How does Dye Sublimation Work?
The basic dye sublimation process uses special heat-sensitive dyes to print graphics and text onto special transfer paper. The paper is then placed on a "sublimatable" item and both are placed into a heat press. When the heating cycle is completed, the image on the paper has been transferred to the item and has actually reformed into or underneath the coated surface.
Run your finger across the surface of a sublimated plate, mug, or any coated product and you will feel nothing. The reason for this is that sublimation is always done on a polyester, polymer, or polymer-coated item. At high temperatures, the solid dye converts into a gas without ever becoming a liquid. 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.
This is why dye sublimation can't be done on natural materials, such as 100% cotton. Natural fibres and noncoated materials which have no "pores" to open. This process is done on white fabric only before manufacture.