For four cents you can easily add a couple of bucks or more to the price tag of your shirt.
 

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Sublimation, when referred to as the actual science, doesn't take place until the heat is applied. It doesn't matter how the dye was applied so long as any alterations to its makeup do not interfere with with the science
I think that may be where the confusion is coming in. Generally, on this forum and in this industry, when people refer to sublimation, they just mean the dye sublimation that uses special inks applied with a heat press. It never has anything to do with a screen printing process or airbrush process.

I get what you're saying though...it's just not what the common usage here and this article was covering the dye sublimation basics for those new to the process.
 
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