Updated: Nov 23, 2020
By Alex Berryman and Corban Bryant
Sublimation printing is being rediscovered by brands, showing them that traditional dyeing is not their only option and that sublimation can change the way they produce a product.
Sublimation printing is a type of digital printing where ink is printed on a piece of paper, then the paper is heat pressed onto the fabric. The heat vaporizes the ink and chemically bonds it to the fiber of the fabric, thereby creating vibrant and durable colors.
This versatile method has been a long-time staple in sportswear, but there is so much opportunity for other products for brands that are willing to think outside of the box!
Here at Purnaa, we have many exciting ways we are going to use sublimation printing (so stay tuned). But we also know this can be a huge game-changer for brands that produce with us, so here are 3 ways sublimation printing can be a game-changer for your brand.
Not Limited By Dyeing MOQs
With traditional dyeing processes, a mill will set their MOQ per color or may have a dyeing charge for colors under a certain quantity. Dyeing requires significant setup and color tests and usually involves running the fabric from one large roll to another through a dye bath, which is only practical with a fairly large amount of fabric. As a result, a brand may be forced to order larger quantities of materials than they have orders for, or have to limit their color offerings.
But sublimation printing is different. It does not require this extra setup between colors and prints. The brand can order the exact number of garments or products in the exact color offering they know their customer will enjoy - with no MOQs or extra charges! This can decrease overstock of unpopular SKUs, create the opportunity for more color offerings, and provide more freedom in the design of a product!
Sublimation is a great way to color smaller products or to color materials for small production runs that do not use enough fabric for traditional dyeing.
Produce to Order with Fast Material Fulfillment
We all know it can be difficult to anticipate which prints or colors of a product will sell best, but this has been accepted as a necessary challenge by many in the sewing industry in order to place material orders in time for production. But sublimation printing offers a chance to flip the process!
Instead of placing an order for materials and waiting months for materials to be dyed and then for it to be produced and shipped, a brand can keep a base white material at their factory with a sublimation printer. Once orders begin to come in, they can quickly print the exact amount of material for the products ordered. This leads to faster fulfillment, and fewer slow-selling products in stock, giving the brand a leg up on their competitors.
A More Eco-Friendly Way to Color Fabric
It is no secret that traditional dyeing methods contribute to water pollution - this is because they use water as the main means to put the dye onto the yarn or bolt of fabric. In contrast, sublimation does not use water at all but instead uses heat. No water comes into contact with the ink, therefore no waterways are polluted in the sublimation dyeing process.
There are a few things to watch out for when using dye-sublimation. First, make sure you're using inks that do not contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These are chemicals that evaporate under normal atmospheric conditions causing various kinds of pollution or ozone-destroying problems. Many ink manufacturers can give you VOC-free certification of their products.
Also make sure your ink doesn't contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, or mercury. A safe way to ensure your ink does not contain these harmful compounds is by buying from a member of The Ecological and Toxicological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers (ETAD).
Finally, consider your materials. Most sublimation is done on polyester which has a chemical structure that readily accepts the ink and provides a bright color. However, as a synthetic fiber, polyester can contribute to micro-plastics in the water and takes a very long time to decompose. As such, work to source recycled-polyester and to ensure your customers have a way to recycle their products when they are finished using them. Also, consider ways to recycle or repurpose the waste paper used in the printing process.
With consideration of these factors, brands and consumers can finally have a closed-loop dyeing process - helping them on their journey to sustainability. And that is certainly something to celebrate.
At Purnaa, we are so excited to offer sublimation printing to our customers! This printing service will be available for both wholesale products and cut-and-sew manufacturing. To learn more about how sublimation printing can work for YOUR business, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or share your idea here and we'll be in touch to explore if we can meet your manufacturing needs.