First thing’s first. Dye sublimation printing only works effectively on synthetic fibres like recycled polyester. As polyester is the fabric of choice for most of our clients, it is basically our duty as custom clothing manufacturers to shine more light on the topic. That’s because the polyester fabric on its own isn’t eco-friendly, even when the yarn originates from recycled water bottles.
Why do we say this? Because if the polyester clothes don’t end up in a landfill, they’ll end up in the water streams as microplastics. There are ways to reduce the amount of microplastics leaving our washing machines.
There are also ways to make garment manufacturing as green as possible. One such way is dye sublimation because it can help you avoid traditional fabric dyeing and save a lot of water in the process.
Dye sublimation – the water-preserving colouring method
This method of applying colour to the fabric is the ecological lifeline for synthetic fibres. That’s because it is possible to colour them while making zero negative impact on the environment.
With dye sublimation, you will use 5 ml of water-based ink to dye 1 kg of recycled polyester clothes. On the other hand, traditional dyeing uses up to 200 l for the same amount of clothes. Another advantage dye sublimation has over traditional dyeing is that it doesn’t use harmful substances as a default.
Also, the sublimation ink penetrates the fibre on a molecular level and doesn’t wash away. Therefore, it’s more effective than traditional dyeing. If you plan to make activewear or sportswear, dye sublimation is ideal because these products are more often than not made from synthetic fibres.
How does dye sublimation work?
To use this colour application method, you need two machines – a dye sublimation printer and a calander for continuous transfer printing.
A dye-sublimation printer looks like an inkjet printer but uses different paper and ink. This paper is specific because it allows the ink to change between solid and gaseous states without turning into liquid. That way, the design transfers from paper into the fibre structure of fabrics.
The machine that makes that happen is the calender. It’s essentially a heat drum that paper and fabric pass through. The working temperature is between 190 and 230 °C.
That’s how all sorts of fantastic designs end up on customized t-shirts that you see on marathons.
Sustainable dyeing with FUSH˚
When we look behind, most of the clothing we made for our clients were various types of sportswear and activewear. That means we’ve used a lot of polyester fabrics in the process. Also, we’ve used our dye sublimation printers and heat calanders for sublimation and transfer printing a lot.
In fact, we used them so much that Epson decided to let us test their SureColor SC-F9400H dye sublimation printer in late 2019 before its official release in early 2020. One fantastic feature of this printer is that it prints fluorescent colours. That means you can now get that neon green clothing line made while reducing water consumption 40 000-fold. We’ve invited a film crew to make a video tour of our Belgrade factory. Our printing department got one of the “lead roles”. At this moment, FUSH˚ has a total of:
- – 10 Epson SureColor F6200 dye sublimation printers
- – 2 Epson SureColor F7200 dye-sub printers
- – 1 Epson SureColor SC-F9400H dye-sub printer
- – 3 Monti Antonio 120T calanders for continuous transfer printing
- – 1 Monti Antonio 180T calander for continuous transfer printing
This is the Epson SureColorF9400H dye-sub printer with fluorescent colours that we had the honour to use before it was officially released in early 2020.
Why this method doesn’t work on natural fibres?
You can try dye-sub transfer on cotton but it won’t show very good results. Sublimation inks don’t bond well with cellulose, which cotton essentially is. That’s why, traditional dyeing methods are still the way to go for cotton, even though this leads to water wastage. However, scientists are constantly tinkering with different strands of bacteria to create natural dyes that achieve the same results as the traditional method. We are yet to hear about a scaled-up solution but it’s great that there are many different labs looking for ways to make it a reality. Check out how Kukka, a design studio from the Netherlands are paving the way to a bacteria-dyed future with their project Living Colour.
If you are to start an activewear brand or a sportswear one, you don’t have much choice when it comes to fabrics – it’s either merino wool or recycled polyester/polyamide/nylon. Merino wool is really expensive and if your aim is a mid-price product, it’s out of the picture.
Synthetic fabrics, besides being fabrics with great moisture-wicking properties, have an unparalleled inability to decompose. That’s why, once people stop wearing them, the clothes present a danger to the environment. That’s why you as a clothing brand should do everything in your power to make the production process of those clothes as green as possible.
Dye sublimation gives you that chance. It gives you an opportunity to advertise the fact that comparatively, you’ve used 40k times less water than the next manufacturer using traditional dyeing techniques. And should you find a way to inspire your customers to upcycle their polyester garments, you’re keeping your clothes out of landfills, rivers, seas, and oceans. Also, warn them of the dangers of microplastics and what they can do to stop them at the source – the washing machine.
Learn more about how FUSH˚ goes around making clothes for startups, growing clothing brands, and established brands:
- Custom hoodie manufacturers
- Sublimation clothing
- CMT Garment Manufacturers
- Marathon clothing manufacturers
Find out our lead times and pricing estimates by sending us your enquiry through the form below.