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Dye Sublimation: The next generation of POP displays

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Photos courtesy Sawgrass Technologies

By Robin Kavanagh
Point-of-purchase (POP) signs and displays are essential to any business that welcomes customers into either a permanent bricks-and-mortar or a temporary ‘pop-up’ store. Not only do they have to showcase their products for sale, but they also have to capture customers’ attention and persuade them to make a purchase. POP signage has a great amount of communicative responsibility and power in the retail marketplace, so it only makes sense to ensure such displays are as effective and eye-catching as possible.

While many technologies offer the ability for signmakers to create full-colour POP graphics, none can truly compare to the visual impact of dye-sublimated signage. By delivering the high-resolution photo and graphic printing capabilities currently possible, as well as bright colours to make people stop and look, sublimation is particularly well-suited for interior signage applications. And with the addition of fluorescent inks and an expanded gamut, the colour matching capabilities of sublimation are greater than ever. As such, sublimation can help open new doors for sign shops that are looking for a bigger piece of the POP graphics market.

How it works
Dye sublimation is a decorating technology that has become easier today for any sign business to adopt. It can be applied to both hard and soft substrates, including polyester-based fabrics, metals, glass, ceramics, wood, plastics and more.

Sublimation ink is made up of solid dyes suspended within a carrier fluid. As such, the ink is viscous. A sign shop will need to use a printer specifically designed for sublimation, to ensure printheads are not damaged and the highest-quality prints possible are achieved.

As with other graphic production processes, it is important to start out by working with customers to design striking graphics that will send the right message to the target audience. This may involve drawing upon the skills and creativity of an in-house graphic designer or a trusted consultant.

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Colour matching capabilities have been expanded with the addition of fluorescent inks.

There may even be press-ready artwork provided by the customer, but if not, desktop graphics software—particularly sublimation-specific design programs—can marry the photos, images, text and colours that will work best for the task at hand, with the physical properties of the substrate in mind.

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Once the artwork is finalized, it is printed onto sublimation transfer paper. The paper is then affixed to the substrate and both are placed in a heat press, which fully infuses the image(s) into the surface of the substrate. This is accomplished through both heat and pressure. First, the heat in the press turns the dye solids into gases and opens up the polymers in the substrate. Secondly, the pressure pushes the dye gases into the opened polymers.

Upon cooling, the polymers close up again and trap the gases, which also turn back into solids. Thus, the colouration is permanently embedded into the surface of the substrate and will be able to withstand a full breadth of environmental factors, such as extreme heat, chemical-based cleaning and touching.

POP applications for sublimation
POP displays come in all shapes and sizes. They are defined not so much by their physical properties as by their purpose. That is to say, any sign that communicates information a customer needs to consider when making a purchase in a retail environment is, by definition, a POP display. The displayed content can include special offers, menus, price lists, product information, attention-grabbing images, corporate policies and more.

While it may be best-known in shops that produce flags and banners, sublimation can be applied to both soft and rigid substrates, as mentioned, and has proven a highly versatile and economical method for printing all kinds of POP displays. Large-format sublimation printers can indeed output banners and flags, but also high-visibility fluorescent signs, table panels, wall murals and high-resolution floor graphics, among other applications. Further, sublimated graphics can be used to build entire display systems to promote a particular product line, draw attention to a special message or create a desired atmosphere for a retailer’s overall brand experience.

There are also midsize and desktop sublimation systems for creating smaller signs, such as those designed to showcase specials at the cash register counter. Small plastic, aluminum, glass, ceramic and even wooden signs can be placed on display throughout the store to share product information, pricing, discounts and directions. There are many possible options for the technology.

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