A Look at Two Different Print Technologies: Dye Sublimation and UV
Since the introduction of the first personal computer, we have been ushered into the “digital age.” Technology has transformed virtually every aspect of our daily lives, and this phenomenon has been no different in the digital printing arena. Digital printing technology is pushing the envelope when it comes to what we can print on and how to do so more efficiently. “Can I print on that?” is the new mantra, as customization increasingly replaces mass production as the new norm.
Let’s take, for instance, a plain cellphone cover. There’s nothing spectacular about this generic piece of plastic. However, once it’s decorated, the perceived value of the product exponentially increases. The performance of the case hasn’t increased, yet people are willing to pay more, simply because it has been personalized.
There are a variety of methods used to decorate plastic products, with one of the most popular processes being dye sublimation. While most people associate dye sublimation paper with textiles and apparel, this is not solely the case, as this process also can be used to decorate a broad array of plastic or rigid substrates.
What is dye sublimation? Sublimation is defined as “a phase transition of a substance from a solid state to a gas while bypassing the intermediate liquid phase.” In the case of dye sublimation printing onto rigid substrates, the disperse dye inks are printed onto a coated medium, which is most often a “transfer paper,” but also can be a “transfer film.” Once printed, these water-insoluble dyes then dry and turn solid as the water solution evaporates. Heat (typically 400°F), pressure and time turn these solid dyes into gas which, upon release from the transfer paper or film, then penetrates the plastic or polyester coating. In addition to dyeing the plastic or rigid substrate, the sticky sublimation paper transforms the dull colors that were originally printed on the transfer paper into incredibly vibrant hues.