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What Is The Difference Between Sublimation Ink And Heat Transfer Ink?


When it comes to printing T-shirts and textiles, ink selection is an important part. So what’s the difference between these inks?

At present, the inks for heat transfer printing on the market can be basically divided into two types, including dye inks and pigment inks. Sublimation ink also belongs to dye ink. These inks have their own characteristics in terms of raw materials, uses and so on.

This article mainly introduces the characteristics of these inks and the differences between them.

Three Different Types of transfer inks

Some inkjet printers use dye-based inks, some use pigment-based inks, and some use both. Many of the raw materials of sublimation ink are also disperse dyes. What are the differences between these three printing inks?

what’s the sublimation ink?

Sublimation ink is to make low-energy, easy-to-sublime disperse dyes into digital printing ink, then print it on the sublimation transfer paper. By heating, the image can be made to exquisite on porcelain, metal, silk, chemical fiber cloth and other materials in the shortest time.

The pros

The finished image of sublimation ink is bright in color and rich in layers, and its effect is comparable to that of printing.

Because the ink is sublimated by heat at high temperature, it penetrates into the surface of the medium, and forms an image after sublimation.

Therefore, no adhesive film will be formed on the surface of the medium, and the image will not fall off or crack, and it has strong light resistance and will not fade for a long time.

It is very suitable for the market needs of personalized development and the requirements of environmental protection.

The cons

Sublimation ink can be used on certain materials such as polyester and polyester coated substrates. Other materials, such as cotton, cannot withstand heat during the printing process.

Meanwhile, the ink is very sensitive to humidity and oxidation

What’s the normal dye Ink?

Dye inks are standard inks used in inkjet printers. It is made of water and colorants. Colorants give ink color.

It is a liquid colorant mixed in a solution. It has the best color contrast than pigment and sublimation inks and is most commonly used for document printing. However, it is easy to fade, and the shelf life is about 25-30 years under bright outdoor lighting conditions.

The Pros

Dye inks usually come in a variety of colors, which makes them suitable for decorative or artistic use. Ink sticks easily to textile fabrics, printing paper or any other suitable medium.

Due to their small molecular size, about 1.5-4 nanometers, dye inks can produce vivid colors.

Another advantage of using dye inks is that it is more economical than other inks such as pigment inks.

The Cons

The biggest disadvantage of dye inks is that water or overheating can ruin the quality of the print. When you print with dye inks, be very careful not to make the final product contact with water. A few drops of water can make the ink flow through the paper.

What’s the pigment ink?

Pigment-based ink is a type of ink used to color paper and other surfaces. Pigments are tiny particles of solid matter suspended in a liquid or gaseous medium such as water or air. In this case, the pigment is mixed with an oil-based carrier.

In other words, it is a particulate colorant suspended in solution. It is more resistant to fading than dye inks and lasts up to about 200 years. At the same time, he has a narrow color gamut.

The Pros

These particles are made up of many molecules that bind together and create extremely stable chemical bonds. Therefore, the ink is less sensitive to humidity and oxidation.

Most printers that use pigment inks offer eight ink colors: black, light gray, medium gray, yellow, magenta, light magenta, cyan, and light cyan. What’s more, pigments last longer than dye inks.

The Cons

Encapsulated particles remain on top of the printed object rather than being absorbed completely into it due to the large size of the pigment particles. Inkjet receiver topcoats allow ink to adhere to the surface, resulting in higher media costs.

It looks different from different perspectives. You’ll notice a greenish or bronze tint on different sides and lighting conditions. Pigment inks are often susceptible to metamerism, which causes it to change color under different lighting conditions.

How to Choose appropriate ink?

Sublimation inks are mainly used for thermal transfer printing on polyester-rich garments. In addition to this, you can print metal, ceramic, fiberboard and many other materials with ink.

However, a special coating on the surface is required to properly set the dye ink so that the ink does not fade and crack easily.

Pigment Ink is best for printing dark and light-colored cotton materials due to its water repellent. Since pigment inks stay on the surface rather than soaking or absorbing completely into the blanks, cotton and natural fabrics are best for them. Polyester fabrics are not suitable for this ink.

Dye inks are a good choice if you need to print documents and photos. It is more economical than pigment ink.

For cotton and natural fabrics, pigment inks are sufficient to maintain the quality of the product. However, if you’re printing on primarily polyester blended fabrics, using sublimation inks. They tend to stick to such garments better than pigmented ones.


Each ink has its own advantages and usages.

At present, the demand for dye-sublimation ink is increasing because of the popularization of dye-sublimation technology.

Ordinary dye inks are easy to fade, the sales market is still very large due to their high quality and low price.

Pigment ink is also widely used in the home textile industry because of its good preservation.

So when we choose ink, we need to compare it from multiple aspects and choose the most suitable one according to our own needs.

I hope this article can clear some of your doubts.

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