How can I save sublimation ink

LFP Basics: Color Management for Digital Sublimation Prints

We all know these challenges all too well. You have to expect that when you work in the digital printing industry, where colors and efficiency are the be-all and end-all. In the case of color deviations, the efficiency is enormously reduced due to the additional expenditure of time and material required to check the individual color differences. And since good sublimation print service providers are measured by the quality of their images and colors, anyone who makes sublimation print products must have a basic understanding of color management.

Common problems with sublimation printing

A variety of problems can arise with color management in digital printing. One problem has to do with the properties of digital systems. Designs are created or edited on the illuminating screen of a computer. The monitor uses electrical energy to generate images in a format based on the combination of the three primary colors red, green and blue (RGB) in different proportions. When all three colors are combined in equal proportions on the monitor, the result is white.

Printers work differently, using cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) to produce colors. Combining these colors in equal proportions creates black. Because it is more expensive to use these three colors to produce black, most printers have a fourth color. This deep black completes a CMYK system.

For print output, RGB colors must be converted to CMYK colors. However, the CMYK format and the associated color space differ from the RGB format. Because the RGB color space of a monitor is larger than the CMYK color space of a printer. Therefore, there is no real match between the individual RGB and CYMK colors during the conversion.

While converting RGB to CMYK can cause some problems, there are other factors that can affect your colors. Color perception depends heavily on the lighting, the substrate, the surface finish and even on the ability of the brain to process colors. Just think of how colors appear muted when printing on soft or matte surfaces, or how they appear much stronger when printing on hard or glossy surfaces.

Environmental factors such as timing, temperature, pressure and atmosphere also come into play with sublimation printing. Too high or low temperatures and too high or low pressure have an influence on how much the dye is transferred from the transfer paper to the substrate. Excessive pressure can cause the substrate or paper to turn yellow or brown. Even changing the make of transfer paper can affect your color quality.

Everything about inkjet inks for sublimation printing

You can't talk about color management without talking about inks. To produce the right colors for a job, you must use the correct ink for the substrate you are using and the correct device for applying the ink. For example, pigment inks and dye-based inks have different properties and are not interchangeable. Sublimation printing with pigment inks is not possible.

The quality of the ink determines how good the finished product will look. Inks from brand manufacturers provide the largest color space and deep black tones, are more productive and lower in consumption than inexpensive inks that are often offered on the Internet.

It also depends on how inks are stored and fed onto the substrate. Sublimation printers work with an open or a closed ink supply system. Closed systems with single-use cartridges are the most efficient in terms of cost and productivity. Pre-filled cartridges ensure that the ink is free of contaminants and air bubbles. Closed systems also support refill systems with pre-filled ink bags that are easy to deploy. They offer more ink than cartridges while also providing the same consistent print quality.

Open systems use refillable ink channels, which increase the risk of oxidation in the ink or the ingress of contaminants, which in turn can reduce color quality and even damage the printheads. These systems can be useful for large format printers with jobs in high volumes, but are not suitable for sublimation printers with mainly small format jobs.

Color management software for digital sublimation printing

Now that you understand more about the external factors that affect color, now is the time to talk about using color management programs to solve some of these problems. Your goal in any printing project is to ensure that the colors produced on the final product match the colors of the templates for production.

This process is called color assignment. In digital decor printing, this means the conversion of an RGB color into an acceptable, equivalent CMYK color, taking into account the production variables. Color management programs can make this process a lot easier because they are designed to capture certain variables and make changes in how data is sent from the computer to the printer.

For example, the free color management software Power Driver 4 from Sawgrass for the Ricoh 3100DN takes into account factors such as substrates, inks, transfer papers and other variables specific to sublimation printing when processing colors from the computer to the printer. Based on this information, she makes small changes so that a particular color meets the expectations of the user after printing.

Modern color management software is ideal for assigning and converting colors. However, due to all of the factors that can affect colors, as mentioned above, an exact match may not be possible. Color management software is intended to make color matching and color management easier for the user. It is no substitute for the skills of the person who operates the printer and still has to assess the appearance of the colors produced on the desired substrate in comparison to the original colors according to the trial and error principle (color matching).

Color management for sublimation printing

Reading this article is a big step towards better color management in sublimation printing. Then you should take the following steps:

Mastery of your graphics program: Using your version of Corel Draw, Illustrator, or Photoshop properly is probably the most important step in increasing color quality. Use one of these three programs to create graphics for sublimation printing. There are tons of books, tutorials, and videos to get you started with Corel Draw and Adobe Creative Suite products. Sawgrass Europe has a library of webcasts to make these programs easier for you.

Using color management or RIP software: Install and use color management software that (ideally) matches the characteristics of your particular printer. Brand manufacturers of inks offer free software for color matching based on the properties of their inks. RIP software can be expensive, but it is extremely reliable for high volume jobs. Whichever you choose, you should be able to import the program's color palette into your graphics program. This makes it easy for you to choose the right color - no matter what it looks like on the screen.

Printing your color palettes on specific substrates: Remember that the way colors appear on screen is often misleading. You are therefore dependent on the output colors in order to assign the correct colors to your picture in your graphics program. This process is known as matching spot colors or spot colors. You can save time by printing the full range of colors in your color management program onto each substrate you use.

For example, sublimation printing on polyester fabric and metal allows you to print your palette on a skirt and metal plate. You should keep these print samples handy for reference during production and also for customers so they can see what the colors will look like after printing. Make sure that codes are printed for each color in the palette, and use software features that make it easy for you to save custom colors.

Execution of tests: Invest in inks, substrate swatches, and transfer paper for testing purposes. Use these to try out the various factors mentioned and see which combinations will produce the best color results. Record your test results and use them to establish standard production procedures. This saves you a lot of time and money in the long term and increases your efficiency enormously.

Efficient color management ensures color brilliance and accuracy, so that your work stands out from that of your competitors and your customers repeatedly place follow-up orders. With sublimation printing, a technology that produces unusually rich and expressive colors, the effect is even more pronounced.

Insufficient knowledge of proper color management when digitally printing on the substrates your customer wants can lead to customer dissatisfaction, increased material consumption, unnecessary reimbursements and damage to your reputation. You will find that every minute of studying color is worthwhile to improve your skills and knowledge.

About the author:Jimmy Lamb isEducation Manager at Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. The companyoffers in 100 countriesfully integrated sublimation and digital printing solutions for the finishing and printing of surfaces made of ceramic, metal, fabric, wood and plastic.