The dye-sublimation printing process is used to print on polyester or other synthetic fabrics. It is used for applications such as T-shirts, banners, table covers, id cards, sportswear and flags. The original printers were an electrostatic technology using toners but now are generally large format inkjet printers using specially formulated inks.
The dye sublimation inks are a disperse dye suspended in a liquid solvent, like water. The images are initially printed on coated transfer paper as a reverse image of the final design, which is then transferred onto polyester fabric in a heat press operating at a temperature around 180 to 210 C (375 F). Under high temperature and pressure, the dye turns into a gas and permeates the fabric and then solidifies into its fibers. The fabric is permanently dyed so it can be washed without damaging the quality of the image.
As dye-sublimation thermal printers utilize heat to transfer the dye onto the print media, the printing speed is limited by the speed at which the elements on the thermal head can change temperature. Heating the elements is easy, as a strong electric current can raise the temperature of an element very quickly. However, cooling the elements down, when changing from a darker to a lighter color, is harder and usually involves having a fan/heatsink assembly attached to the print head.
The use of multiple heads can also speed up this process, since one head can cool down while another is printing. Although print times vary among different dye-sublimation printers.
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