Dye sublimation and sportswear are natural bedfellows. Images discusses technological advances and decorating opportunities with Stephen Woodall, national sales manager at Hybrid, the UK and Ireland distributor for Mimaki

Why is dye sublimation so popular with sportswear?
In my experience the dye sublimation transfer is the method most commonly used with sportswear garments mainly because the substrates or fabrics used are polyesters that have been engineered for sweat management, stretchability, non-tearing and so on – for example, Adidas Climacool and Nike Dri-FIT. Polyester can be engineered to give a number of properties that suit sports garments, and the best way to get high quality, good colour on to polyester is dye sublimation transfer.

How has Mimaki responded to the growth in the sportswear decoration market?
“Mimaki‘s heritage has been in digital textile printing – we were one of the first wide format printers to do it. In the past year the focus has come round again on to textiles with the launch of new machines with new print head technology.

Historically, manufacturers were taking signage printers and adapting them to run dye sublimation water-based inks. Mimaki has moved away from this with the TS300 and TS500 ranges that are designed only for dye sublimation – you cannot put any other inks in and the print heads are Panasonic, rather than Epson. One of the key features of the new print head is the increased droplet velocity – that is, the speed that it can fire droplets, which enables you to have a slightly higher throw distance, allowing you to print onto lower cost, lower weight papers. With ink pricing now very much lower than it has previously been and, for example, the TS300 running at a usable print speed of 60-70 square metres an hour for a £22,000 machine, it‘s making production level printing affordable. Mimaki‘s textile printers‘ USP is very much their low running costs.

The TS300P-1800 is a dedicated wide format sublimation printer that’s ideal for the production printing of team and sportswear

How has dye sublimation influenced the colours and designs used on sportswear garments?
The advancement of ink technologies, the introduction of specific spot colours and fluorescent colours, and the ability to manage that colour well, along with the advancements in the RIP and how the actual printers put the colours down, has enabled designers to have a wider palette of colours that they can use in their designs. Without a doubt, designers are making higher impact, more eye-catching designs purely because of the advancements in the inks and the printers. The papers have had an influence too: the release properties of the paper and therefore the ability to achieve a wide colour gamut has definitely had a positive influence.

What types of sportswear should decorators be targeting with dye sublimation?
Swimwear, cycling, football, rugby, basketball… One of the things that isn‘t commonly known is that a lot of amateur teams have one-off or annual tournaments that they need bespoke strips for.

From a marketing and sales point of view, there will be seasonal trend-driven demand for different colours, different strips and different sponsorship and so on. For instance, with running there are a lot of sponsored runs throughout the year. You can target these particular events with bespoke T-shirts, vests or shorts: at the end of a run you often get a nice T-shirt that‘s been printed with a pigment ink, but there‘s no reason why you couldn‘t take that on and improve the finish of the T-shirt or souvenirs with a polyester, dye-sublime product.

What about soft signage, which is increasingly common at sports events, such as charity runs and bike rides, for example?
If they already have an understanding of how to dye sublime garments then moving into the soft signage market will be relatively trouble-free for them. Soft signage is a natural add on and a growth area because they are lightweight, which makes a difference to transportation costs, plus you can fold them up and put them in a box because polyester doesn‘t crease. The mounting costs are low too – it‘s much easier than dealing with PVCs or vinyls, and there are environmental advantages as well because the inks are water-based and there are no VOCs (volatile organic compounds).


Diversification into soft signage for sports events is a logical step for printers who are already supplying dye-sublime polyester sportswear