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Printing with Sublimation
Water-based inkjet and laser printing are the two most
common methods for creating colorful artwork for control
panels. Both involve printing directly to a substrate or, in the
case of fabric, printing first to a transfer sheet, then using
heat to apply the sheet to a piece of cloth.
There is an additional method of printing on substrates
— one that involves heat transfers using specialty dye
dispersant inks. It's called sublimation, and it produces rich
and vibrant color where the printing is a physical part of the
panel material. The printing is fade- and water-resistant.
In dye sublimation, an inkjet (or less commonly laser)
printer produces the artwork on a sheet of thin transfer
paper. The colors are made using a dye that is specially
formulated to absorb into many kinds of synthetic materials
— especially polyester. The actual dye transfer occurs under
very high heat — on the order of 375 to 400 degrees — and
under pressure. Once transferred, the dyes are locked into
the material and cannot be washed out.
Figure C shows the top cover of an Arduino project
made using dye sublimation. The cover material itself is
made of a thin hardboard, overcoated with a white polyester
resin. After cutting the hardboard to shape, the rainbow
image was first printed onto paper, then the paper was heat-pressed to the coated hardboard.
Rigid substrates for sublimation include the
aforementioned hardboard, plug aluminum sheet, and plastic
reinforced fiberglass. In all three, there is no separate paper,
vinyl, or polyester film that's first printed to, and nothing is
glued afterward to the substrate. Rather, the substrate itself
is coated to directly absorb the specialty dyes.
As attractive as sublimation printing is, the fact that it
requires expensive specialty dye inks, a dedicated printer,
plus a heat press makes it unaffordable to the average
garage shop tinkerer. However, there are a number of
Figure C. Dye sublimation impresses the color directly into the metal,
service bureaus that will sublimate printed artwork onto the
substrates of your choice. See the Sources box for more info.
Sublimation and heat transfer
supplies, specialty printing
Labels By The Sheet
Peel-and-stick labels for
laser and inkjet printers,
sold by the sheet.
Resources for control panel
design and construction,
resources for sublimation,
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