Textile and Dye Sub Media

Media for soft signage, wearables and more
Tech Review: Textile and Dye Sub Media

It seems like the big buzz in the sign industry right now is soft signage. This is a fancy way of saying printing an image on a textile. The applications can range from exhibit displays to POP signs to wearables such as T-shirts, other garments and more. Most of us are used to working with papers, vinyls and films interchangeably on the same machine. That’s not always the case with textiles. 

There are a number of methods to print an image onto a textile background. The purpose of the print will drive what technology to use. Everyone tends to think of dye sublimation as the only way to work with fabrics, but you may be able to use your existing equipment for certain applications. Many fabrics can be used with latex, eco-solvent and the new UVgel inks. The resulting prints will work just fine for signs and displays, but may not be very flexible and are not ideal for wearables.

However, for printed textiles that boast the most durable images, dye sub is king. Dye sublimation uses heat and pressure to ensure the ink has bonded to the fabric. This process can take place in the printer with direct-to-fabric printing or it can be done in two separate steps – image printing to transfer paper, and transfer of the image via a separate heat press or calendar.


So which is better, direct print or transfer? Direct print may not require a separate calendar, saving you a significant chunk of change. Direct print also saturates the media heavily, so it’s great when you need vibrant colors, but not fine detail. The transfer method requires an appropriate transfer paper where the image will be printed. You then need some type of heat and pressure source to fix the image to the textile. Fine details are fully retained and you can be printing a job while transferring another. Transfer can also be used for applications like ceramic tiles, mouse pads, mugs, even skateboard decks. Of course, you must get items that are coated for transfer and the appropriate heat press.

So, can you use just any old fabric in the machine or transfer process? Not really. Natural fabrics such as cotton and silk are typically a no-no. Polyester blends will open up to heat and allow the gas to bond properly with the threads. You will find that most transfer media will be polyester- based, be it a blend or 100%. 

A wide range of products is printable, from heavy flag materials to spandex, depending on the application. Canvas is becoming very popular. Standard eco-solvent canvas doesn’t have that stretched-canvas look, but some dye sub media look much more like the real thing. Textiles are also being used in backlit applications, and a number of products for this application are available as well. There are even textiles that have dual sides and a foam block-out material in the center that can allow for two-sided applications.

Dye sub printing is really taking off in the industry and the variety of available media has exploded. You can now offer your customers their choice of textures, weights and styles. With the right finishing equipment, you can also offer customer garments, accessories – virtually anything your customer would need.

Signs of the Times June 2020

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