Sublimation is considered the simplest way of printing on fabric: it is just a matter of printing on paper using sublimation inks and transferring these to the fabric using a heat press. The only problem with sublimation is that it is not possible to use it on cotton. The technique can only be used on synthetic polyester fabrics, which are not as pleasing to the skin as cotton is. In my research, I found a simple solution to obtain a nice result on almost any fabric, with the advantages of both sublimation printing and the comfort of cotton fibres.
Digital printing | by Maria José Leaño | Stitch&Print
Developed by d-gen, sublicotton is not a new kind of ink or a special coating that allows sublimation on cotton. It is simply a different way of combining traditional techniques for textiles.
The idea originates from the fashion industry, where adhesive interlining is used to support fabrics at particular places in garments. Most often, a lining is sandwiched between two fabrics and fixed with seams, like, for example, in cuffs and collars for men’s shirts. These have to withstand all kinds of stress like wearing and washing without peeling off or moving out of place and creating wrinkles. For that reason, interlinings are especially engineered fabrics, coated on one side with droplets of thermo-sensitive glue in order to be able to fasten them inside garments, using heat and pressure. As you can imagine, they have become extremely advanced and developed materials by now, and most of them are made using synthetic fibers that can be thermoformed and hold shape after garment usage.
All this rang a bell. It being synthetic fabrics that have to be fastened to any kind of fabric using heat and pressure, gave d-gen the idea for ‘sublicotton’, the commercial name of this very simple development.
The technique uses transfer sublimation and a high quality polyester adhesive interlining to transfer an image to cotton fabric. A piece of interlining is used as a base for the print and is glued to a fabric at the same time. It cannot absorb sublimation inks, for otherwise it would not print. This technique can be used on any types of fabrics (cotton, rayon and even blend fabrics) of any color, including dark colors and black.
As a special kind of polyester adhesive interlining is used, it is possible to obtain a colorful image on almost any type of fabric. Start by printing the paper using sublimation inks as usual. To transfer the image to the fabric, place the cotton fabric first, face up, and then place the interlining fabric on top of this, with the adhesive side facing down.
Then place the printed paper on top, facing down as well (Figure 1). Use a calander or a heat press to both sublimate the image on to the interlining and glue it to the cotton fabric at the same time. The image is now transferred to the interlining, which is glued to the cotton fabric.
This way of printing has all the advantages that sublimation printing has. The equipment that is needed is the same, which also goes for the procedure: print on paper, place in calander, transfer the image and the fabric is ready. There is no need for extra pretreatment, steaming or washing to fix the inks. The colors obtained are bright and vivid and will not fade after washing (Figure 2 and 3).
Any kind of fabric can be decorated using this technique, due to the fact that interlinings are developed to be glued to all sorts of fabrics. Therefore, any kind of fabric will do.
The main reason for using cotton fabrics for our garments is because they are more pleasing to the skin than polyester is. When covering completely, using a synthetic fabric is almost like coating the skin with a plastic film. The breathability of the fabric is reduced to a minimum. So, why do I recommend it? Well, as the quality of the printed sample is very good, I thought that this technique could be used for printing on garments for which the printed area is small, and thereby avoiding covering a whole fabric with a synthetic film.
To print on a garment
Follow the instructions of the general procedure, but instead of printing a whole piece of fabric, just print a single image and trim it around the edges. Cut the interlining in the same shape, but a little smaller, almost as if doing transfer printing on garments. This can be done by hand, but a digital cutter can also be used. Both the interlining and the sublimation paper should have the same shape, but the paper has to be a little bigger than the interlining, with a 2 mm bleed around. This is done to avoid ending up with a white border around the image. Use a heat press to transfer the image to the garment, place the garment, then the interlining face down, then the printed paper on top and press.
The image should be transferred to the garment.
The procedure can be done on white garments, but also on light and dark colors. The following gives an idea of how to do it.
The image can be prepared in the same way as is done for transfer printing. Any type of image will work: a scanned photo (or one obtained using a digital camera) or an image created using digital drawing on the computer.
If the garment is white, no extra preparation is necessary. Just make a clipping path around it as a guide for cutting the paper and the interlining in the desired form. If, however, the garment is colored, it is necessary to create a stroke around the image using that same color as the fabric, to avoid a white border around the print. (Figure 4). Remember to cut the interlining around 2 mm smaller than the printed paper as well.
Always use white interlining for sublicotton. If the fabric is dark, use a thick interlining to obtain better colors and whites. If printed on knitted or stretch fabrics, use an interlining that is knitted and stretchy as well. This will help the printed area to remain as flexible as the fabric, will keep it attached longer and will make sure it will not tear.
Why use sublicotton?
Transfer printing on garments is a simple way of placing an image on any type of garments by just printing the image, cutting it and transferring it to the garment using a heat press. The problem with these prints is that the images have a tough texture, almost like thick paper. It will break and fall off after a few washes (Figure 5). Sublicotton is made using fabric and will behave as one. It is flexible and wash- durable. Besides, sublimation has better colors than transfer printing has. Compared to direct printing on garments, it is less expensive. The machinery needed is the same as for sublimation, so no extra investments are needed to start using it.
For transfer printing on garments the machines needed are the same as for sublimation printing: a printer for paper with sublimation inks, sublimation paper and a heat press are the necessary equipment.
If you already have a sublimation system, it is possible to start using sublicotton as an alternative to direct-to-garment printing right away. All you need is the interlining that can be obtained from d-gen.
The information gathered for this article was obtained thanks to Andicolor S.A.
For further information about sublicotton and Andicolor, please contact Maria José Leaño, www.papayad.com.