Choosing the right ink for the job

Eight colour ink cartridge

Image is everything when you are offering sublimated products, says Robin Kavanagh, public relations manager for Sawgrass. The quality of images you can provide directly impacts how much you can charge and whether or not you can turn one-time jobs into regular customers.

If you’re looking for output that commands premium prices, it’s important to learn a thing or two about colour, ink and how they work together with your printer to deliver what you need for each job.

Yes, you must have high resolution photos and professional looking artwork to start with. If your images are not of good quality, your output won’t be either. Once that is set, it’s time to look to at the more technical aspects of sublimated prints and the inks you choose are one of the most critical keys to cracking the code for outstanding sublimation prints.

Four-colour CMYK: The standard

There are lots of different sublimation ink sets on the market. The most common you’ll find is the traditional four colour CMYK option. This is the backbone of the sublimation printing industry, as it is incredibly versatile.

For most A4 and A3 systems, CMYK is the only ink set option. You will find a few printers that offer six colour configurations. But, by and large, four colour printers are the standard.

Four colour desktop systems can deliver incredible colour and resolution for high definition photos that dazzle and colours that hit the spot for most customer needs. For larger jobs, like flags, banners, garment decoration and the like, four colour inks are also applicable in eight colour printers as a dual CMYK ink set option.

More colours, more possibilities

Eight colour printers and ink sets open up new doors for colour matching, fine detail, enhanced skin tones and even fluorescents – all of which have benefits for different applications and business goals.

A professional photo ink set offers CMYK inks, but also light magenta, light cyan, light black and light light black colours as well. By adding these variations, you’re able to achieve greater detail in your prints, more lifelike skin tones and a whole new level of image quality.

CMYK inks blend together to create a specific range of colours, or gamut. While this gamut is immense, it does have its limitations. By choosing an ink set with additional colour options, you greatly increase that gamut and the number of colours you can achieve.

Which is right for you?

After looking at the ink options available and the printers they work with, it’s time to evaluate your printing needs. Think not only about your current markets, but also about markets you would like to expand into.

If you’re a T shirt decorator shop that is only looking to provide garments smaller than 13x19in then a desktop printer with CMYK inks should meet your needs. However, if you have a high volume of such orders, are looking for faster print speeds or need an increased colour range to match logo or organisation colours, investing in a 25in printer with an expanded ink set would be a smart move.

Fluorescent colours add excitement and visibility to tons of products – from shirts, hats, mugs and bandanas, to banners, plaques and beyond. Because desktop printers can only accommodate CMYK inks, you can never achieve a true fluorescent with this combination. Actual fluorescent colours need to be added to the configuration and be able to be mixed to create custom fluorescents that pop the way you expect. You will need an ink set that works with an eight colour printer and offers both CMYK as well as fluorescent ink colours.

Colour quality

One more consideration is the quality of the ink and software that you use to take your designs from computer to print. You want inks that offer the highest quality and purity, with no contaminants or possibility for air to get into your ink system. Sublimation inks are made up of dye solids that are contained in a carrier fluid, which means you want to look for high density formulations to get the best colour saturation.

The colour and print management software you use also significantly impacts the colour of your prints. When shopping for inks, take into consideration what colour management tools you will need to ensure the colours on your final product are as close to what you designed as possible.

Many inks come with a single colour profile – software that works with your design programs to manage colour conversion from RGB (on-screen) to CMYK (on paper). Because sublimated colours are also influenced by the substrate and paper being used, not to mention the heat and pressure from the press, a single colour profile will not produce colours as good as more specialised software can.

This may mean that you need to purchase a RIP program, which can be expensive, or look into buying inks that offer more advanced colour software.

Final thoughts

The best advice for anyone trying to figure out what type of ink to use is to really look at what you’re trying to achieve with your sublimated prints. If your customers are looking for products that look great, but don’t need colour matching, fluorescents or artist-quality detail, then CMYK inks are a good option.

If you’re looking to create specific products for specific applications with specific needs, then it makes sense to look deeper into what printers can accommodate specialty eight colour ink sets. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to ensure you’re using the highest quality inks for the money you spend. Otherwise, in the long run, you may find you’re losing much more than you save.

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