How to Screen or Digitally Print PVC or Vinyl Banners


Screen Printing or Digitally Printing PVC or Vinyl Banners; No Painting Allowed on Vinyl

PVC banner display

I have received several questions regarding vinyl (flexible PVC) banners that I am going to answer over the next few articles. The first is, “What type of paint does one use on vinyl banners?”

The answer is that we don’t use “paint” per se on vinyl banners, although there may be some craft type stores that sell such a product. Coming from the commercial side of vinyl banners, though, there are about three main methods to print banners.

The first method, and the oldest method of these three printing styles is screen printing. In screen printing, there is a frame, or several frames if it is a multi-color print, with an image that is created by exposing, like old-fashioned picture film, certain elements of the print to an ultra-violet or similar type of lamp.

Once the light has been applied for a pre-determined period of time, the film positive, the image that is printed on a digital printer (this is the current method although older methods are still in use in many print shops), is removed, and the screen is taken to a washout tank and using pressurized water, the non-exposed photo-sensitive emulsion is washed away from the screen, leaving the image to be printed.

After the screen and frame are completely dry, the frame is moved to a screen printing press, typically a “clam shell” style press that, as it prints, the front end come up so the press operator is able to insert the next substrate onto the flat print bed. In the case of vinyl banners, because they will typically be larger, the larger screen printing presses will not be clam shell style printers, but rather the mechanisms will lift the screen up entirely, allowing the screen to remain in a flat position.

On-Screen Printing

Automatic loading and unloading apparatus are also available on many of these presses to speed up production and reduce the risk of mucking a print due to human error in handling the substrate.

The type of ink used for air dry printing is a vinyl ink that “burns” itself into the PVC banner material so that it will last a long time. However, it is not chemical resistant by any means, and a chemical such as lacquer thinner or xylene, if accidentally splashed on the banner, will ruin the print.

Over the past couple of decades or a little longer, new inks were developed that had lower VOC’s than the old harsh vinyl inks that were lacquer-based. These newer inks are known as UV curable inks, or just UV ink. UV stands for “ultra-violet,” and are chemically reactive to UV light.

And they’re still applied by many print shops using screen printing presses, except now the substrate, in this case PVC vinyl banners, are moved from the press to a conveyor belt that moves the banner underneath a set of UV lights that cure the ink instantly. There is much less odor, and less chance for dust to get in the ink or other issues with this ink as it is much more resistant to problems that the old vinyl inks that were air or infra-red dried.

The final method of printing is digital printing, which uses either solvent-based, water-based, or UV inks. More and more shops are going to the UV digital printers, which dry instantly as the light passes over the fresh print just behind the print heads.

So, to answer your question, commercially we don’t use “paint,” per se, but hopefully you now have a pretty good idea of how we print on vinyl PVC banners.

Check this out for more about printing on vinyl banner displays.


The Difference Between Ink and Dye in Digital or Dye Sub Printing


How Ink Works in Inkjet Printing Versus How Dye Works in Dye Sublimation Printing

In an ongoing process to educate my readers, first let me say this is a good question, though I’m going to spend a bit of time on the terminology of dye sub printing.

The first term is the term ink. Now, to the eye, ink and dye appear pretty much the same. They are both liquid, and both are printed using an inkjet printer. In our industry, the printers are usually wide format, maxing out currently around about 124 inches, or just over 10 feet.

However, the printing machine, or inkjet printer, does not see ink and dye the same, and they cannot be interchanged once a printer is printing either dye or ink without some down time as lines are flushed and the like. I can’t say what “the like” is, as I’ve never seen anyone convert a printer from ink to dye or from dye to ink.

CMYK Print Colors

Inkjet printer ink is based on the CMYK color spectrum, which stands for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black, and prints down the yellow first, then magenta, then cyan, and finally black. I have often wondered why it wasn’t called YMCK instead, but maybe people would’ve confused it with the YMCA, who knows.

An inkjet printer sprays fine dots of color, usually 300 dpi (dots-per-inch) up to 1440 dpi (unusual because the printing speed is much slower and therefore costlier, and for most commercial printing, the viewing distance makes it so you won’t see minor flaws that may be apparent at a lower dpi.

Inkjet ink is printed on the surface of an item such as vinyl banner material or vinyl decal material, and chemically “bites” into the surface of those materials and simply dries on the surface of the vinyl aided by heat and air flow, or an ultra-violet curing system that is either built in or added to the printer.

When converted to a dye sublimation printer, an inkjet printer doesn’t need a high dpi print to be make a fabulous print because the dye is printed on a treated paper called transfer paper as a mirror image.

Once the image is printed, the dye dries quickly on the paper, then it is joined together with a polymer-based fabric – usually polyester – and is moved to a heated pressure roller. As the material and paper are carefully fed through the rollers, several things happen. First, the dye is converted to a gas. Simultaneously, the heat causes the cells of the polymer-based fabric or coating to expand and open up. The pressure from the rollers forces the gaseous dye into the open pores, sublimating the dye into the pores of the fabric, hence the term dye sublimation.

Why is it essential, in dye sublimation printing, for the ink to be sublimated in the fabric?

Large Format Dye Sublimation Printing

As you can see, inks are used similarly but differently than the dyes are in sublimation. The dye becomes part of the actual fabric,whereas the ink can typically be removed from the surface of whatever it’s printed on with strong chemicals.

With dye sublimation, the color also is diffused as a gas, therefore, rather than the dot pattern that you see with a loupe if you inspect a digital print, with dye sublimation you’ll see a continuous tone print, like a photograph, because the dots which were printed on the transfer paper, when they become gas, no longer retain the dot pattern, but a smoothly transitioning color into the next tone, thus, dye sublimation makes some of the most attractive printing available for dye sub fabric banners or display and even clothing.


Is Dye Sublimate Printing the Same Process as Laser Printing?


Dye Sublimation Printing and Laser Printing – Can Both Processes be Used to Print Cloth Fabric Banners?

Question: I was told by a vendor that dye sublimate printing is the same as laser printing.  Is this true?

Answer: If by laser printing, they were referring to inkjet printing, the answer would be partially yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Inkjet printers, such as those manufactured by Mutoh, Roland, Mimaki, Canon, or Epson, among many others, are generally known to print such items as vinyl (PVC) banners, vinyl stickers, and even fabric that has been treated to accept ink.

However, this is not dye sublimation printing, or dye sub printing for short. Dye sub printing, as stated within the name, uses dye, not ink, a subtle but meaningful difference as they have completely different functions.

Laser Printing

Four color process inkjet printers as noted above use the common printing designation of CMYK printers. C is for cyan. M is for Magenta. Y is for Yellow. And K is for black (not sure why this is, but it is what it is). The combination of these four colors, when applied by the printer in a certain order (I believe yellow prints first, then magenta, then cyan, and finally black), will create full color prints on whatever substrate is being printed at the moment.

In contrast, or at least partial contrast, the dye set use in an inkjet printer is different because it is dye, not ink. The four color process (4CP for short) printing when a dye set is used in an inkjet printer is a bit different. One thing to note as well, here. While the same printer is used to print inkjet inks and dye sublimation dyes, one cannot simply switch ink sets for dye sets without a complete flushing of the printer, so most printers don’t switch between printing ink or dye because it is a labor intensive operation and would waste a lot of time.

At any rate, the dye set for dye sub printing is CMYO. C is still cyan, and M is still magenta, and Y is still yellow. But O stands for overprint clear, which still turns black during the heat transfer step of dye sublimation printing.

How Dye Sublimation Works


So, to explain the difference between inkjet printing in basic terms compared to dye sublimation, in inkjet printing you load up a roll of vinyl banner material and send the print. The ink is dryed on a heated platen, or with a UV light just behind the printed graphic on the substrate, then it rolls up on the take up reel, and it’s done. If you’re printing decals that need die cut, some printers also contain a plotter that will also do this part, but many don’t, so marks that can be read by a vinyl plotter are printed, then read by an “eye” on the plotter, and cut to size. That’s an oversimplified version, but you  probably don’t need to know every step in that process.

In comparison, with dye sublimation, first the printer prints a mirror (reflected/backwards) image of the desired image on a treated paper known simply as “transfer paper.” Once the paper has been printed, it is matched up to an appropriately sized piece of polymer-based fabric, typically a polyester material of one style or another (from sheer to satin to knit to canvas, etc.), and run through heated pressure rollers at about 375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wide Format Dye Sublimation Printing

This is where the heat transfer of the dye occurs. As the transfer paper heats up, the dye is transformed into a gas, and the pores or cells of the polymer-based fabric expand and open up. The dye is forced into the open pores by the pressure of the rollers, and as the fabric passes beyond the heated rollers, the cells rapidly close, trapping the dye inside the cells of the fabric, creating a beautiful continuous tone print, with colors typically more vibrant than what can be achieved with straight inkjet printing to fabric or vinyl.

There are many similarities, as you can see, between inkjet and dye sub printing, and even some of the equipment is interchangeable, but they are definitely NOT the same thing. And the results of sublimate printing of polyester fabrics can create beautiful posters, banners, or displays that can make anything you’re promoting look better than you thought it could.

Are you looking for fabric banners imprinted with customized graphics through dye sublimation? Visit this page –


Differences Between Dye Sublimation Printing vs. Digital Ink Jet Printing


Dye Sublimation Printing of Fabric Banners and Displays Compared to Items Printed Using an Inkjet Digital Printer

Question: This is probably a pretty basic question, but I was wondering what a dye sublimation printer is characteristically used for?

Answer: Actually, this is a good question, and while I’ve written a lot on this topic, I enjoy continuing to do so because it keeps me sharp and learning more about dye sub printing and new developments in this arena of printing, which has some similarities to inkjet printing, and some significant differences.

Large Format Inkjet Printing

An inkjet printer in our business is typically at least 30 inches wide, but go up over sixteen feet in width, and these can be used as dye sublimation printers as well, although not generally interchangeably without flushing feed lines and some other technical “fixes” that need to be done before being able to convert from one type of ink to a dye ink set.

For one thing, CMYK or four color process printing done with ink on an inkjet printer actually uses the 4CP ink set CMYK (short version of cyan-magenta-yellow-black), in contrast to the dye set used when printing in preparation for dye sub printing. The dye set is termed CMYO, which is short for cyan-magenta-yellow-overprint clear, where the dye is printed to a treated transfer paper, and in the heat transfer process becomes the black color.

So, first, let me tell you what dye sublimation printers are NOT used for. They are not used for natural fiber fabrics such as cotton, linen, or bamboo. They are also not used for direct to fabric printing or what is erroneously called direct sublimation printing, which is really inkjet to fabric printing, or DTF (direct-to-fabric) printing (another term is DTS, or direct-to-substrate).

Dye sublimation is typically not used for materials like PVC (vinyl) decal stock or banner materials, as inkjet printing works fine as a surface print for these materials. Dye sublimation is generally not used for rigid plastics like styrene or polyethylene as flatbed digital UV printing is mostly used for this type of printing. Other rigids such as MDO plywood or heavier plastics are also printed on the flatbed UV inkjet digital printers.

Large Format Dye Sublimation Printing

What dye sublimation is used for. With a special polymeric coating, there are many items that can be printed with the dye sub print process such as cups, metal or even wood plaques and awards, or anything else that can be inserted into a flatbed heated press.

And, of course, fabric. Polymer-based fabrics such as nylon or polyester can be printed using dye sublimation heat transfer from the treated transfer paper by printing a mirror image on the paper, matching it to the fabric, and sending it through heated pressure rollers. This process, like the flat press described above, converts the dye into a gaseous state and impregnates the heat-opened polymer cells with color, which, after the heat and pressure are gone, close in around the dye, leaving the color permanently as part of the fabric. This not only creates durable color, it also creates almost photographic quality continuous tones that are brighter and more colorful than an inkjet printer can normally achieve.

The printed fabrics can be used on X-banner stands, L-banner stands, Retractable or Adjustable banner stands, feather banners, blade banners, pop-up banner displays, teardrop banners, trade show displays, retail displays, hanging banner systems, garments, and anything else you can think of that is made from fabric in the commercial or non-commercial realm.

Lastly, wholesale Dye sublimation printing of customized graphics on fabric banner displays is available at:


Dye Sublimation Printing on Fabric: Advantages & Disadvantages


Advantages & Disadvantages of Dye Sublimation Printing on Fabric Banners & Garment Versus Printing with an Inkjet Printer

Some clients have asked what the advantages or disadvantages are to a dye sublimation printer or printing, so I am addressing this topic today.

Wide Format Sublimation Printer

Dye sublimation printing is, by definition, the sublimating of dye in fabric. The way it works is like this. First, a transfer paper is printed on a digital printer that is set up with CMYO dye cartridges rather than your typical CMYK inks. CMYK, or four color process printing (4CP is the shorthand version of CMYK which stands for cyan-magenta-yellow-black) is used in surface printing of materials, including direct-to-fabric printing, but does not become part of the fabric like dye sub printing does.

Dye sublimation uses dyes, as I said, and a CMYO dye cartridge set that replace the black in CMYK printing with an “Overprint Clear.” The inkjet printer that is set up to print dyes (this cannot be done interchangeably without a significant amount of know-how and expense, so once a printer is set up to print dyes, it is usually not converted back to standard CMYK inkjet printing) prints a mirror image of whatever it is that needs printed on a treated dye-accepting paper known generically as “transfer paper.”

This paper is now “married” to a piece of polyester or another synthetic fabrics (polyester is the most common due to its versatility in look and usage – from stretchable trade show booth fabrics to garments to outdoor flags and a whole lot more) and then it is fed through heated rollers that combine heat – about 375°F or 210°C – with pressure to expand the cells of the fabric and convert the dye to a gaseous state.

The dye is sublimated into the open pores of the polymeric synthetic material, and as it cools again, traps the sublimated dye within the cells of the fabric. Because the dye became gaseous, it does not create a dot pattern during the sublimation process like inkjet printing will on fabric or vinyl or other rigid plastic substrates, rather it creates a continuous tone print much like how photographs are developed and look.

Cloth banner PrintingSo, now that I’ve explained the basic difference between dye sublimation printing and inkjet printing, I’ll address the original question of the advantages or disadvantages of both. As you may know, I don’t think there’s a lot of disadvantages to dye sublimation printing on fabric, but I’ll give you the two that I can think of off the top of my head. First, it is slower than inkjet printing because you have two processes in the heat transfer part of dye sublimation, so labor costs are going to be higher to some degree, although there are now printers that have the fabric and paper inline and they are drawn into the heated rollers as the printer continues to print.

The second disadvantage is also a production issue that is being solved by the newer printer/roller units just explained in the previous paragraph. In the past, and still in the present, it is not uncommon for the fabric to get a crease or wrinkle in it, or the paper, and suddenly the whole transfer print and piece of fabric are ruined. You would have to start over. Many of those who have been at this for awhile and are using older equipment charge higher prices per square foot for wider material, but many also don’t who have the newer equipment.

As far as advantages, I talked about the continuous tone printing that creates brighter and smoother color variations and transitions than you’ll find with inkjet printing, and a superior overall look, in our opinion. Also,  because the dye impregnates or is sublimated in the fabric, it is permanent and cannot flake off like some types of ink will, particularly garment inks used for t-shirts or inks printed on rigid substrates. So, durability and appearance are probably the best examples of the superiority of dye sublimation printing of fabric or garments.

Check this out to discover more about dye sub imprinting on cloth fabric displays.


How Dye Sublimation of Garments, Banners, and Signs Works


Dye Sublimation Printing of Polyester Fabric: Heat Transfer Printing for Fabric Banners, Signs, and Other Items

Question: Can you please describe how dye sublimation printing works? What kind of printer is used? Is it the same as heat transfer printing?

Answer: Wow! All very good and related questions to the dye sub and heat transfer printing of fabric, one of my favorite ways to print fabric and other items, although this answer will deal mostly with polyester fabric.

First, there are two types of sublimation printers. One uses ribbon so transfer color to a transfer paper, and the other is the same basic printing method as digital printing except there are differences between ink and dye. And the same printers can be used, although not interchangeably due to the differences between dyes and ink.

dye sub printer

Inkjet printing uses, typically, what is known as the “four color process” printing method. The four colors are also known in shorthand as CMYK ink colors. CMYK stands for Cyan-Magenta, Yellow, and Black, which in any combination will print almost any color, not including neon colors or metallic colors, but most colors in the photo spectrum.

Because of the limitations of CMYK inks, additional colors have been added to some printers which are now known as 6 color digital printers, having added a light cyan and a light magenta to reach some of the harder colors to create in the printing process. Some printers have even added orange and green cartridges as well.

Dye sublimation printing is slightly different. The dyes used are similar to ink, but with some differences. The inkset for dye sub printing is also a four color process (also known in shorthand as 4CP), but the shorthand version here is CMYO, or cyan-magenta-yellow-overprint clear. Where is the black, you may wonder? It would be hard to create a full color spectrum without black!

To explain where the black went, or rather more accurately, where it comes from in CMYO dye sublimation printing, I need to delve into the rest of how it works. As stated previously, a standard 4CP inkjet printer is needed to print dyes as well, but the dye must be printed on a treated paper cleverly named “transfer paper.”

An image is printed in reverse (or mirror printed) on the transfer paper. The paper is matched up to a piece of fabric. The fabric cannot be a natural fiber because of the process that will be explained momentarily. The fabric typically used most of the time is polyester because it is a versatile fiber that can be made to look like anything from an oil canvas to a sheer fabric to a double-sided knit material that can be made into a double-sided flag or banner.

Once the paper is matched to the fabric, it is run through heated rollers at high pressure. The rollers are heated to just under 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 210 degrees Celsius. As the fabric goes through the heated rollers, two things happen. First, the pores or cells of the poly-fabric open up, while simultaneously the dye on the paper is converted to a gaseous state. The gas impregnates the open cells which close as they leave the heated rollers. This creates a continuous tone print which cannot be achieved using an inkjet printer because of the dot pattern laid down by the inkjets.

If an item such as plastic or aluminum is coated with a special polymeric coating, these items can also be printed. Besides banners and posters and flags, other items that are commonly printed with dye sublimation heat transfer printing are clothing items such as T-shirts, table covers, sportswear, ID cards, and signs.

Some advantages to dye sublimation printing is that the image is a part of the fabric, so it doesn’t peel off like ink on the surface of fabric or other materials and will not fade for many years. The dye cannot build up on fabric like t-shirts either. Everyone had worn a printed shirt where the ink felt like it was very stiff on the surface of the material, and over time it will begin to flake off. This will not happen with dye sublimation.

Other advantages are that the colors can be more brilliant than other types of printing because of the process of dye sublimation and the continuous tones that are achieved when the dye converts to a gaseous state. Because in printing garments the fabric is printed before the shirt or jacket is constructed, the image can go to the edge of the fabric which is not achievable typically with screen printed shirts.

More about dye sublimation printing on polyester cloth at


What is a “Quick Screen” Adjustable Banner Stand?


Where Can I Find a Quick Screen (Retractable/Pull-up/Roll-up/Adjustable) Banner Stand?

I get a lot of people asking where to purchase a “quick screen” banner stand. For educational purposes, I will say that the more common terms for this banner stand are 1) adjustable banner stands, 2) retractable banner stands, 3) roll-up banner stands, and 4) pull-up banner stands. These banner stands may also go by other names, which are typically brand names applied to the same stands everyone else sells in an attempt to differentiate their brand from other seller’s offerings, which is just good marketing.

Quick Wall Retractable Banners

However, on the flip side of that equation, you’re likely going to pay more, sometimes a lot more, for a brand designation. Quite honestly, most banner stands within categories such as premium, mid-range, or economy, are probably manufactured by a few companies in Asia. Many vendors try to deny that this is the case, but, suffice it to say, they’re probably “shading” the truth just a little.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this style of banner stand, the basic concept is an upside down version of the pull down slide projection screens that are still widely used for video presentations, movies in theaters (most larger screens have electric motors to reel the screen up or down now), sales presentations, or to show the speaker larger than life in a larger venue where you may not be able to get a clear view of the speaker due to distance, angle, or being in a different room location than the actual speaker.

If you were to flip the screen upside down and have a way to keep it in the air, you’d have, essentially, the basic principle behind the retractable pull-up banner stands. Of course, size-wise, there are limitations for printed banner graphics, usually around 10 feet, but most banner stands are about three feet in width to seven feet in height, although recently our suppliers have expanded their offerings to stands that are much wider (eight feet) to about eight feet in height as well. Custom sizes can also be made if the order is more than a few as well.

So, as to the original question as to where you can purchase these roll-up or adjustable banner stands, the answer is that you can buy them quite readily online from dozens of retailers. If you’re wanting to purchase larger quantities wholesale, yours truly can help you with those projects as we have links to manufacturers overseas.

There are also a few choices of materials that you can order with your retractable banner stands. Our favorite is dye sublimation printed polyester fabric banners. Dye sublimation, in our opinion, is the most attractive option for roll-up banners, hands down. And the cost is not significantly different or higher than cheaper options, although it is a bit more costly.

X-Banner stands

Another popular and durable option is vinyl banner material, the stand by material that is thought of as a cheaper option by many, although the difference is shrinking every year, as vinyl bottomed out price-wise in the mid-2000’s as a few online retailers tried to grab the major market shares on vinyl banners. They succeeded in driving the profits to next to nothing, but I’m fairly certain they didn’t corner the market.

There are also plasticized paper options available that go by various names, mostly brand names, but these are decent short term or one use banners where a retailer or the like wants a new banner every month and wants to keep costs down if they have multiple stores. Again, though, the cost savings is not tremendous any more with the cheaper looking options, so we’d suggest you request pricing from several vendors on fabric banners that are used in pull-up banner stands, X banner stands, or L banner stands and compare those prices to the cheaper options.

For more about banner stand displays, view here. To get a quick quote, hit the button below.


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