The ABC's of Sublimation Heat Transfer Printing

The process of transferring images to a large variety of products without messy inks or screens is possible with Heat Transfer Technology. The process is fast, it lasts and it is profitable.

Heat Transfer Product Applications

  • Point of purchase banners, signage, displays, skirting, carpeting, etc.
  • Advertising specialties – mousepads, wrist pads, beverage insulators, clip boards, etc.
  • Ceramic tiles, wall murals and interior design
  • Snow skis, snow boards, cycling helmets, in-line skates, water sports equipment
  • Gaming tables, chips
  • Lettering, Rhinestones/crystals
  • Uni-sub wood, clipboards, plaques, signage, vending machines, message boards, table tops, counter tops, flooring, etc.
  • Micro-fiber based sports apparel, t-shirts, caps, swimsuits, jackets, tote bags, etc.

Heat Transfer Printing Machinery

Heat Transfer machinery is of two types:

  1. Platen Type Transfer Presses, i.e., Astex models 162CR/354CR, 1550PA, 165CR, 1600 etc.
  2. Rotary Drum Transfer Presses, i.e., Astex models 7500, 7616, 7900T, 7300IJ, etc.

Platen Presses

Platen presses are often used for printing on individual pieces such as cut apparel parts, T-shirts, sports apparel, tote bags, etc. Platen presses are also used to print on rigid substrates such as wood, metals and ceramic tiles.

Rotary Drum Machines

These machines are often used to print fabric continuously (roll to roll) and to print large fabric parts such as signs and banners which may be too large for a standard platen press. Drum machines can also be used to print sports apparel and other cut apparel parts.

Drum machines are more productive than platen machines for sublimation printing on cut apparel parts and are therefore used when production volume is high. Drum machines can not be used to print onto rigid substrates such as wood, metal or ceramic tile.

Choosing A Machine

The right machine depends on the type of product to be printed, the print size and the production requirements. If you wish to print full coverage on 60” wide rolled goods, then you would need to use a Rotary Drum machine. T-shirts, mugs, wood or tile are best printed on a platen machine. Cut apparel parts can be printed on either a platen press or a rotary drum machine. Production requirements often dictate which type of machine is used. Banners and soft signage are often printed on a rotary drum machine. Let us know your application and we will be happy to recommend the right machine for your particular needs.

Sources & Types of Transfers

There are many different types and sources of transfers. Generally speaking a transfer is made up of a carrier paper and inks. When heat and pressure are applied to this paper the inks are transferred to the substrate you wish to print onto. Some transfers are topical. The image is applied to the surface of the substrate. Other transfers are absorbed into the fibers of the material. The types of transfers, which permeate the material, are called sublimation transfers.

Heat transfers can also be printed onto mugs, ceramic tile, mousepads, metals, glass and wood (sublimation process). The above substrates must have a polyester coating so that the transfer will adhere. These substrates can be purchased with the coating from a supplier.

Transfer Sources

The three most common types of image transfers produced are: Computer transfers, Color Copier transfers and what are referred to as “Supplier” transfers. Supplier transfers can be purchased from commercial suppliers which use screen printing, offset and litho presses to print onto a carrier paper using sublimation inks. Their designs are shown in catalogues or can be special ordered. The plastisol / hot peel transfers from these companies are generally opaque and therefore good for heat transferring onto dark items.

Transfers can also be created in-house using digital graphic technologies such as ink-jet or electrostatic printers. Contact us and we can advise you about an in-house paper printing system. Color copier transfers are produced using a special color copier transfer paper. The image is copied onto the special paper and then heat pressed on the material.

Miscellaneous Transfers

Other types of transfers include embroidered appliques, die cut lettering, and flock transfers. Embroidered appliques come as an embroidered patch with a heat activated adhesive on the underside. Die cut lettering is a vinyl or other type of material that is pre-cut in various numbers, letters and custom shapes. The user places the letters and numbers down onto the garment and then uses a heat press to seal them on. Sports apparel is printed with numbers and letters in this manner.

In-House or Outsourced

The decision to make transfers in-house or to out source them from a supplier depends on your target market and your production requirements. If you plan to do small runs of special designs it would be cost effective to set up an in-house system to generate the transfer paper. Large bulk jobs would be best served by purchasing sublimation paper or other transfers from a commercial supplier.

For additional information see the companion article by Marty Pearson: "The Keys of Sublimation Heat Transfer Printing"

The above article is Copyright 2004 Advanced Innovative Technologies, all rights reserved, and may not be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author.