why is my sublimation faded

Why is My Sublimation Faded? (Reasons & Solutions)

One of the best parts of sublimation printing is the way it permanently bonds dyes to compatible substrates. The colors won’t crack, peel, or wash out like vinyl or inkjet prints.

Or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

But when your reds fade to pink or your brilliant yellows turn mustard, it leads to disappointment.

While infrequent washing and wearing gradually lightens sublimation over time, excessive fading usually indicates an underlying issue. By pinpointing the culprit early on, you can rescue your prints and stop fading in their tracks.

In this guide, we’ll uncover why is my sublimation faded and some easy fixes to make the sublimation colors last longer.

Let’s get to the troubleshooting!

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Why is My Sublimation Faded?

There are several key reasons you may find your dazzling sublimation prints fading over time:

Why is My Sublimation Faded

1. Incorrect Time and Temperature Settings

One main culprit behind faded sublimation prints is incorrect time or temperature configuration during the heat pressing phase.

Too Low Temperature

If press plates fail to reach or sustain adequate heat, printed dyes remain inert on paper and merely rub onto materials instead of undergoing chemical fusion.

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Once subjected to moisture or friction, uncoupled colors easily abrade, migrate, and fade.

Too Short Duration

The pressing process must also match item thickness and sublimation ink specifications for dwell duration at peak temperatures to fully complete dye diffusion and bonding.

Brief shortfalls leave applications vulnerable to partial fusion and subsequent pigment loss through laundering exposure over time.

Excessive Time

While momentary spikes in temperature or duration variations rarely ruin entire prints during amateur troubleshooting, excessive magnitudes past maximum thresholds burn substrates and bleach vibrancy rapidly, especially on delicate fabrics.

2. Low-Quality Dye Sublimation Ink

Another predominant reason behind lackluster fast-fading dye sublimation prints is inadequate ink formulation itself. Not all options excel equally.

sublimation ink

Bargain and third-party bulk inks often skimp on high-concentration pure dye pigments optimized for polyester bonding in the name of affordability.

Instead utilize diluted solutions prone to bleeding, ghosting, and rapid washout when challenged.

Additionally, inferior ink batches may contain impure contaminant colorants rather than purpose-built dyes designed for gaseous transfer.

These undermine intensity, yield splotchy uneven fading over time, and fail to retain bold stability with repeated laundering.

3. Outdated or Poorly Stored Transfer Paper

The sublimation paper itself is equally crucial for facilitating adequate ink release and material bonding. Both age and storage conditions negatively impact performance.

Expired outdated sheets older than six months to a year degrade as emulsion coatings oxidize, crosslink, and lose activation responsiveness.


High ambient humidity additionally catalyzes premature failure through atmospheric moisture permeation.

Exposure to these uncontrolled environmental conditions induces brittleness, curls, and sensitivity variations that translate to poor ink adhesion, erratic density fluctuations, and spraying during transfers.

4. Incompatible Substrates

Further, along the printing production pathway, material selection itself can also cause fading resilience entirely through fundamental composition mismatches with the dye sublimation mechanism despite perfect profiles otherwise.

Critically, sublimation intrinsically relies upon synthetic polymer fabrics like polyester that facilitate dye gassing and diffusion to capture pigments mid-transition in open fiber matrices.

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Natural woven products like cotton and wool fully lack such capacity, instead serving to wipe and discard inks during transfer. Without receptivity, poor layering rather than integrative infusion results, guaranteeing imminent cleansing loss.

5. Material Contamination

Beyond outright incompatibility, even substrates theoretically capable of accepting dyes during optimal sublimation processing can still experience fading failures due to surface contamination.

Material Contamination

Incredibly, even trace residuals of oils, dust, fabric softener, errant fibers, adhesives, or workshop grime on target objects can partially or completely defeat adhesion and infusion pathways by presenting barriers between dye and polymer binding sites.

Printed graphics thus shed rapidly under washing despite following perfect press procedures otherwise thanks to mundane environmental factors enabling early migration loss.

6. Insufficient Pressure

The essential heat and dwell timing aspects of flawless sublimation fuse printing have been covered extensively, but pressure is an oft-overlooked companion variable that enables optimal ink transition efficiency through vital surface consistency.

Uneven poor contact during transfers opens voids and gaps that allow the precious dye to waywardly escape instead of optimally diffusing and then bonding within target fibers and coatings.

heat press

7. Excessive Ink Volumes

An additional contributor to fading issues that emerge from the very sublimation process itself lies in excessive ink saturation delivering overly generous, heavy dye concentrations beyond intended material absorption capabilities.

While seemingly counterintuitive, dense brilliant colors formulating dark prints essentially overflow and remain too abundant for the porosity thresholds, leaving excess to migrate, bleed, and flake during initial stability phases.

How to Make Sublimation Last Longer

While faded sublimation prints can be immensely frustrating, there are a number of pivotal steps we can incorporate to help them last dramatically longer with sustained vibrancy.

Let’s cover them in detail:

1. Use Premium Dye Sublimation Ink and Paper

The sublimation chemicals and materials are the crucial foundation for brilliant, durable results.

Image Credit: Sawgrass

Invest in high-end ink like Sawgrass Virtuoso and couple it with reputable sublimation paper from manufacturers like Neenah, and Joto for optimized vibrancy, color accuracy, washproof stability, and lightfastness performance.

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2. Closely Follow Press Time and Temperature Guidance

With quality chemicals in the printer, meticulous heat application is next on the agenda through strict blanket, mug, plate, shirt, and product-specific heating instructions furnished by system providers to activate dyes fully.

These dwell duration and temperature definitions account for material thicknesses and complications to ensure total bonding.

3. Validate Heat Press Calibration For Pressure Consistency

In conjunction with vital heating precision for sublimation efficacy lies proper consistent pressure application across target print areas using platen pressure validation films to map distribution.

Image Credits: CloverTac Reviews

If inadequate or skewed as clamps age, light markings and diffusion voids manifest as eventual pigment flaking when stability never properly finalizes across the entire image.

4. Shield New Prints From Light For 48 Hours Post-Pressing For Curing

Unlike traditional ink bonding that dries and locks physically on application, the sublimation printing process relies on vapor diffusion into fabric where dye pigments re-cool and solidify within fiber gaps to achieve wash durability.

This stabilization requires protected curing periods away from moisture, friction, heat, and crucially UVs that degrade organic bonds before they set or dramatic fading results, washing directly too early has similar consequences.

5. Wash With Cold Water Inside-Out, No Chlorine Bleach Or Fabric Softeners

For care thereafter to further maximize print lifetimes without optical degradation from pigment disturbances through conventional laundry factors, hand wash finished goods gently using mild detergents diluted generously in cold fresh water always inside-out.

6. Control Humidity & Temperature Storage, Reduce Light Exposure

Finally, during storage and periodic use after successful curing, make efforts to house printed wares within reasonable stable interior conditions without fluctuations in humidity, temperature, or light.

It degrade all dyes gradually as chemical instabilities amplify damage through moisture or radiation.

Frequently asked questions

Still have questions? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about faded sublimation:

Why is my sublimation not vibrant?

If your prints are dull and lifeless even right after pressing, low ink quality, expired paper, insufficient temperature, and inadequate dwell times are likely causes.

How do I make my sublimation brighter?

Boost brightness by increasing temperature slightly, extending press times, using fresh quality dye sub inks, trying better sublimation paper, and pressing onto white/light blanks.

Does sublimation fade in sunlight?

Yes, sunlight can degrade sublimation dyes over time, especially if prints haven’t fully cured. Keep them out of direct sun for 48 hours after pressing and limit exposure thereafter.

Wrapping Up

While faded sublimation can be disheartening, some strategic troubleshooting makes vibrancy easy to regain and maintain long-term.

Follow the tips above to banish fade and fall back in love with your brilliant designs! With quality materials, ideal press settings, thorough prep, and proper care, your prints will dazzle for years.

What questions do you still have about solving lackluster sublimation? Ask in the comments!

Bella Williams

I'm Bella, a mom of 3 cuties. With 7 years of sublimation experience, my blog dyethrive.com focuses on all things sublimation and printing. Join me for tips, tutorials, and inspiration to enhance your sublimation journey. Let's create and thrive together!
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