We’d all like to live in a world without compromises and dilemmas. A world in which you get to have your cake and eat it too. That rarely happens, but occasionally, we get lucky. In the world of dye sublimation, someone has created a magic pastry. The traditional trade-off involving sublimation and other large format print options is the dilemma between color gamut and outdoor durability. The more vibrant the color, the shorter its outdoor life will be. That’s why dye sublimation has for years been popular for personal, indoor, and novelty use, but not for outdoor signs and graphics. Dye-based inks are vibrant and colorful, but not for long.

A ‘have your cake and eat it too breakthrough’ has come from Duraluxe. Duraluxe panels give you the outdoor durability of eco-solvent prints and the vivid color and print quality of dye sublimation. How did they do that?

The Saturation Vs. Durability Dilemma

In the ink world, there are sliding scales for color gamut and outdoor durability. As you look at the large format ink options available, there are two sliding scales, one for saturation and one for UV resistance or outdoor durability, also known as UV resistance or colorfastness (Fig 1). Dye-based aqueous ink and solvent-based inks are at opposite ends of both spectrums. Eco-solvent inks have a broad color gamut, but aren’t as vivid as dye-based aqueous prints. Eco-solvent ink however lasts three years outdoors before noticeable UV fade begins.

FIG 1: Generally speaking, the more vivid the ink is, the less UV resistant and less durable the prints are.

Dye based aqueous inks are the most vivid on the market, but the most susceptible to UV fade. A typical print made with dye-based inks may fade noticeably in outdoor sunlight in a matter of weeks. Think of dye-based inks as the reality TV stars of digital printing. They shine brightly but fade quickly.

This has been one of the limitations for dye sublimation gaining wider acceptance in the sign market. The prints look great and you can transfer them to lots of polymer-coated substrates, including metals. But if you put them outside, or even in a window, they don’t hold up well. Not anymore. Duraluxe has solved this problem.

Duraluxe: The Difference is in the Coating

Duraluxe came to the sublimation blank industry from a different perspective. The parent company has over 25 years of experience in outdoor architectural decoration. They know a thing or two about aluminum panels. Their unique approach to the UV fade problem is somewhat similar to the process that makes eco-solvent inks so durable. In solvent and eco-solvent printing, the chemical solvents in the ink penetrate the surface of the print media and carry the resins down into the face film. This means the resins aren’t on top of the face film completely exposed to Ultraviolet radiation. It takes years for the impact of the sun’s UV rays to penetrate down into the media and begin to bleach the resins.

FIG 2: The secret sauce is the Duraluxe polymer coating. It's a total of 6 mil thick and supports long-term outdoor applications

Duraluxe has done something similar with the polymer coating that enables sublimation. Dye sublimation requires a polymer coating to hold the sublimated dye ink (more on that here). Duraluxe panels have a deep, 4 mil coating and a unique process that allows those dyes to penetrate deeply into the polymer coating, just like solvent ink penetrating the face-film of PrismJET vinyl (Fig 2). This is why Duraluxe panels are rated for five years outdoors – two years longer than un-laminated eco-solvent prints.

In addition to being outdoor durable, Duraluxe panels are also flexible. All Duraluxe panels can be cut with shears or a CNC router, or drilled and bent after sublimation. You can create some exceptionally attractive displays. They’re also fire retardant and suitable for indoor and outdoor use. The other benefit of the Duraluxe process is variety. Duraluxe offers their panels in matte, gloss, and textured varieties. Choose the one that offers just the right feel and finish for your job.

How to Use Duraluxe Sublimation Panels:

Now that we know the what and why behind Duraluxe durability, the next question you might have is how. The main difference in sublimating Duraluxe panels is the position of the panel relative to the transfer paper. To get maximum penetration into the polymer coating, transfer paper is placed under the panel, not on it, so that dye inks sublimate upward into the 4-mil coating. Essentially, you flip it, then bake it. Here’s a simple summary of the Duraluxe process.

  • Set your heat press to 401°F (205 °C)* and 105 psi (firm pressure)
  • Place the dye sub transfer paper face up on the base platen or lower table of the heat press.
  • Place the Duraluxe panel face down on the transfer paper, and tape the edges of the panel to the transfer paper using heat transfer tape(link)
  • Close and press for 140 – 160 seconds
  • Remove and add cool water to stop the sublimation process, then remove tape and paper
  • This is a short summary. For more detailed instructions, please click here to download the Duraluxe Panel Sublimation Guide
  • *If using a Matte-finished blank, the press should be set to 385°F (196°C) and 60 psi (medium pressure). Press for 120 seconds. The matte finish becomes softer in the press. For better prints, press at this lower temperature.

Lots of Options: Duraluxe Panel Size & Price info

Duraluxe panels come in a wide variety of sizes and finishes so there are options for just about every sublimation sign application from small to large. Whether you have a desktop Virtuoso printer, a large-format PrismJET DS42, or something in between, there’s a Duraluxe panel solution for you and your customers. The 6 x 12 blanks have radius corners so they’re perfect for outdoor-durable custom license plates. We stock 18 varieties of Duraluxe panels ranging from 6 x 12 to 12 x 24. Each size comes in matte, gloss, and textured finishes. Prices for 6 x 12 blanks start at just $6.44 each. Duraluxe Panels

Duraluxe panels’ innovative 4mil polymer coating enables sublimation fans who want to sell outdoor durable signage to have their cake and eat it too. You get the vivid color and high resolution of dye sublimation and outdoor durability that competes with solvent-based ink. The process is relatively simple and, with lots of sizes and finishes to choose from, there’s a Duraluxe solution for sublimation shops of every size.