Sub Printers Explained
printers (also known as "Dye Diffusion
Thermal Transfer Printers") are known
for their high quality photographic
output. As the technology continues
to be improved, dye sublimation printers
are bringing cost-effective high quality
digital printing into the mainstream.
Consumers can even purchase a desktop
dye sublimation printer for under $900.
How Do Dye Sublimation Printers Work?
sublimation printing starts with films
that contain dyes. This will either be
a single four layered film with cyan,
magenta, yellow, and gray pigments or
four separate films for each color. Because
the films contain the pigments, they
will appear red, blue, green, and gray.
During the printing process, the films
are placed on the paper and heated
up by the print head. This will cause
the pigments to leave the film and
enter into the paper where it cools
re-solidifies. This is the "sublimation" part.
Sublimation means to heat something
and turn it into a vapor, then to form
it back into a solid. Because the pigments
go from solid, to gas, and back to
solid, there is little mess compared
What Makes A Dye-Sub Printer So Good?
There are two factors that contribute to the quality of dye sub printers.
The first is continuous tone, and the other is un-dithered color.
color produced by a dye-sub is the result of the mixing of pigments
to get the actual color. This is in contrast to most other printing
methods which use a tight group of colored dots which, when seen
by the human eye from a distance, appear to be a color (a process
known as "dithering"). Under magnification, the dots are clearly
different colors, and when seen close up with the naked eye the picture
appears grainy. Because only one color needs to be printed (instead
of up to four), a dye sub can place more dots on a paper. It takes
a 1200 dpi printer to get the resolution a 300 dpi dye-sub printer
is capable of.
Another difference that helps is that because the color sublimes on
the paper instead of being laid down as little dots, the edges of each
pixel are blurred. This gives the impression of blending for a more
natural appearance. Dots from an inkjet leave large white gaps in between
pixels, giving the impression of a grain.
Since longevity is something we all want from our photographs, it's
also comforting to know that because dyes sublimate into the paper
instead of just being painted onto its surface, dye sub prints tend
to resist fading and are often colorfast. Using special dyes and papers
allow them to last even longer.
Why Doesn't Everyone Use Dye Sub Printers?
For one thing, dye sub printers are typically far more expensive then
comparable inkjet printers. You can buy a photo quality printer for
half of what a comparable dye sub printer costs at the consumer level.
On the professional level, the gap is much closer, but they can still
be as much as a thousand dollars more expensive.
Dye sublimation printers also only do one thing well: photo quality
full color images. They are neither practical for document printing
nor are they as fast as inkjet printers. A dye sub printer takes about
a minute to produce a print regardless of whether it's a full color
photo or a page of typed text because it still has to print each pixel
thermally. An inkjet printer will only print the areas that need to
be printed, so it can produce a full page of typed text in seconds.
On the other hand, to produce a photographic quality print, an inkjet
printer can take up to 10 minutes.
When it comes to printing on different kinds of papers, a dye sub is
limited to papers and films. An inkjet printer can print to just about
anything you can run through it, including cotton canvas, envelopes,
cardstock, and foam backed presentation board.
Inkjet printers are more versatile, and since most people print both
photographs and documents, they accept the trade-offs. Until recently,
when low cost digital cameras and powerful computers became available
to the general public, the only people who truly needed dye sublimation
printing were photography studios, print houses, and art departments.
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