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The World of Dye Sublimation: What It Is, How It Works and Why You Want It


Dye sublimation is one of the coolest things to ever happen to fabric decoration. When most people think of putting a piece of art onto fabric, such as a T-shirt or a polo or a hoodie, they often are only aware of silk screening as the solution. While silk screening has its purposes, dye sublimation has bigger benefits. And you need to know all about it, because it just may be the best solution for you.


What It Is

Dye sublimation starts by laying out art in a software program that prints onto a tacky sublimation paper. That image is mirrored, so when you press that paper onto the fabric, the image comes out the way it is supposed to look. Once the image has been printed onto the tacky paper, it is cut to size, and then pressed onto fabric.


Using very high heat, the ink on the paper literally goes into the fibers of the fabric. Why is this important? First, if you have ever had a graphic screen printed onto a piece of clothing before, you know that over time that art will crack and scratch off. Dye sublimation will never do this. It is in that fabric, and it will stay in that fabric. Meaning greater longevity for the product and making it a more valuable product. Second, with dye sublimation, you get vibrant, unbelievably realistic art. Have a photo of a butterfly on a plant? Once you have transferred it onto that fabric, it will look exactly like that same butterfly on that plant. The rich colors are there, the clarity of the photo is there. It’s just beautiful. No other method of printing will give you this realistic of a result.


How It Works

Dye sublimation is a simple process. It’s just about the art, the paper it is printed on, the heat, the fabric, and the method of pressing. I have already touched on the art and the printing, now let’s talk about fabric and how it can be pressed.


To get those vibrant colors and realistic imagery, your fabric has to be a poly base. We recommend at least 65%. You can go between 50% and 65%, but you will get a more vintage look, which is pretty cool, too.


Polyester is an amazing fabric. While it took me a long time to get past my mother’s polyester “slacks” of the ’70s, today’s poly can mimic a wide variety of fabrics. Whether you want a performance knit, a suede, or a Georgette, poly can look like any of these.


We have numerous swatch books, and invite our clients to come in and look through the offerings. Most are shocked by the fact that they are all polyester. For our out-of-state clients, we can have swatches mailed to you, or for many standard products, especially in the sports world, we already have fabrics selected that are most commonly used, and you can trust that they will work for you, too.

There are four different ways that we use our dye sublimation presses:


1. Printing onto rolls of fabric: We can print up to 44-inch wide rolls of fabric using our roller press. Our fabric vendors can cut rolls of fabric down so that they can be run perfectly through our press. If you already have a roll of fabric that you need cut down, we can do that in house. You can either cut down to 44 inches, or, for instance, if you have a 60-inch wide roll of fabric, it can be cut to two 30-inch rolls of fabric. Now, anything you dream up you can print onto fabric. And the pricing is extremely reasonable!

2. Printing onto cut pieces of fabric that will be sewed after: If you have a product that needs to be cut and sewn and needs full dye sub, either you or we can cut the fabric first, then we dye sub using our roller press, and then the pieces are ready to be sewn, again either by you or us. The choice is all yours!

3. Printing onto blanks: There are tons of polyester blank products on the market that are primarily used for dye sublimation. Most people purchase apparel blanks. Think of T-shirts, hoodies, golf shirts, baseball caps. When doing this type of dye sublimation, we are typically using our spot press, also known as a clamshell press, meaning we are pressing something onto the piece instead of dye sublimating the entire piece with our roll press. Typical applications include logos, event names, cool art and funny sayings. Each time you press something onto a blank it is called a hit. Your T-shirt, for example, can have a single hit, like a logo on the front, two hits, like a logo on the front and art on the back, three hits, perhaps adding in a date on the sleeve, or even four hits, such as a heat transfer label in the neck. Each additional hit adds to the overall cost, so depending on your budget, you want to be conscientious of what you are putting on your blank. Flat items, such as a rally towel or a golf towel, can be fully dye sublimated through our roller press, so the art and color covers the entire front of the piece.

4. Private labeling blanks: lots of artists and/or brands focus on creating unique graphics that are the selling point of their products. When this is the case, not only can we put the graphic onto the blank for you, but we can also remove the label that came with the garment and heat press your own custom label into the back of the neck. Now when you are photographing and selling your products, the look is 100% your brand. Even if you are having something embroidered onto a blank somewhere else, you can bring it to us upon completion for your label heat pressing.


Why You Want It

If you have been reading up to this point, I think you are already rather clear on why you want dye sublimation. On top of everything else, it’s affordable and it’s memorable. Ready to get started? Reach me at info@detroitsewn.com.

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