A printer that produces continuous-tone images with excellent quality. Also called a "thermal dye printer," the print cartridge contains a cellophane ribbon with panels of dye the same size as the page to be printed. There are four panels for each print: one each of cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY) and a final clear coat that allows the print to be handled immediately without smudging. Special dye-receptive paper is used.
Because the same amount of ribbon is used no matter how much color is in the image, the cost of ribbon and paper is always the same per print. Consumables for dye sublimation printers generally cost more than for inkjet printers.
Heat Releases the Dyes
The paper and ribbon are passed together under the printhead for each color panel. The printhead contains thousands of heating elements that produce varying amounts of heat. The hotter the element, the more dye is released. By varying the temperature, shades of each color can be overlaid on top of each other. The dyes are transparent and blend into continuous-tone color.
The "sublimation" means that the dye turns into a gas without first turning into a liquid. See thermal wax transfer printer
Dye Sublimation Printing
The paper and ribbon are passed by the printhead. The ribbon is heated, and shaded dots of dye are transferred to the paper. The ribbon contains a panel of each color the same size as the page being printed.
This Canon Selphy 4x6" photo printer prints one color at a time, and the paper is drawn back in for the next color. After the three ink panels are used, the clear coat is applied. Each set of four panels in the ribbon makes one print.
One of the First
FARGO's FotoFUN! was one of the first low-cost dye sublimation printers on the market. It was introduced in 1995 at a breakthrough price of USD $595. (Image courtesy of FARGO Electronics, Inc.)
Professional Dye Sub Printers
These Mitsubishi CP9550 units at Rutherford Camera in Doylestown, Pennsylvania accept paper and ink rolls from 3.5" to 6" wide for printing 270 to 680 photos.