Dye Sublimation colour management can be very challenging. The heat process used to transfer the ink to the substrate can introduce inconsistency into the workflow, and fabric or ceramic surfaces can be difficult to get accurate colour measurements from.

Dye sublimation printing has proved to be a very popular new service for established printing companies to diversify into, and the low cost of entry makes it tempting for the smaller home business start up. The dye sublimation process involves printing with special ink-jet inks onto a transfer paper, and then using heat to turn the ink into a gas, which then transfers to a second substrate.

The ink set, transfer paper, printer settings, heat temperature, timing and pressure all have a profound influence on the final colour. The wide range of possible final substrates also has a big influence on the final colour, of course. Vendors of dye sublimation systems usually try and confine customers into a narrow range of equipment, ink and media that they can provide settings and ICC profiles for to help get customers acceptable results. 

However, if you want to step outside that narrow range of consumables, either to reduce costs or improve results, then they may not be willing or able to help you achieve accurate colour prints. Also, if you have range of printing technologies and need to get your dye sublimation results matching other printers and media their colour management knowledge may not be up to considering your workflow as a whole.

I have been colour managing dye sublimation printing for over ten years. I have worked with fabric printers, sports wear manufacturers, fashion brands and even a company making tombstone ceramic photo plaques. Over the years I have honed my techniques for dye sublimation colour management so that I can achieve consistent, accurate, and pleasing colour for my customers.

Here are my top ten tips:

  1. Ensure your process is consistent – make sure your heat pressing is reliable in keeping to temperature, don’t swap and change transfer paper or inks without re-profiling, and maintain your printer well.
  2. Don’t be tempted to put too much ink down onto the transfer paper. The optimal amount will vary with the ink set and the media but too much doesn’t always result in a larger colour gamut on the final substrate.
  3. Run through the calibration routines in your RIP, if you are using one, to achieve a linear print before you output your profiling patches.
  4. Use a large number of profiling patches and average several measurements to increase profile accuracy.
  5. When generating your dye sublimation ICC profile use a high amount of grey component replacement to ensure neutrals are made up of mostly black ink. This will help stop inconsistencies in the process introducing easily visible colour casts into greys.
  6. Profile your best substrate first – if you have a fabric that always turns out looking pretty good then profile that one first. It will give you the confidence to then try harder to measure or print substrates.
  7. When you have made your first profile examine the gamut and curves in profile viewing software such as ColorThink. It will help to identify errors in measurements and allow you to compare profiles made under different conditions.
  8. Always use a good test image to test your profiles, preferably converting the image to the profile in Photoshop and printing it before loading the profile into your RIP. A good test image will have a wide range of colours, tones, and graduations to really test your profile.
  9. If the test does not print well try again varying one factor at a time, for example something in the print settings or the transfer paper. Don’t change more than one variable or you won’t know what is improving or worsening the result.
  10. Always know what it is that you are trying to achieve. You need a well colour managed print of your test image to compare against. You cannot use a sample a customer has previously had printed as you will not know if it is an accurate reproduction of the file. Dye sublimation printing can be poorly colour managed and trying to match someone else’s poor print is almost impossible. Instead, create accurate profiles yourself and have printed test images to hand so that you can prove to the customer that you are printing accurately.

Good dye sublimation colour management may not be easy but any investment in equipment, training, or hiring outside consultants, will pay for itself in reduced wastage of both materials and time.

I can provide on-site training on profiling for dye sublimation, or create your profiles for you if you prefer. Please get in touch if you are interested.