Are Sublimation Printing and Laser Printing the Same?

If, by any means, one refers laser printing as inkjet printing, then I would say yes, somewhat the same, but there is much more to that.
Inkjet printers, in general, are known to press graphics onto vinyl banners, stickers, or fabric (given that is designed suitable for fabric printing). On the contrary, that is not how it is with dye sublimation printing. This process makes use of dyes, instead of inks, which is a significant difference which requires totally different process.

Inkjet Printers
Most inkjets use the CMYK 4CP or 4-color process printers. C stands for cyan, M for magenta, Y for yellow, and then K for black. When combined during the printing process, wherein yellow is printed first, followed by magenta, then cyan, and then black, produces a full color image on the substrate (paper, vinyl, or fabric) being printed on.

The Inks
The ink set in inkjet printers is quite different because it is dye and not ink. When you use dye on a 4-color process printing in an inkjet printer, it would be quite different. Take note of that.

While you can use the same printers to print inkjet inks and sublimation dyes, you cannot switch the ink set for the dye set without completely flushing the printer itself. Hence, most printers won’t switch dyes for ink, or vice versa, due to the amount of labor required and the amount of time that would be wasted as well.

Dye Sublimation Dyes
On the other hand, the dyes in sublimation printing include the CMYO color set. CMY still stand for cyan, magenta, and yellow, whole O is the clear overprint which turns to black during the sublimation process.

The Difference in Printing
Here is the difference of sublimation and inkjet printing. With inkjet printing, you can load a roll of vinyl banner sheet and then send the print. A Heated platen or a UV light behind the vinyl, or whatever substrate printed on, dries up the ink, and then it rolls up on the take up reel, and then you’re done.

For die cut decal printing, shops use printers with a plotter that does the die cut job. However, many don’t, so the marks read by the plotter are printed, visually read by an eye on the plotter, and then cut in size. This is a simplified explanation as I do not think you need to know the details step by step.

With sublimation printing, first thing the printer does is that it produces a mirror image of the graphics to be printed (this is sort of the image printed backwards from the original source) on the heat transfer paper. After that, the printed paper is matched against the fabric you are going to be printed on, of course, the fabric has to be polyester or polymer-based for this to work, and then the fabric is run through 375 – 400 Fahrenheit degrees heated rollers.

As the fabric passes through the pressurized heated rollers, the transfer paper heats up, converting the dye into gas form and, at the same time, the polymer pores of the fabric opens up, and then the gas form of dyes fill into the opened pores with the rollers.

When the fabric passes through the rollers, the polymer pores then closes, permanently trapping the dyes inside the fabric and creating a continuous photographic print with vibrant colors, which is unmatched by the inkjet printer.

In Conclusion
As you can see, there are similarities between inkjet and sublimation printing. Some machines can be interchangeable, but they are not exactly the same. Plus, the print quality in dye sublimation is far more superior compared to what an inkjet can produce.


Barry K. Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. The business is rated A+ by the BBB since 2014. Wholesale pricing and FREE Quote are offered.

It isn’t what he thought he’d do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else! He has been marketing these products online since 1998, and the company he was general manager of in 1998 was the first sign company to be listed on Yahoo!