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Dye Sublimation Printing on Snowboards and Cotton

snowboarding under the heat of the sun

Can you do dye sublimation pressing on snowboard or cotton fabric surfaces? Read here to find out.

Question:  Is the dye sublimation printing process usable for printing snowboards?

Absolutely. Dye sublimation can be used on any surface where polymeric treatment of a substrate can be successful, from mugs to glass to snowboards.

Basis for Dye Sublimation to Work

Printed SnowboardsBecause it is the polymers that are the basis of dye sublimation, if a substrate can retain the polymeric treatment on its surface, that substrate can be dye sub printed. Plastics, glass, wood, stone, metal…anything with a smooth surface that will accept the various sprays available for treating a substrate in preparation of dye sublimate printing.

What Happens During Printing

The way that dye sublimation works is that when heat and pressure are applied to an item that has been treated and married to the printed dye sublimation transfer paper, the polymers expand and open up, kind of like a flower in the sun.

As the pressurized heat causes the polymers to expand, the dye turns gaseous due to the heat (around 400ºF), and the dye (as gas) flows into the open polymers, creating a beautiful continuous tone print as it cools, locking in the color for a permanent display of continuous photographic tones.

So, as that long answer to your question about whether snowboards can be printed using dye sublimation was above. And the short answer is yes, and it is being done already, but if you can create a market, you may have the most incredible-looking snowboards on the mountain!

Question:  [Barry’s Note: I paired this question up with the one above as it seemed to be related but on the opposite side of the question of materials] Will dye sub printing work on cotton surfaces?

No. Above I explained that any hard, smooth surface that will accept the polymeric spray is screen printable. Much has been written about dye sublimation printing on cotton T-shirts, but true dye sublimation printing cannot be done on natural fabrics, although there are some heat transfer inks that will work as sort of a sublimation process.

Why Dye Sublimation won’t Work with Natural Fibers 

The problem with natural fibers is that they don’t open and close like the polymer based fibers. Because they don’t open or close, but are porous, when the dye turns gaseous and passes through the fibers, binding to the surface and not into the fibers. In turn, if you wash the fabric, the dye will simply come back out.

Cotton has been screen printed successfully for decades, but the issue with it has always been the feel of the ink, which over time fades with successive washing and it has a bit of a hard hand  feel to it. However, there are some new inks, just mentioned above, that do have a soft hand feel to them and are as close to dye sublimation as you can get without being polyester.

The Fabric of Choice

Polyester fabric is the typical fabric used for dye sublimation cloth printing, and again, this is because the polymers in the fabric are able to open up with the heat and the gaseous form of dye is able to enter those opened pores, then be locked in when the fabric cools.

Other Fabrics that can’t be Dye Sublimated

Other natural fabrics that cannot be dye sublimation printed include linen, wool, ramie, jute, silk, and angora, to name some of  the more common fibers. Synthetic fibers include orlon, rayon, acetate, nylon, acrylic, polyester, olefin, spandex, lastex and kevlar. Of this list, all of them are polymer fabrics and can be printed using dye sublimation although polyester, because of its versatility, has emerged as the favorite fabric for most dye sublimation printers.

To see more details about sublimation printing on polyester fabrics, check this out.


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Barry K. Brown

Barry Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. It isn't what he thought he'd do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else!

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