Com­par­i­son with inkjet prin­ters:

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Tra­di­tion­ally, the ad­van­tage of dye-sub­li­ma­tion print­ing has been the fact that it is a con­tin­u­ous-tone tech­nol­ogy, where each dot can be of any colour. In con­trast, inkjet prin­ters can vary with the lo­ca­tion and size of ink droplets, a process called dither­ing, but each drop of ink is limited to the colours of the inks in­stalled. Con­se­quently, a dye-sub­li­ma­tion printer pro­duces true con­tin­u­ous tones ap­pear­ing much like a chem­i­cal pho­to­graph.

An inkjet print is com­posed of droplets of ink lay­ered and scat­tered to sim­u­late con­tin­u­ous tones, but un­der mag­ni­fi­ca­tion the in­di­vid­ual droplets can be seen. In the early days of inkjet print­ing, the large droplets and low res­o­lu­tion made inkjet prints sig­nif­i­cantly in­fe­rior to dye-sub­li­ma­tion, but some of to­day’s inkjets pro­duce ex­tremely high qual­ity prints us­ing mi­cro­scopic droplets and sup­ple­men­tary ink colours, pro­duc­ing su­pe­rior colour fidelity to dye-sub­li­ma­tion.

Dye sub­li­ma­tion of­fers some ad­van­tages over inkjet print­ing. For ex­am­ple, the prints are dry and ready to han­dle as soon as they exit the printer. Since the ther­mal head doesn’t have to sweep back and forth over the print me­dia, there are fewer mov­ing parts that can break down. The whole print­ing cy­cle is ex­tremely clean as there are no liq­uid inks to clean up. These fac­tors make dye-sub­li­ma­tion gen­er­ally a more re­li­able tech­nol­ogy over inkjet print­ing.

Dye-sub­li­ma­tion prin­ters have some draw­backs also as com­pared to inkjet prin­ters. Each of the coloured pan­els of the rib­bons, and the ther­mal head it­self, must match the size of the me­dia that is be­ing printed on. Fur­ther­more, only spe­cially coated pa­per or spe­cific plas­tics can ac­cept the sub­li­mated ink. This means that dye-sub­li­ma­tion prin­ters can­not match the flex­i­bil­ity of inkjet prin­ters in print­ing on a wide range of me­dia.

The dyes dif­fuse a small amount be­fore be­ing ab­sorbed by the pa­per. Con­se­quently, prints are not ra­zor-sharp. For pho­to­graphs, this pro­duces very nat­u­ral prints, but for other uses (such as graphic de­sign) this slight blur­ring is a dis­ad­van­tage.

The amount of wasted dye per page is also very high; most of the dye in the four pan­els may be wasted for a typ­i­cal print. Once a panel has been used, even to just print a sin­gle dot, the re­main­ing dye on that panel can­not be reused for an­other print with­out leav­ing a blank spot where the dye was used pre­vi­ously. Due to the sin­gle-roll de­sign of most prin­ters, four pan­els of col­ored dye must be used for ev­ery print, whether or not a panel is needed for the print.

Print­ing in mono­chrome saves noth­ing, and the three un­used colour pan­els for that page can­not be re­cy­cled for a dif­fer­ent sin­gle-colour print. Inkjet prin­ters can also suf­fer from ‘dye wastage’ as the ink car­tridges are prone to dry­ing up with low us­age (with­out

‘heavy use’, the car­tridge noz­zles can be­come clogged with dried ink). Dye-sub­li­ma­tion me­dia packs (which con­tain both rib­bon and pa­per), are rated for an ex­act num­ber of prints which yields a fixed cost per print. This is in op­po­si­tion to inkjet prin­ters where inks are pur­chased by vol­ume.

Also, dye-sub­li­ma­tion pa­pers and rib­bons are sen­si­tive to skin oils, which in­ter­fere with the dye’s abil­ity to sub­li­mate from the rib­bon to the pa­per. They must also be free of dust par­ti­cles, which can lead to small coloured blobs ap­pear­ing on the prints. Most dye-sub­li­ma­tion prin­ters have fil­ters and/or clean­ing rollers to re­duce the like­li­hood of this hap­pen­ing, and a speck of dust can only af­fect one print as it be­comes at­tached to the print dur­ing the print­ing process. Fi­nally, dye-sub­li­ma­tion prin­ters fall short when pro­duc­ing neu­tral and toned black-and-white prints with higher den­sity lev­els and vir­tu­ally no metamerism or bronz­ing.

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