If you want to print on mugs, license plates and other popular hard surface items then Dye Sublimation printing is the answer. It is the method of applying an image to specially coated ceramics, metals and polyester cloth, using three main ingredients: sublimation ink, heat and pressure.
Sublimation ink is unique in its ability to convert from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid form. (Just like dry ice.) The conversion is initiated by heat and controlled with pressure and time. Hard items such as ceramic, fiber board, metals, etc. requires a special coating to accept the sublimation inks. You must purchase the mugs, tiles, metals, etc. with the coating already on them, it is not something you can coat yourself. When you apply to 100% polyester (ie: our mouse pads and puzzles) you do not need any coating, it is applied directly to the 100% polyester fabric.
You can purchase dye sublimation inks for certain Epson and Ricoh desktop inkjet printers to do sublimation printing. Printers are not sold directly from Epson or Ricoh with these sublimation inks. The heat transfer paper for sublimation printing does not have a coating on them. This paper has a special finish on the surface so the inks do not soak into the paper. After you print the transfer paper it is then placed on the product to be applied with a heat press.
You can switch your printer back to using regular inks at any time. However, it is not always practical to switch back and forth. If you are setting up a Sublimation Printing System you may not want to expect to use the same printer for other purposes.
Here is a sample of just some of the items that you can produce via the Dye Sublimation method.