One of the most visually appealing methods of digital printing is known as dye-sublimation. As the name implies, coloured dyes are printed onto a carrier paper and then sublimated into a textile material using heat and pressure. Sublimation in chemistry means changing from a solid to a gaseous state—exactly what happens in dye-sublimation printing.
Correctly done, dye-sublimation is an attractive, vibrant and durable method of textile, garment and product decoration that cannot be matched by any other digital process. Direct-to-garment methods exist and may well improve in the future. But for premium results, dye-sublimation is still the favoured process because it is tried and proven. Sporting apparel, polo shirts, baseball caps and increasingly interior fabrics for cushions, curtains and even carpets are just some of the products that can be dye-sublimated for unique, one-off results printed on-demand. The advantage of digital dye-sublimation is that, in the globalised apparel market where bulk orders invariably go to low-cost producers in Asia, the custom nature of short-run production enables Australian producers to win back business and deliver small lots quickly to delighted customers.
The respected Smithers Pira organization has recently released a report on the global dye-sublimation market, broken down into ink types, fabrics, applications and equipment. It describes the segment as “booming” and forecasts excellent growth between 2016 and 2021.
According to the report’s author, Dr. Justin Hayward of Cambridge Investment Research, what is driving the market is the “increasing demand for rapid customisation to create beautiful, unique clothing or household products. This is more and more made possible by digital printing technology. In turn, printers must turn around the production and delivery of dye-sublimation products ever more quickly to meet this demand.”
The demand grew by a staggering 18.4% in 2015-16, according to this report. In square metres of materials printed by dye-sublimation, that represents 384 million square metres and this is forecast to rise to 892 million square metres in 2021. Clearly, this is a graphics market to be taken seriously.
Fujifilm Australia partners with Mimaki for the supply of top-quality dye-sublimation printers and also offers a range of quality German-manufactured coated and processed transfer papers from Sihl. Recent installations include Sydney’s Soul Sports where a Mimaki T300-1800P is helping produce basketball, netball, soccer and other uniforms. More recently, Lifestyle Australia, based near Queensland’s Gold Coast, has also upgraded to a Mimaki T300-1800P for the production of branded products, T-shirts and souvenirs. Director Anthony Petterman has stated the new printer has tripled his production.
Dye-sublimation is not always a straightforward process; subtleties need to be learned—many of which relate to ink load on the transfer paper, quality of transfer paper and ability to vapourise the dyes into the textile and of course, the printer itself. Mimaki enjoys a premium reputation for reliability and productivity in sublimation and deploys advanced features that minimize or prevent “cockling,” where the transfer paper wrinkles due to high water content from the dye inks.
When choosing a dye-sublimation system, it’s essential to choose a company with thorough knowledge, prepared to train, share and trouble-shoot. Whether they are for sports teams or high fashion, garments are designed by creative people with a specific vision and translating these creative concepts into reality involves a close partnership with the designers.
Australian garment and product printing company Redbubble does just this and has recently completed a successful stock market IPO that values the company at around $287 million. Redbubble sells extensively and globally over the internet, an ideal medium for personalized items in small quantities.
Dye-sublimation, like 3D printing using additive manufacturing, reflects the global trend for small lots when needed and a reduction in “mass manufacturing.” It’s an ideal SME sector that is set for more growth, at a rate that general commercial graphics businesses must look on with amazement and envy.
Fujifilm can help you get started with dye-sublimation. You don’t need to be a passive observer—we have the products and the knowledge to help you open up new markets to future-proof your enterprise. Contact us today to learn more.
Picture caption: Production tripled: Lifestyle Australia Director Anthony Petterman with his newly installer Mimaki dye-sub printer from Fujifilm.