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Dye Sublimation Technology in Plastic Card Printing

Printing text and images onto a plastic ID card surface typically involves a process that uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, or paper. Understand the basics of dye sublimation printing in this article.

Dye-sublimation printers allow you to print photo-lab quality pictures at home or at the office. As the price of these id printers go down, more and more digital-camera owners are choosing to take advantage of this technology and it has revolutionized the plastic card printing industry as well. In dye-sublimation printing, colours are not laid down as individual dots, as is done in inkjet printers. Individual dots can be distinguished at a relatively close distance, making digital pictures look less realistic.

If you looked inside a dye-sublimation card printer, you would see a long roll of transparent film that resembles sheets of red, blue, yellow, and grey colored cellophane stuck together end to end. Embedded in this film are solid dyes corresponding to the four basic colors used in printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The print head heats up as it passes over the film, causing the dyes to vaporize and permeate the glossy surface of the paper before they return to solid form.

Run your finger over the transferred surface and you will feel nothing. The reason for this is that sublimation always is done on surfaces with a special sublimatable coating, such as polyester, polymer, hardboard, ceramic, glass, or metal. At high temperatures, the solid dye converts into a gas without ever becoming a liquid. The same high temperature opens the pores of the sublimatable item and allows the gas into the pores. When the temperature drops the pores close and the gas reverts to a solid state, leaving your image sublimated onto your chosen surface.

Is dye sublimation printing new?
No, dye sublimation transfers have played an important role in the screen-printing industry for years. What is new is the ability to digitally print the transfers with special equipment.


To talk to an ID professional about dye sublimation technology, call 1-800-667-1772.

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