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Dye Sublimation: Dyes vs. Ink

Dye Sublimation: Dyes vs. Ink


There’s only one type of ink that makes dye-sublimation printing possible: disperse ink. When heat activated by a calender, disperse ink gasses off, infuses, or penetrates the textile, rather than sitting on the surface of the fabric. There are three main types of disperse ink on the market: low-energy, medium-energy, and high-energy dispersion ink. These can be tailored for specific end-use applications.

Disperse Ink

Disperse ink (traditionally referred to as disperse dye) is a class of non-ionic ink, which has very low solubility in water. It’s mainly used for printing or dyeing polyester fibers.

Disperse inks are available in low, medium, and high energies but most print shops use low-energy dispersion inks for their day-to-day production. Specialty neon disperse inks are also available for dye-sublimation printing.

What’s the Advantage of Printing Disperse Ink?

Disperse inks have excellent color-to-washfastness, color-to-lightfastness, and crock results, which makes dye-sublimation a sought after printing technology for polyester projects.

Possible Disperse Ink Issues

It’s important to note that the following issues are also potential issues for other types of inks utilized in other digital textile printing methods.

  • Print head nozzle can become clogged if not cleaned or maintained properly.
  • Print head nozzles can misfire due to lack of climate control in the print environment.

Fun Fact: Dye-sublimation inks are heat activated – so, it’s important that the printer does not heat the ink up.


Disperse inks create the vivid color, excellent color-to-lightfastness, and color-to-washfastness that dye-sublimation is known for. Additionally, they’re virtually crock-proof. Most print shops use low-energy disperse ink but higher energy ink is on the market and available for specialty projects. As far as digital printing ink goes, this system consistently delivers great results – as long as you’re working with polyester.