Comparison with inkjet printers:
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.