A beginners guide to dye sublimation finishing equipment

Written by Dean Sanger on 04 October 2016.

Dean Sabur Digital resizedThere are many different dye sublimation printers on the market from a broad range of manufacturers, and you can find more reviews and articles about them online than you can shake a stick at, but in the dye sublimation world, the finishing of the dye sublimation prints is just as important as the printing, and this means you will need to have a basic understanding of the type of finishing kit you will need to purchase along with that brand new dye sub printer that you have had your eye on for a while.

A lot of dye sublimation printer manufacturers don’t make finishing kit, but it’s this essential item that will bring your finished prints fully to life. 

In order to fixate the dyes to the fabric - heat, dwell time and pressure are the key factors, and for this to take place you will need to invest in a high-quality heat press or calendar unit. So if you are seriously considering investing in a dye sublimation printer as an addition to your business service offering, here is a straightforward no nonsense guide to what else you need to consider purchasing before making that initial investment in a dye sublimation printer. 

First and foremost, a heat press or calendar unit is used to facilitate the sublimation dye into the fabric. Both of these pieces of equipment house heating components and a part used to apply pressure to the transfer paper and the fabric simultaneously. During this process the dyes turn into gas, and as the gas moves and comes into contact with fibres, it penetrates and permanently dyes them. The dyes will not be fixated unless they are heated and pressed at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, so this is a really important part of sublimation printing and ensuring you get a good result. 

Although the purpose of a heat press and calendar is the same, to fixate the dye, the main difference is scale. Calendar units are used on an industrial scale and are designed for roll to roll sublimating, where as heat presses are designed for individual panels/garments. 

Heat presses come in many different sizes and designs and carry varying price tags. Knowing what to look for in terms of a heat press is vital. One of the most important part of choosing a press is to be sure to make the investment for the long term. If you base your decision solely on price, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Whether you're looking for a small tabletop press or a larger press, cheaper models simply don’t offer the same quality or continuous level of heat and pressure that is required. Some of the cheaper presses have lower quality heat blocks made from thinner materials. Although these materials heat up extremely quickly, they also lose heat at a quick rate and therefore fail to maintain an even temperature. 

Sefa Sublimax 2513 Grand Sublimation Heat Press screen resizedAs mentioned earlier, maintaining consistent heat and pressure is vital in producing quality prints. In order to create consistent image transfers from one print to the next, the process needs to be smooth and even. Heat presses need to be heated to around 200 degrees celsius in order for the sublimation dyes to transfer.

Maintaining consistent pressure during the heat transfer process is extremely important. A quality heat press has a heavy platen that generates enough weighted-pressure for a clean heat transfer without any cold spots. Cheaper models lack the necessary platen weight and struggle to maintain transfer consistency. Presses that have heavier platens may initially take longer to heat up, but they maintain a regular heat and ensure that each press has the same consistency when it comes to colour and quality of image.

Some heat presses may look the part and look really high-tech, but the worry is that underneath that may not be the case. It is important to do your research and ask dealers and manufacturers the right questions to ensure you have all the information. Another tip is to look at the wattage of the heat press, the higher the wattage the better. Klieverik GTC SP FLOWLINE transfer printing calendar resized

When purchasing a heat press or calendar there are many factors you need to consider. For heat presses, you need to consider size, the type of heating element and warranties. Be sure to know what size you need to meet your requirements - and ensure it matches your printer. Look for a press with high quality heating elements that will deliver even heat consistently. Generally you should expect at least a one year warranty for your heat press, as well as training and installation guidance. 

For calendars the factors differ slightly, you should consider width, capacity, length of the printing belt and how the drum is heated. The width should match the output of device you use. With regards to capacity, the diameter of the drum that is heated determines the speed of the calendar. The bigger the diameter, the faster you will be able to produce graphics. Most calendar units are heated with a drum filled with oil. The benefit to oil heated drums is that they produce very even heat and the temperature remains stable. Electric heated drums can cause hot spots in the fabric, so that is something else to bear in mind. 

This might sound a tad complicated, but this is where having a supplier partner that you can rely upon comes fully into its own. 

At Sabur we have seen major changes in the sublimation print industry and a shift from the traditional “Screen Print” to “Digital” was evident at the turn of the century. Sabur were there through this transitional period and are recognised by many as among the leaders in digital sublimation supplies. We are proud partners of market leading companies including Roland DG, Mimaki, Kornit, DGI, Kiian Digital (Manoukian), Klieverik, Sefa, Ergosoft and Wasatch, and our trusted partner portfolio enables us to tailor make the ideal solution to best suit your business requirements.

Whether you are thinking of investing in a dye sublimation printer, or choosing a heat press or a calendar for finishing, Sabur has it covered.

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RA Smart
Clough Bank
Cheshire East
SK10 5NZ

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Dedicated to bringing to life the creations, dreams and aspirations of designers around the world, RA Smart has re-defined the ‘art’ of fabric printing and are acknowledged experts in the fields of specialist digital and screen print for the textile industry.

Education at RA Smart

RA Smart is committed to supporting the next generation of designers and actively involved with all UK and Irish design colleges, including The Royal College of Art, London College of Fashion and Central St Martins as well as a little further afield with the likes of The Philadelphia College of Science and Technology, Academy of Arts San Francisco and the Danish Design School in Copenhagen.

Our strong links with education have seen equipment supplied by RA Smart being used by graduates finishing their diplomas and leaving university to embark on a career in design and, in many cases, starting their own business.

Whether it’s a simple hand textile print table that’s required or a complete digital print facility, RA Smart is able to equip design studios of any size, and our expert knowledge of the printed textile and graphics industry means we can work closely with technicians and lecturers to ensure the print equipment supplied meets the requirements of specific courses and any special applications.

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About RA Smart

Based in the silk town of Macclesfield we operate one of the country's largest digital print facilities with the capability to print on cottons/wools/silks and polyesters.

Much of our work can be seen on catwalks around the world and found in leading department stores, working as we do for some of the biggest names in fashion and soft furnishing design. We provide a complete fabric design and print solution for businesses of all sizes, as well as working with all UK design colleges, where we actively support and encourage the next generation of designers.

RA Smart (CAD & Machinery) has been at the forefront of digital textile technology since the early pioneering days of the late 1990’s and can rightly claim to be experts in the supply and support of dedicated textile digital print solutions, partnering with the leading machine manufacturers and installing the latest systems throughout the UK. Covering a vast array of applications including fashion/furnishing/sportswear/household textiles and soft signage we are in a unique position to advise our customers of the various machine solutions, ink chemistries and processes required for any textile application. Not forgetting our heritage as a major supplier of screen printing equipment, we continue to manufacture and supply bespoke equipment to Universities, Colleges and design studios as well as artisan screen printers.

But leading the way in digital print is not all we do: we are actively committed to keeping the ancient art of weave alive, as well as promoting Macclesfield's rich silk producing history around the world. We also continue to support the screen print process and have a large commission screen making capacity and can manufacture and engrave flat screens to any size utilizing the latest wax jet engraving process

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