Dye sublimation printing fills a market gap for short-run printing of mugs, shirts, gift items and promotional goods. A release liner printed with sublimation dyes is sandwiched between a heat press and the item to be printed. The heat causes the dyes to turn into a gas, and pressure helps to transfer the image onto the item.
Before the development of modified computer printers using sublimation dyes and toners in the mid-1980s, sublimation transfers were done on commercial printing presses. Because of the expense, it was not cost-effective to print small quantities. Desk-top sublimation printers now allow companies and individuals to print as little as one transfer, at low cost, opening up a new market segment for personalized items.
Getting into the sublimation business is easier and cheaper than ever. A computer with a graphic design program, photo scanner, sublimation printer and a heat press are all the newcomer needs. Supplies include sublimation paper, extra sublimation ink or toner, and a few product samples to show prospective clients. An increase in supply companies allows larger orders to be delivered in days, eliminating the need to stock large amounts of product.
The sublimation process is limited to printing on certain synthetic surfaces, called substrates. Fabrics must have a high polyester content, and hard goods require a special polymer surface. Because of the translucent nature of sublimation dyes, goods should be white in color. (Certain pastel T-shirts will work, although the imprint color may be altered.)
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