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3D Sublimation 101

Dye sublimation, a digital printing process that uses heat to transfer dye to materials such as a plastic card, printer paper, poster paper, or fabric, is rapidly gaining market share due to the increasing availability of new and improved combinations of inks, media, hardware and software that have pushed the quality range of digital media much higher.

Dye sublimation printing can reproduce images on a variety of flexible and rigid substrates, which can endure the amount of heat, pressure and dwell time necessary for image transfer. With two primary areas of focus, including sublimation to textiles/soft fabrics as well as rigid substrates, dye sublimation enables the production of items such as point-of-sale applications, banners, custom flags, license plates, snowboards and promotional pieces.

 

New Applications for Dye Sublimation Printing: Driving Market Change

There are literally hundreds of different applications for dye sublimation, meaning plenty of profitable business opportunities for digital decoration. The primary limitation is that the surface must be composed of polymer fibers and able to withstand 40 F of temperature without melting. Provided those criteria are met, sublimation will create a premium full-color, photographic-quality image that will not crack, peel or wash away from the substrate. You can download our free Extensive Marketing Report.

 

2D vs 3D Sublimation

2D sublimation normally using heat press. The flat (flat platen) press is available as a clam-shell style or a swing-sway style. The clam-shell version opens and closes like a clam, where the bottom platen is stationery and the top platen moves up and down. The swing-away press opens by lifting up the top platen, but then will move sideways completely out of the way for ease of placement and removal of transferred products. It only can press flat substrates.

3D sublimation use vacuum heat press or oven, it can fully sublimate curved products using an air-forced vacuum, like phone cases, mugs, computer mouse, perfect for curved products that don’t work easily in flat heat presses.

 

 

Paper vs Film 3D Sublimation

As we mentioned the major priority of 3D sublimation heat press or oven is fully sublimate curved products, there are two types of 3D sublimation system in the market, using paper or film. However the output quality are huge different. Simply google 3d sublimation heat press, you will find tons of red and black color 3d sublimation heat presses which are made in China, selling around one thousand dollar. These machines use sublimation paper to wrap the substrate first, then using an air-forced vacuum to suck the thin silicon pad to wrap the paper which wrap on the substrate, however the sublimation paper is not soft, so if the substrate has round corner, then either the image can not be fully sublimated or paper crease is sublimated onto the substrate. We bought one of them and have been testing phone cases over 6 months. The conclusion is only can make iphone 4/5/5s cases which are straight corner, most of Samsung cases and iPhone 5C cases are all fail, because thoses cases are round corner. Even sophisticated operator will have 20% defective rate for iPone 5 and 90% defective rate for those round corner stye cases. Moreover, it only can make one case each cycle as the vacuum suction is not strong enough. Don't be fool by the video that shown can make 4 even 6 cases each cycle, but it never be, truste me. Also the image color is little dull even printed on glossy cases and impresson of silicon pad also sublimated onto the surface if you look carefully.

Another 3D sublimation system using film, mostly call "3D Sublimation Oven", just google "3D Sublimation Oven", you will find most of these system selling by Europe company. Usually one case system pricing between $5000 to $8000 and 4 cases system pricing between $12,000 and $16,000 which are not include VAT and shipping cost. But the output quality will be completely different with the system using sublimation paper. The color is vivid and rich, image is fully sublimated onto the substrate no matter what curved shape of substrate. There is one important factor is labor, film system spend much less labor as it sublimate the printed film directly onto the blanks but paper system need to manually print the image on the sublimation paper, then cut and wrap it on the case, it spend couple mintes to make one case. If you are just selling 10 cases a day, it will be fine, but if you are selling 50 cases a day, you will feel frustrating. Simple formulars, you get what you paid.

 

Conclusion: The cheap paper system seems an amateur toy if compare with film system, it cost more labor and high defective rate. Film system is the one you need to run long term personalized products business, no matter output quality or production efficiency.

 

 

 

 

3D Sublimation System Comparison

On the right hand side, you may compare the output quality difference between paper and film system. Image is printed on iPhone 5C.

3D Sublimation Oven (Film)
Film system is designed to take the shape of any object that it is adhered to and to sublimate any kind of image onto the surface of that object. Image is Vivid. Save labor and productive.

3D Sublimation Press (Paper)
Color output is little dull compare using film and can not make round corner style substrate. High defective rate and cost more labor.

3D Sublimation Oven (Film)

3D Sublimation Press (Paper)