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What's Inside Dye Sublimation Ink?

Nov. 19, 2021

What is Dye Sublimation Printing?

It's the chemistry behind dye sublimation that makes it the correct technique for printing on polyester and polyester resin coated products. Using a wide-format inkjet printer, dye-sub inks are printed on a special transfer paper. From there, the ink is heat transferred from the paper onto a fabric by using a heat press. The ink changes from a solid to a gas (hence the term “sublimation”) and enters the polyester fibers.

The polymers in the polyester bond when heated, which allows the graphics to quickly become permanently embedded into your materials. As a heated gas, the ink becomes fully infused into the fabric instead of just printed on the surface, resulting in long-lasting, high-quality products.


Dye sublimation ink is used in a special printing process that allows the ink to permeate the surface of the object being printed rather than just sitting on the surface. The ink is specially designed to allow the sublimation process to take place, but what is in the ink that allows this to happen? Below is a breakdown of what is actually in dye sublimation ink.


Dye sublimation ink

Types of Dye Sublimation Ink

Before we can detail what dye sublimation ink is made of, we must first explain about the two main types of ink. The first type of dye sublimation ink is solvent — solvent ink is an oil-based dye sublimation ink, in which the pigment is suspended in some type of oil. The other type of ink is aqueous, where the pigment is suspended in water. Water based inks are compatible with most inkjet printers but not grand format printers, and do not require ventilation or produce any odors when being used. However, because the water is absorbed by the paper, it has the tendency to make the sublimation paper ‘cockle’ which can affect the final design. Solvent dye sublimation inks do not cockle the paper, and work with most grand format printers, however their print density is lower, which can affect how bright the colors appear in the final product.

Solvent Dye Sublimation Ink

Solvent dye sublimation inks are basically pigments suspended in an oil base, but of course there are other stabilizers and surfactants in the mix. Solvent inks may contain a chloride-vinyl acetate copolymer at 2-6%, a polymeric amide at 0-4%, a ethyl acetate at 0-4%, 2-methoxy-1-mthylethyl at 0-1.25%, N-butyl acetate at 0-2.5%, and Butan-2-OL at 0-0.5%. There will also be a distillate at 0-3%, and at least one subliminal disperse dye at a rate of 0.25% to 9%, which must be insoluble in either an included ether or acetate. Propylene glycol must be included in the range of 0% to 2%, and an additional acetate will make up 78% to 95% of the solution. This entire solvent based dye sublimation ink solution must, when mixed properly, be able to flow through the head of an ink jet printer in order to function properly.


Aqueous Dye Sublimation Ink

In aqueous dye sublimation ink, water is the solvent in which the pigments and other ingredients are suspended, and the water will typically make up 30-95% of the weight of the ink. The dye particles make up 1-10% of the solution, and must have a melting point of 200 degrees Celsius or higher. 5% to 40% of the solution may be a co-solvent such as glycerol, propylene glycol, and dipropylene glycol. 0.01% to 5% of the weight will be a surfactant, which will reduce the tension between the other ingredients and act as an emulsifier. The solution will also include a biocide such as Procel GXL as a preservative, at 0.01% to 5% of the final product’s weight.


Applications of sublimation ink

● Ideal for transfer print onto fabric with more than 60% chemical fibers.

● Provides unlimited design potential for a wide range of applications for signage and apparel printing including T-shirt, Home furnishing flags, banners, sportswear, swimwear etc. 


InkMall is recognized as the first choice for highly reliable and cost-effective sublimation ink. InkMall is able to ensure the reliability and performance that our customers demand. Any questions about sublimation ink, feel free to contact us.