Abracadabra – the magic of sublimation!

Anyone who worked in a darkroom remembers how they looked at their 35mm negative, printed it with their enlarger and then placed it in the chemicals. The image slowly appeared in the red light, but until it was washed and dried and viewed in daylight, you didn’t know exactly how it would look.

It’s a little bit similar with sublimation. You have to print it onto a special paper using a Ricoh (small format) or Epson (large format) printer using sublimation inks. Then you attach the print to the ChromaLuxe metal panel and place it in the heat press. A couple of minutes later, you take it out and you have a perfect color image on the metal plate.

But when you make your first print and you look at the colors on the paper, it looks truly terrible. It is as if the colors are all washed out, the blacks are grey, there is no density to the colors and no apparent tonality. How can this turn into a stunning ChromaLuxe print?

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Well, that is the magic of sublimation!

Without wishing to get too technical, when you place the paper and coated aluminium plate into the heat press at approx. 200oC, the inks change directly from a solid state to a gaseous state, without passing the expected liquid phase that occurs with most chemicals. The dyes in their gaseous form are infused into the seven layer coating on the ChromaLuxe panels where the full color gamut is created. Remove from the press, take off the paper and there is the ChromaLuxe print in all its colorful glory. The color gamut range is very similar to the top silver halide prints and much better than UV direct printing. The layers in the coating also help generate an almost 3D look.

At last year’s Photokina expo, we were making small samples on the stand. Everybody was so amazed by the difference between the paper print and the final result, I got into the habit of going ‘abracadabra’ as I peeled off the paper. A colleague then dropped the plate onto the floor and jumped on it to demonstrate how tough the coating is against scratches etc.

One last thing. When I started sublimation printing I wondered how we could possibly color manage this weird print with our calibration units. Of course, you don’t. You print the test chart onto the paper, sublimate it onto the aluminium and then read the aluminium print – obvious really!

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.