Mugs are the most commonly produced item using the sublimation printing process. Sublimating a mug is a very straightforward process, but if you’re a beginner and need a few tips, then you’ve come to the right place!
Even though this quick guide is a good basic groundwork, there are many variables when it comes to sublimating onto a mug. We think it’s best to use a ‘trial and error’ process; as long as you have a guide on the correct temperatures and times, which can be found on our website, you may find there are some errors such as the print being faded or the image is not as sharp as you expect it to be. We’ll explain the common errors and mistakes at the end of this mini tutorial!
What will you need?
- A sublimation converted inkjet printer, such as the SawGrass SG500
- Sublimation paper, such as the TruPix Sublimation Paper
- Heat resistant tape
- A mug heat press, such as the DF16 Mug Press
- Some scissors or a craft blade, if you prefer!
- Some sublimation mugs, such as our 11oz Durham Mugs
- A heat proof mat or cooling rack
The design process
Firstly, you will need an image or piece of artwork for your mug on your computer. If you have an artsy side, drawing directly onto your computer via Adobe Photoshop with a digital drawing tablet is the best way to go! If you can only draw stick figures and your creative side is cutting your sandwiches into triangles ‘for a change’, then don’t worry about a thing. Shutterstock has some great images for you to use as long as you follow their rules! You can also hire someone to knock up some designs for you if you really want a unique design. To each their own!
The best softwares to use, in my experience, are Adobe Photoshop, Gimp Design (fantastic brand name), or CorelDRAW. You can use MS products, but they don’t give you as much freedom with your designs. Everyone already knows how difficult it is to resize an image on Microsoft Word. I remember the ICT class frustrations as if it were yesterday.
Now, if you’re printing on a 10oz/11oz mug, then you need a design template that roughly measures 20x8cm, wrapping all the way around the mug from one side of the handle to the other. Make sure you squish your design into this template if you do want it wrapping around your mug, otherwise, make sure it measures from the tippy top of the mug to the bottom, and decide on the best placement.
Also, make sure to mirror your image as you don’t want the design to come out back to front.
It’s advised to preheat the mug to ensure the heat is within the ceramic before pressing. Why, I hear you ask? Well, the heat helps the ink to transfer onto the mug better, it reduces the risk of fading, and slapping some hard heat onto a cold surface can cause the mug to shatter. Just make sure to preheat yo’ darn mugs.
Which methods can I use to preheat my mug, I hear you ask? You can chuck it in the mug press for 30-40 seconds; the mug should be warm and slightly hot to the touch but certainly not too hot to handle. You can pour some boiling water into the mug if you fancy a cup of tea before sublimating, or you can soak the whole mug in some hot water. Obviously make sure it’s dry before printing.
Printing the design
Print your awesome and cool design using the sublimation printer and the sublimation paper. Please make sure to print on the bright, white side of the paper (if there is one) otherwise your print will come out all faded and weird. Snippy snip the paper to 20x8cm around the design, wrap it around the mug, then secure it with that heat resistant tape we told you to buy. Make sure the paper is flat on the mug. We don’t want to see any bubbles or creases! Bagginess is for trousers, not sublimating mugs. (Who else has that song stuck in their head now?)
The pressy bit
10/11oz sublimation mugs are usually pressed at a firm pressure for 180 seconds, or 3 minutes, at 180 degrees celsius. This of course varies from mug to mug, so there’s a bit of that ‘trial and error’ thing we told you about earlier.
Make sure you’ve switched your mug press on and it has preheated to the desired temperature. We should have mentioned this earlier but, well, we’re mentioning it now.
Once your mug has been slapped in the heat press and the timer has run its course, gently remove the mug and place it on a cooling rack or heat proof mat. Allow the darn thing to cool before attempting to remove the paper and the tape.
Tips and tricks
Try to keep a tiny distance between the design in the middle and the top and bottom of the mug. 5mm to 10mm should do the trick. This is because the heating element in the mug press is slightly weaker on the edges, so if your mug comes out faded at the top and bottom and you’re like ‘what the heck?’, this is the reason why.
Why is my image so faded, is another question I hear you ask? Make sure the sublimation paper has been printed on the brighter side. Most sublimation papers have a watermark to designate which side is best, but if it doesn’t, just use the gift of sight to determine which one is brighter.
For other issues, such as images not being sharp, colour problems, fading and all that jazz, this just refers back to the ‘trial and error’ process that I’ve mentioned 3 times now. Make sure you have some mugs to experiment on, and write everything down. Times, temperatures, the brand of mug, the works. You don’t even know how many post-it notes I have in my workroom. Just make sure you’re organised, or if you prefer the term ‘organised chaos’ – whatever works for you!
We’d love to know your thoughts and success stories! Feel free to send us pictures, queries, general chit chat. We’re here for it. Good luck, guys!