Dye sublimation is a process that uses a special heat sensitive dye to print graphics and text onto paper, which is then transferred to the final substrate. The paper is then placed on a sublimatable item (shirt, mouse pad, plate, aluminum blank, plastic blank, etc.) and both are placed into a heat press for about 40 seconds at 350-400 degrees, depending upon the type of material to trasfer the dyes from the paper to the substrate.
When the (sublimation) cycle is completed, the image on the paper has transferred to the item and has actually become a part of the surface. If you run your finger across the surface of a sublimated plate you will feel nothing.
This is because true dye sublimation is done on a polyester, polymer, or polymer coated item. At high temperatures, the solid dye converts into a gas without ever becoming a liquid. Hence the definition of what "Dye Sublimation" is. The same high temperature opens the pores of the polymer and allows the gas to enter. When the temperature drops, the pores close and the gas reverts to a solid state. It has now become a part of the polymer.
For this reason, true dye sublimation cannot be done on natural materials, like 100% cotton. Natural fibers and non-coated materials have no "pores" to open.
Inkjet printers, like several Epson models and a few Ricoh models, use a liquid filled inkjet cartridge that has a suspension of the sublimation dye in it. Because of the liquid, transfers has to be printed on special, coated inkjet paper, so that the liquid won't soak into the paper.