Dye Sublimation Printing

Level: medium
Dye sublimation printing

Dye sublimation printing is a printing technique where specific inks react to heat and transform into a gas. This gas penetrates into polyester or polymer, resulting in a print where the ink is embedded into the substrate. Other printing techniques often result in much of the ink sitting on top of the substrate.

Compared to UV-curable ink or latex printing, dye sub is the most colorful and vivid way to print on fabric. For rigid substrates, it creates a depth of appearance, especially when it has a gloss finish. And since it’s embedded in the fibers and polymer coating, you can’t feel any ink.


  • Waterproof
  • Scratch-proof
  • Durable
  • Can create photographic quality, depending on the printer

Dye Sublimation Application


For an online printer like Smartpress or any other printer, this type of ink printing requires the use of a disperse dye sublimation ink, a fabric made of at least 70% polyester (ideally 100%) or a heat-resistant rigid substrate and transfer paper.

Typically it’s printed to specially-formulated transfer paper with a mirrored or wrong-reading image. Then heat, time and pressure are applied between the paper and the substrate, which creates a chemical reaction, turning the ink into a colored gas.

This gas penetrates the polyester fiber of the fabric or polymer of the rigid substrate to form a right-reading image.


  • Dye sublimation printing can be used with:
  • Fabrics that are 70%-100% polyester
  • Rigid substrates with a polymer coating designed for sublimation
  • Common rigid materials are:
    • Aluminum, coated with white gloss, white matte or white semi-gloss finishes
    • Ceramics
    • Phenolic and tempered hardboard (you can get these with a dye sublimatable coating)
  • Typically any flat substrate that can handle 400°F for periods up to 90 seconds and have a suitable polymer coating

As part of our online printing services, we offer the dye sub ink process on:

Tips & Tricks

Keep important text or logos away from the perimeter of the artwork.

  • Try to keep a 1% margin on all four sides (so you have a 98% live area)
    • Avoid white or reverse text with serif fonts smaller than 12pt.
  • For fabric products, build in at least 1″ of bleed, if possible.
  • For color, preview RGB images in CMYK for a better idea and expectation of how the final print will look.
  • If choosing PANTONE colors when designing for fabrics or rigid substrates with a matte finish, choose swatches from the PANTONE Uncoated library or the PANTONE Uncoated Process library in your design application.
  • If choosing PANTONE colors when designing for rigid substrates with a semi-gloss or gloss finish, choose colors from the PANTONE Coated or PANTONE Coated Process library in your design application.
  • Turnaround times are generally longer, due to the involved imaging process.

Start designing your online printing projects with Smartpress today!
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