Learning how to heat press a mug can be beneficial in many ways. To begin with, this offers you the opportunity to design mugs with decorative artwork that symbolizes a special occasion. You can also craft make custom-printed mugs as personalized gifts. From heartfelt messages to photos of loved ones to favorite fiction or cartoon characters, there are endless designs to customize a mug and turn it into a thoughtful gift.
In addition, you can turn your newfound passion for mug printing into a business. All you have to do is look for small establishments and big corporations that want to print promotional messages on mugs. This has become a very popular advertising method for raising brand awareness and communicating marketing messages.
Whether you decide to print designs on mugs as a hobby or business, it is important to know what tools are involved and how this process works. Thanks to advancements in printing technology, there are many techniques these days that allow you to transfer artwork onto mugs. However, dye sublimation will be the focus of this guide since it is simple and cost-effective.
In a nutshell, digital dye sublimation involves printing artwork on special transfer paper then wrapping it around a mug before finally applying heat and pressure for a set period. The sublimation dyes used to print on mugs undergo an endothermic reaction that changes ink from solid to a gaseous state when subjected to heat and pressure. As a result, the inks cool and bond with a special polymer coating found on sublimation mugs, leaving behind vivid, full-color graphics or text printouts on your favorite cup. The process might sound complicated but once you learn how to use a mug heat press, it is actually quite straightforward.
Choose the Right Type of Heat Press for Printing Mugs
If you want to print designs on mugs, you’ll need to invest in a digital mug heat press. Heat press machines for mug printing are quite different from those used in sublimation printing of t-shirts, caps and other fabrics. These specific units have cylindrical Teflon-coated heat platens with a vertical slot for accommodating the handle of a mug. The platens hug a mug during heat press printing, and you can adjust pressure using a clamping mechanism.
There are two types of mug heat presses, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. These include:
With this model, the mug remains upright when heat pressing. One of the big drawbacks of the vertical mug press is that it will only print to the height of the machine. This limits you to the kind of mugs that you can print. For instance, printing images on the higher side of a mug that is taller than the machine’s heat blanket could prove impossible.
Horizontal Mug Heat Press
As the name implies, the horizontal mug heat press lets you place mugs on the side when printing. This is arguably one of the best mug press machines because you can adjust mug placement across the horizontal platen. As such, you won’t have to spend more on an extra removable mug blanket/heating element to accommodate tall cups.
Doing Your Research
Other than knowing the two main types of mug heat presses that exist, you should also do research on what to look for in a good machine. There are plenty of mug heat presses on the market and various manufacturers offer a wide range of prices that fit any budget. Keep in mind though that features vary from one model to the next. It is, therefore, prudent to look at what sets a particular mug heat press apart from the rest.
Three setting mug presses are quite common, which offer options to configure idle temperature, operating temperature and time on a separate digital panel. Being able to vary the temperature and heat time is important if you plan to print artwork on mugs made from different materials.
The cylindrical platen of a mug heat press adjusts easily via a knob to fit the diameter of various mug sizes. To image bottles or cups with different heights and shapes, consider a machine with interchangeable heating elements. Some multi-attachment heads even feature a tapered cylindrical platen to print designs on coffee cups.
What You Need to Heat Press a Mug
Now that you know the type of heat press machine to buy for mug printing and some of the key features to look for, the next step that follows is learning how to heat press a mug. Make sure that you have all the supplies and tools you need before embarking on the printing process. Below are the most essential items to include in your list.
- Computer with graphics design software
- Sublimation printer
- Sublimation Ink
- Transfer Paper
- Paper cutter/scissors
- Heat resistant tape
- Sublimation Mugs
- Mug Insert
- Digital Mug Heat Press
Step 1: Create Your Artwork
Before you even use a mug heat press, the first step is to create the image, graphics and/or text you want to print. Digital dye sublimation makes it very easy to create artwork for mug printing using a computer and graphic design software.
You can easily download images, clip art, and other graphics online to print on mugs. In fact, some websites offer free mug sublimation templates, which are ready to print. It’s even possible to import original sketches drawn by hand to a computer with a scanner and use that to adorn your mugs. Programs like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and Photoshop also come in handy if you want to design your own mug graphics digitally.
Whatever method you use to create artwork for printing on a mug, remember to size your sublimation graphics to fit the type of mug you will be working with. For instance, a typical 10 or 11-ounce mug can accommodate imprints that are 9 (H) x 3 (W) inches.
Step 2: Print Your Mug Graphics
After creating the artwork, you will print it on transfer paper. Make sure to select the correct settings before you print a hardcopy of the sublimation graphic. For instance, images on transfer paper face the mug, which means they would appear in reverse if you do not invert the graphics prior to printing. To avoid this undesirable outcome, choose the “Mirror-Image” effect in the printer settings.
In addition, spreading multiple sublimation graphics on a single piece of paper can reduce waste and help to bring down printing costs. Just remember to include dashed lines to serve as cutout marks when trimming artwork for printing on a single mug.
Depending on the model, you can use a regular inkjet printer with dye sublimation ink to print onto transfer paper that will be used to emboss graphics on mugs. When loading dye sublimation paper on the printer, you should print on the release side. If you print on the wrong side, the transfer will not produce the best color and you might end up with mug artwork that appears faded or molted.
You can buy heat-press transfer paper as single sheets or in rolls. Before buying sublimation papers in bulk, experiment with different brands. This will help you to discover which one offers the best quality.
Step 3: Cut Out the Mug Graphic
Next, you will trim and wrap the transfer paper around your mug, with the image facing inward. Use a pair of scissors to cut out the transfer paper and trim any excess margins until it wraps perfectly. Trimming the sublimation paper makes it easy to apply heat resistant tape and obtain a tight wrap. When laying out the transfer paper, make sure there are no creases so that the dye does not leave behind unwanted streaks.
Note that you cannot heat press sublimation dyes onto any mug. You should buy sublimation mugs with a polymer finish on the exterior. These mugs may be made of ceramic, glass, metal or plastic that can withstand high temperatures.
Step 4: Configure the Mug Heat Press Settings
To prepare the mug for the sublimation printing process, first, place the mug into the machine and adjust pressure. Pressure simply means how tight the heating element will press onto your mug. Medium pressure works best for plastic and glass mugs whereas metal sublimation cups can take on a heavy press. Most digital heat press machines feature a knob that you can turn to adjust pressure.
After adjusting the press according to the circumference of your mugs, switch on the heat press. Select the ideal time and temperature settings as well. Some machines come with a reference guide that lets you know how to set your mug press to work optimally with specific materials.
Step 5: Heat Press the Mug
If you are heat pressing a plastic mug, make sure to use an insert tool. This accessory helps to maintain the shape of the plastic mug. With metal, plastic and ceramic mugs, you can wait for the heat press to reach idle temperature before placing your cup inside the platen. Glass can crack due to rapid temperature differences. Therefore, you should preheat a glass mug from the lowest temperature so that it warms up gradually.
Once the heat press machine reaches working temperature, it begins to count down to your selected time. It can take anywhere from 60-seconds to 6-minutes to heat press sublimation graphics onto a mug depending on the material.
Step 6: Remove and Peel
Some mug press units beep and turn off to let you know when the sublimation printing process is over. When the set time elapses, open the heat press and remove your mug from the heating platen. It is wise to wear oven mitts or heat-resistant gloves to prevent accidental burns during this step. Finally, peel off the transfer paper from the mug to reveal the imprinted artwork. If you are not wearing any protective gear, wait for the mug to cool down until it is safe to touch before you remove the sublimation paper.
With the tips shared in our guide above, mastering how to use a mug heat press should be a breeze. Remember, invest in the best mug press you can afford and have all the required supplies at hand to achieve good results.