11
Mon, Nov

Dye-sub: where are technical issues and opportunities?

We’ve all heard the arguments as to why large-format PSPs should get into textile printing. But is dye-sub the best way to go - and where do you feel there is room for technical improvement? Here’s what five print companies have to say on the topic.

First up, from a technical perspective, do you think dye-sub is the best option for a large-format PSP wanting to print textiles?

Cosmin Vlad, print production manager, Insite Graphics:

What can be better than a specially designed for fabric dye-sublimation printer? There are obviously many alternatives, such as UV or latex, that can print fabric at a similar print quality, but dye-sub has its own advantages. It will always be able print on the softest and most premium materials on the market, which other types of printers will never be able to do because of the tension in the substrate mainly but due to the surface treatment as well. The speed of the dye-sub printers, especially on the inline curing ones, will always be a plus. The dye-sub prints are crease-free without big efforts thanks to the fabric’s softness mentioned above. This is something that helps every step of the process. The print is scratch and rub resistant and also washable, as the ink is cured deep inside the thread. 

James Birch, director, ColourGraphics:

I think dye-sub is definitely the best option if you are serious about tapping into this area of the industry. The process of dye-sub gives the finished product longevity and make the product easier to work with. 

Stuart Maclaren, group managing director, YPP:

I still think dye-sub offers the best flexibility - certainly more so than printing textiles with latex. Also you have lots of amazing fabrics and can get some really nicely printed products using dye-sub. It’s by far the best route in my opinion.

Brett Collins, print manager, Rocket Graphics:

You can print with UV, latex and solvent for polyester, but these can produce less effective results than dye-sublimation with colours not being as vibrant. Dye-sub yields beautiful and permanent colours that are embedded in the substrate or fabric, rather than printed on the surface. Images on fabric won’t fade or crack. Rub resistance, life-span and weather resistance are all better when using dye-sub.

Iain Clasper-Cotte, managing director, FaberExposize:

The challenge with UV and latex can be in the distribution as they can be damaged in transit - so distribution costs can be higher for the customer. UV can however allow you to deliver greater density of ink which for certain artwork is essential. Dye-sub is far more durable so is great for distribution and storage - the challenge is that while colour vibrancy is fairly straightforward for frontlit it can be a really challenge to deliver the depth of colour for backlit. The fabrics are usually more expensive and then there is also the additional cost of paper. We have tested over 30 different fabrics ‘til we narrowed it down to a range and custom profiles for our printers that delivered the results. 

What do you think has been the most significant technical development in terms of dye-sub over the last couple of years?

Cosmin Vlad, print production manager, Insite Graphics:

It has to be machines that can print and cure. Keeping the curing process at top quality and gaining speed has always been a challenge but we can see a few very good machines on the market at the moment that are doing the job really well, and very fast.

James Birch, director, ColourGraphics:

 Speed vs quality. There’s always been a trade off with quality the faster you go.

Stuart Maclaren, group managing director, YPP:

The machines are always developing, but it’s the fabric manufacturers that I think really deserve praise. There has been a real growth in breadth of choice and in what textile print can now be used for. We’re printing dye-sub for hotels etc. because the materials we can use now meet the look/feel demands of that type of end market.

Brett Collins, print manager, Rocket Graphics:

In the last five years dye-sublimation printing has changed for a couple of reasons - there are a lot more materials on the market now for dye-sub, and machines have become much faster and more consistent and controllable.

Iain Clasper-Cotte, managing director, FaberExposize:

The print quality with the new machines gets better and better as do the speeds. Colour consistency and vibrancy have also improved due to the advancement in ink technology. 

What do you think of dye-sub printers with inline drying? Are they proving a technical triumph?

Cosmin Vlad, print production manager, Insite Graphics:

As mentioned above, I think it is truly a technical triumph for our industry and the main manufacturers are pushing their limits and proving it can be done better and better every year.

James Birch, director, ColourGraphics:

We had one at the start of our dye-sub journey. It got us into the market but we wouldn’t buy another one. Having offline curing gives us more versatility and I still don’t know if there are any machines out there that can properly cure inline with the current print speeds that bigger machines are running. There are inherent issues with inline curing that we found caused us big problems like ghosting and offsetting issues - problems that we don’t get with a traditional calendar.

Stuart Maclaren, group managing director, YPP:

I’m against this idea for a few reasons, though I understand that it gives newcomers to textile print - perhaps those transitioning from PVC print - a complete solution. But we started out fabric printing and I think having separate printers and ovens is the best way. In a combined unit, if the oven or printer stops working production comes to a halt. 

Also, you don’t always need the same amount of driers as printers. We have 13 printers and just two ovens. We run them all in a way that maximises efficiency - in terms of production workflow, energy usage and manpower. Because the printers don’t have an on-board heater we can leave those running unattended. I’d not risk that with a combined unit.

Brett Collins, print manager, Rocket Graphics:

I myself don’t like inline drying machines. I believe that inline drying gives you less control with the printing and also slows down the process. Using an independent dryer is faster with most of the them able to dry up to three times the speed of printing and it gives you control to adjust speed and temp after the printing is done. 

Iain Clasper-Cotte, managing director, FaberExposize:

No! We started our UK print operation with two inline fixation machines. You do not have the accuracy of heat during sublimation nor the flexibility of speed. We had two of the same machines but the colour consistency between machines was very poor. We disposed of both of these machines after only 18 months use. They offer an entry level route to the market, but 

What do you consider to be the most annoying technical issue with dye-sub right now - and how would you like to see that managed/resolved?

Cosmin Vlad, print production manager, Insite Graphics:

I think there is nothing worth mentioning as a general dye-sub technical issue - it’s more like things that various printers do better than others. Of course, the most frequent one is something I have mentioned above, regarding getting sharp prints and clean or proper curing while printing at very high speeds.

James Birch, director, ColourGraphics:

I think the most annoying issue it the two-part process - printing and sublimation. The only way to solve this is by having inline drying which takes us back to the previous question.

Stuart Maclaren, group managing director, YPP:

My biggest technical problem has just been fixed! We’ve always wanted a good variable data software, so that if say a garage client wants a banner for each of its different forecourts with their site name on it, we can do that without having to create individual pieces of artwork.  Now there’s a solution that will do that - not before time because it’s been possible in paper-based print for years. It will be a real boon to us.

Brett Collins, print manager, Rocket Graphics:

The main problems with dye-sublimation printing is sizing. Every material stretches differently. We print on eight different material and every one has completely different X and Y sizing. 

Iain Clasper-Cotte, managing director, FaberExposize:

The biggest issue we have to deal with are the different tolerances for different materials. As materials are calendered in the sublimation process, stretching and shrinkage can occur with the heat and tension applied. Materials can then change dimensions when they ‘settle’ after this process. The only way around this is to extensively test each material through the process. This could be better managed by media manufacturers providing more information on the properties of the material to the printers.