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Sublimating on Metal—It Rocks!

Dye sublimation is a great process to print on a wide selection of materials: plastic, ceramic, polyester T-shirts—and our favorite substrate, metal! Although the process of sublimating on metal versus other materials is similar, there are a few key things to keep in mind to make your sublimation pop on this substrate.

Sublimating on Metal—It Rocks!

BY JOSE LOPEZ, IDENTIFICATION PLATES,

Dye sublimation is a great process to print on a wide selection of materials: plastic, ceramic, polyester T-shirts—and our favorite substrate, metal! Although the process of sublimating on metal versus other materials is similar, there are a few key things to keep in mind to make your sublimation pop on this substrate.

First, as with any sublimation material, the metal you use for sublimation needs to have a polyester coating. If you are new to sublimating on metal, keep in mind that metal is forgiving and doesn't break. It's a great material to work with to provide a unique look and feel for your customers.

One of the challenges of working with a variety of metal finishes is color matching. The color printed on the sublimation paper will not look the same on metal. For example, a dark red on paper may look fire-red when sublimated on metal.

You may find you need to do a bit of testing to get the look you are going for with your metal. When I test for color matching, I prefer to make different swatches to give me a range of results to review. In my experience, the quickest way to match colors is to create a gradient of the color you desire and see what color variations work best.

Now let's get started sublimating on metal!

STEP 1

Remove the protective mask (assuming your have a precoated metal that comes with protective masking).

STEP 2

Print your design on a sublimation printer using sublimation paper. Remember, the ink will not sink into the paper itself and needs to be handled with care.

TIP: One of the things we love about dye sublimating on metal is that the metal itself can be part of the design! Most printers can't print white ink, therefore where you see white in your design it will be transparent, bringing out the silver, gold, sparkle, or other color of the metal. If you do need the sublimation to show a white color or background, plan on using a white-colored metal.

STEP 3

Line up the printout with your metal and tape in into place with heat resistant tape.

STEP 4

Place the metal in your press, set the appropriate setting for dye sublimation, and sublimate!

TIP: Keep in mind that metal heats up faster than most materials. The three key ingredients to a successful sublimation print—time, pressure and temperature—will need to be carefully adjusted to compensate when using metal.

STEP 5

After the sublimation is complete, let the metal cool down before removing the print paper to check your final design. Metal stays hotter than other materials longer, especially steel, so don't get burned!

Now you have a vibrant design on metal like the design at left that your customers will love!

Jose Lopez is the Digital Imaging Supervisor at Identification Plates, Inc. He is an expert in the Adobe Suite and CorelDraw and has a developed expertise in sublimation and laser/ mechanical engraving. Lopez serves on the Advisory Board for the Eastfield College Digital Imaging Department, where he and his team evaluate the program and give industry insight to help decide the best courses for students to focus on. Outside of ID Plates, he is passionate about leather work, photography, sandblasting, and 3D printing.

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