LOS ANGELES, CA -- As one of the many printing techniques used in the fashion industry, sublimation is both unique and versatile.
Sublimation (transferring images onto textiles) is not exactly a new process, but it’s seeing a resurgence in fashion. Designers are taking another look into the possibilities of its applications, and have begun experimenting with the form.
One such individual is Jess Dyer, a graphic designer and sublimation expert at Meshina, a fashion firm in Los Angeles, California. thalo recently called on her to paint a larger picture of sublimation printing, how it’s being used, and what the future holds for this form.
thalo: First, could you provide us with the basics on sublimation?
JESS DYER: Sublimation is a printing process that uses a chemical reaction to transfer an image from paper to fabric or another medium. To begin the process, the reverse of the image to be transferred has to be printed on special coated paper using sublimation ink. (The name “sublimation” is applied because the dye transitions between a solid and gaseous stage without going through a liquid phase.) Once the image is printed on the paper, it is placed upon the garment and sent through a heat press machine that operates at a temperature of around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature and pressure turns the dye into a gas, which permeates the fabric and solidifies into its fibers. In order for the chemical reaction to occur the fabric must contain polyester or other synthetic material.
th: How does it differ from screen printing?
JD: Sublimation differs from screen printing because it transfers an entire image at once with unlimited amounts of color and detail (as seen in Photo 1), rather than using liquid ink and applying it to a garment, screen by screen. Also, once the dye permeates the fibers of the fabric it can be handled immediately (no drying time required) and will never crackle, fade, or peel.
th: How is the quality and accuracy of the sublimated print?
JD: One advantage to sublimation printing is that the dots of ink that comprise the image can be any color, as opposed to inkjet printing which is limited to the colors of ink that are installed in the printer. This yields an accurate replication of the original image. It is a perfect technique for transferring photographs or other detailed images onto fabric.
th: What can be printed through sublimation?
JD: If a fabric contains polyester or other synthetic material and can withstand high temperatures, it can be sublimated (as seen in Photo 2). Many companies use sublimation for bike uniforms, competitive swimwear, banners, flags, and vehicle wrap advertising. A polyvinyl spray can be applied to wood or other surfaces for sublimation. Event photographers are using sublimation printing in photo booths because they can produce lab-quality prints immediately.
th: What equipment is required for sublimation?
JD: In order to sublimate, you must have a sublimation printer, special coated transfer paper, sublimation ink, and a heat press.
th: What has been the fashion industry and consumer response to sublimation?
JD: There was a huge sublimation trend in the fashion industry a few years ago. Pre-constructed garments were sent through the heat press, which resulted in a wrinkle effect that was very popular. Buyers for stores today do not seem to want this effect any longer. In fact, when you tell a buyer that a garment is sublimated, [he or she] often pictures the wrinkle effect…rather than seeing sublimation as a printing technique. Sublimation can be used in a wide variety of ways and can produce many different effects. The challenge for fashion lines that do sublimation printing is utilizing the process in different ways, in order to shed a somewhat negative image.
th: What new methods are being incorporated to achieve this?
JD: One way is by doing panel printing rather than printing on the constructed garment. Essentially this means that the fabric is printed on before it is sewn into a garment, which eliminates the wrinkle effect because it can go through the heat press completely flat and allows a more deliberate placement of the graphic or print.
The fashion realm is filled with technique and technology, such as sublimation, which can extend possibilities to other creative formats. Whatever the medium, experimentation and awareness of the flexibilities of a process can be of great benefit when new is needed.
Photos Courtesy Of: J. Dyer