Industry experts explain how to avoid the common pitfalls of dye sublimation printing while getting the most out of your machine

Maintenance

Take care and keep it clean

“Sublimation printing is a true test of the hardware’s capabilities. Most prints are done at high speed using a low resolution, meaning that the printer has to cope with huge volumes of output in its lifetime. This can contribute to problems, particularly if the appropriate care is not taken, and so at Roland DG we believe that maintenance is key to a healthy machine and avoiding these minor problems. By simply taking a small amount of time every few weeks to thoroughly clean a printer and replace any worn consumables, users can go a long way in maintaining a Roland DG device in tip top shape. In addition to this, keeping items such as wipers and cap tops clean can prologue machine lifetime and lessen the chance of needed replacement parts.”
Mark Elvidge, business development manager, Roland DG

Profiles and processes

Environmental conditions

“A non-machine based variable that can greatly effect results is the environmental conditions in the area that the printing or transferring is taking place.

“In a rare heatwave a few summers ago, we responded to a technical request from a customer working in the top floor of an old mill. Their colour management problems were quickly tracked down to a colour profile created in the cold and damp of the previous winter versus their attempts to reproduce things in an environment that was so hot and humid it was actually beyond the recommended working conditions for the hardware – let along the poor souls trying to use it! A small investment in a portable air conditioning unit and a re-profiling of their system put a more stable process in place – and a nicer place to work.”
Stephen Woodall, national sales manager (textile and apparel), Hybrid Services

Substrate-specific profiles

“The most common issue that occurs is an incorrect colour profile being selected in the RIP software by the user. This can greatly affect the output colours. The best way to resolve this is to create or use profiles that are suited to each substrate. Xpres offer a range of profiles to suit our products. The profiles enable different ink loads, print speeds and configurations to suit each substrate.”
Grant Cooke, product development and campaign specialist, Xpres

Controlling processes

“Resolving problems that occur beyond simple management of the print quality usually comes back to controlling processes and tying down variables. Mistakes can be made when any aspect of the process is altered, so pressing fabric at a different temperature or for a longer or shorter time than the original profile was created at will understandably yield a different result. Equally, printing with a different ink set, or even just at a different speed or resolution can deliver differences in the final output, which could lead to wasted ink, media and time. All this can be avoided by profiling for specific materials and setting simple workflows up to follow religiously.“
Stephen Woodall, national sales manager (textile and apparel), Hybrid Services

Heat and pressure

Feeling the heat

“The most common problems that decorators can run into with sublimation printing due to human error is sublimating at the wrong heat, time and or pressure. The general guideline for a wide range of fabrics is to sublimate at 200°C for 45-60 seconds on a medium pressure. You do, however, have certain fabrics which will need to be pressed at lower temperatures to ensure the fabric keeps it original structure.”
Aaron Burton, digital development director, Sabur Ink Systems

Press requirements

“Every substrate has its own pressing requirements so to avoid complications it is best to use the optimal settings. Xpres have a downloadable poster featuring recommended times and temperatures. This can be found at www. xpres.co.uk. The key to perfect output is simply following the correct process.”
Grant Cooke, product development and campaign specialist, Xpres

Fabric considerations

Polyester content

“The fabric you use has to contain at least 50% polyester content, and the more polyester content you have, the better result you’re going to get.”
Phil McMullin, UK sales manager, Epson

The advances in polyester fabrics

“A lot of people want to use polycotton T-shirts for tees and they’ll just accept that they’re not going to get the same sort of colour gamut on a polycotton tee as they’ll get on a poly. They or their customers will be quite happy to have that slightly faded look – it seems to be the in-thing, as opposed to having to use a 100% polyester. A lot of the polyesters now, though, are as good as polycottons anyway. There has definitely been an improvement in the range of polyesters available; they’ve got the look and feel of a lot of natural fabrics.”
Magnus Mighall, partner, R A Smart

Paper issues

Tension and take-up

“We see issues occur in media collecting and transporting, and advise users to take extra care because if printer paper is not re-wound correctly on a take-up device, scuffing can occur, causing the print to ruin. Roland DG’s sublimation printers offer an automated integrated take-up system for unattended accurate printing and media tension bars to keep the printed media both straight and perfectly wound, avoiding damage and skewing when transferring to a heat press.”
Mark Elvidge, business development manager, Roland DG

Choosing the right weight paper

“There is a limit to how much ink a lightweight paper can accept. If you’re after really dark or really deep or vibrant colours – in other words, a lot of ink – you have to use a paper that can accept that. You do sometimes find that customers will try and use a lighter weight paper, which may not be suitable for the type of design or the fabric. With polyester velvet, for example, you’ve really got to get a lot of ink down so you have to accept that you will need to use a heavier weight paper for that.”
Magnus Mighall, partner, R A Smart

Paper cockling

“The main problems customers have with sublimation printing are the sublimation paper cockling and the paper not drying. This means the printed image rubs off onto the back of the final roll and becomes unusable, especially with high speed printers. These problems can be due to high ink limits and over-saturated papers. We have ‘Instant’ drying papers within our product range which are specifically designed to stop these problems happening and ensure the customer achieves maximum productivity.”
Aaron Burton, digital development director, Sabur Ink Systems

Ghosting

“Customers that use flat-bed presses may suffer from the problem of ‘ghosting’. This problem occurs when the paper and fabric move under the heat press and cause a double image. It can be addressed by using a thermal adhesive which activates under the heat press to avoid any movement.”
Aaron Burton, digital development director, Sabur Ink Systems

Proper training

Tap into the resellers’ knowledge

“We’d always recommend buying from a quality retailer partner. At Epson we don’t sell anything direct, we do everything through resellers, and the ones we’ve chosen are very knowledgeable in dye sublimation so they can do the installation and all the training to help you through the early stages.”
Phil McMullin, UK sales manager, Epson

A day’s instruction

“If we’re installing one of our Epson SC-F6200 printers, which is a 1.2 m wide, along with an associated flatpress, we’d expect to be on site for at least a day training. That would cover the software, the printer, colour management and the house-keeping, and also the press and the effects of different temperatures, pressures, etcetera.”
Magnus Mighall, partner, R A Smart