Today’s Question: In your video about making photo buttons you recommended using a “dye sublimation” printer. Can you explain what this type of printer is, and why you recommended it?
Tim’s Quick Answer: A dye sublimation printer is a printer that uses solid dyes that are converted to a gaseous form and then impregnated into the surface of the paper. The result is a print that is more durable than other types of prints where the ink sits on the surface of the paper.
More Detail: In many respects, dye sublimation printers are very well suited for photographic prints. As noted above, prints made with a dye sublimation printer tend to be more durable than other types of prints, because the dyes are impregnated into the paper and thus better protected from the elements.
In addition, because dye sublimation printers employ dyes that are applied to paper in a gaseous form, these printers are a true continuous tone printer. A photo inkjet printer, by contrast, must apply many small ink droplets of varying colors and sizes to produce smooth gradations of tone and color. Dye sublimation printers produce smoother gradations because they are truly continuous tone, without the use of individual “dots”.
These attributes make dye sublimation printers an excellent choice for a variety of photo printing applications. As noted in the latest episode of Tim Grey TV (https://youtu.be/EaTgqyke-9I), one such use is for the creation of photo buttons. With a dye sublimation print you don’t even need to use the clear plastic sheet that would otherwise be necessary to protect the photo being applied to the button.
Of course, there are drawbacks to dye sublimation printers as well. In most cases dye sublimation printers are only able to print at a single paper size, which can be a significant limitation in many cases. In addition, dye sublimation printers tend to be a little slower than other types of printers, in part because of the multiple passes required to produce the final print.
These days I consider dye sublimation printers to be a specialty printer that is an excellent choice for certain applications, but not necessarily an ideal choice for all photographic situations.