About Dye Sublimation

Dye Sublimation Process

Dye Sublimation (or Dye Sub) Photo Printers are ideally suited to providing high quality, instant photos quickly and simply. They come from a variety of manufacturers and offer many different features.

Dye-sublimation is the process of creating photographs using a thermal printing technique that diffuses dye onto paper. This dye comes in the form of a ribbon which is converted into a diffused gas when heat is applied and is absorbed by a special receiving layer on the paper.

The print head heats very accurately to varying temperatures, creating different shades of colour depending on the amount of heat that is produced.

The print head in a Dye Sublimation Photo Printer, is capable of producing 256 levels of each colour (cyan, magenta, yellow), and is able to create a total of 16.77 million true colours by combining these three primary colours. Using a special over-coating layer, the dye layers are sealed into the paper and the image is protected against UV light, fingerprints and even water.

 

The Advantages of Dye Sublimation Photo Printers

The main advantages of Dye Sublimation Photo Printers, are their low running costs and the ability for you to know exactly how many prints you will get. The high quality prints are quickly produced and are instantly dry to touch, waterproof and light fast making them very well suited for a wide range of events. The media used by Dye Sub Printers is much more convenient than inkjet printers which have many different cartridges which can run out at different times whereas Dye Sub Printers just use a single ribbon and paper which has many advantages including the fact that it is purchased in a single consumable media pack with a fixed amount of prints. A Media pack contains the ribbon and paper (normally 2 rolls of each) and you always get a fixed number of prints in the pack. This enables you to know exactly how much each print costs; something that is almost impossible with inkjet printers.

The number of images in each pack varies with the manufacturer and type of media pack. The ribbon and paper are always sold together as they should always be installed/removed together regardless of excess paper.

 About Dye Sublimation Print Media

The media used in Dye Sub Printers is much more convenient than your typical inkjet printers. This is because inkjets have many different cartridges which can run out at different times whereas Dye Sub Printers just use a single ribbon and paper. This has many advantages including the fact that it is purchased in a single consumable media pack with a fixed amount of prints. A media pack contains the ribbon and paper (normally 2 rolls of each) and you always get a fixed number of prints in the pack. This enables you to know exactly how much each print costs; something that is almost impossible with inkjet printers.

The number of images in each pack varies with the manufacturer and type of media pack. The ribbon and paper are always sold together as they should always be installed/removed together regardless of excess paper.

How Does It Work?

Most Dye Sub Printers use a ribbon that comes on two spools and fits into a ribbon holder which is then inserted into the printer. Whilst it is technically possible to change the ribbon before it is exhausted, it does take a few minutes to completely swap between sizes (including the settings on your computer) which does take some practice! The part-used ribbon and paper need to be stored carefully and kept as tightly wrapped as possible.

It is worth noting that dropping a ribbon may cause the remaining unused portion to un-spool, resulting in a possibly spoilt ribbon. If the ribbon tears it is simple to repair just by using clear tape and winding the damaged section forward. The printer should then continue like normal with minimal loss of prints caused.

The majority of current printers are roll fed with the paper coming on a large roll which is easily loaded into the printer. The roll always contains more paper than is needed to facilitate the number of cut-off sheets (usually 2 or 3) when the paper is loaded/re-loaded. This is to ensure the untouched paper is used for printing photos as fingerprints can affect print quality. Whilst Dye Sublimation paper is not delicate in any way, it can be marked by fingerprints during handling and these may manifest themselves on the final print. Once printed, however, the prints are very durable and will not be marked by fingerprints, water or light.

Advantages Of Dye Sublimation Printers

As dye sublimation printers can produce this continuous tone output, there is no need for them to print at much higher resolutions to fool the human eye (unlike inkjet). This means that a 300dpi image on a Dye Sublimation Printer is equal to 4800dpi on an Inkjet Printer. A 400dpi image is equal to 6400dpi on an Inkjet Printer.

Dye Sublimation Example
Dye Sublimation Example

Dye-sublimation differs greatly from inkjet in many ways; most significantly in quality.

Dye-sub is renowned for its high quality and continuous tone output.

Continuous tone means that all graduations of colour are used when creating an image. For example, when creating a grey scale, from black to white, a continuous tone printer will show all shades of grey in between the black and the white by actually printing them.

A half-toning device such as an ink-jet printer will use a dithering technique of placing dots close together in order to trick the eye. In other words, ink jet printers use a series of black dots placed close to white dots in order to trick the eye into blending the pixels when viewed. With magnification the difference can be seen where the dye-sub output is clear and sharp, but dots can be seen on ink-jet prints.

The size of the media dictates the size of the photo that the printer will print. So a ribbon with a six inch width and a 9 inch panel size will only print to a maximum of 6″x9. Some printers will however also allow images of 6″x8 and 6″x4 to be printed as well.

When printing smaller sizes the part of the sheet which is unused is “wasted”. So regardless of whether you print 6″x8 or 6″x9 images you will still use the same amount of media and have the same cost per print.

When printing two 6″x4 images on 6″x9 media you will be paying the same price for two 6″x4 images as one 6″x8 or 6″x9. You many find it a lot more economical to use the correct 6″x4 media as you only pay for what you use. Some printers have a rollback technology built in which will allow the printer to rewind the media to use unused ribbon. Manufacturers like Mitsubishi produce Perforated Print Media which allows the printing of exciting different formats using the Dye Sublimation method. One of the printers that perforated media can be used with is the Smart D90-EV. Perforated Print Media is perfect for Event Photography and Photobooths. You can even create Polaroids, Image Strips, vouchers, plus much much more.

Dye Sub Photo Print Media
Dye Sub Photo Print Media

Some printers have the ability to print two 6″x4s from a 6″x9 image, although it can be driver dependent. Likewise, a printer that uses 12×8 media should be able to print a 10″x8 or two 6″x8s on the same media however, the reverse is not true of course. Check that your printer will support this as not all printers will.