Creating your own artwork can be an extremely rewarding experience. It is quite exhilarating to have finished a masterpiece, put down your pen and admire your creative genius. What puts the icing on the cake is to see your finished artwork on a product that can be make your efforts more worthwhile.
It would be interesting, more fun and ultimately to make the finished product by yourself. You can produce as many for as few mugs of any design you chose. If you see a new craze, trend or come up with an innovative design you can be out there with a finished product within a speeding bullet!
It was actually quite easy to source and find out how to create the printed mugs.
What is sublimation?
Sublimation is the process in which a solid changes directly into a gas without passing through the liquid state. In relation to mugs this is known as Dye Sublimation where heat and pressure are applied and the sublimation dye contained on paper (which is the solid) is transferred as a gas onto polymer substrates on the mugs surface.
In simple terms the printed design transfers onto the surface of the mug as a virtually permanent, high resolution print when heat and pressure are applied in a special mug heat press. This permanent print is the sublimation coating which will not chip or peel (unlike other forms of printing)
What equipment do I need for mug sublimation?
The list is fairly straightforward and I have also prepared a review of the equipment needed to start up here. When I started I was able to purchase a ‘starter kit’ which allowed for a cheaper startup package – great to take the first few steps.
A sublimation printer is really no different to an inkjet printer. The difference is the ink. Sublimation ink is a special suspension of pigment in water that when printed onto sublimation paper can be heated and pressurised so that the sublimation dye changes from a solid (ink on the paper) directly to a gas. The gas created combines with the polymer coating on the mug to create a mirror image of the design on the paper.
The printer is linked to a computer so that the design, created with graphics software can be uploaded ready to print in exactly the same way as any conventional inkjet printer set up.
To create the design you will need some form of graphics software. I use photoshop and Photoshop Elements which are both superb for putting a great design and lettering together ready to print.
Do you have to have design software?…I am afraid the answer is yes as the design has to be created electronically and uploaded to the printer. However the cost of a basic software package such as Photoshop Elements is quite reasonable if you are pushed on budget.
Sublimation paper is specially coated to take the sublimation gel ink from the printer. It has two distinct sides normally distinguished by being a slightly darker shade on the ‘non-ink’ side or it will have a brand printed on the non ink side.
Blank mugs come in all shapes and sizes. It is easy to create the images as the designs are rectangular. It gets a bit more complicated when designing for conical mugs.
Heat Resistant Tape
To attach the paper/ink design to the mug you need a heat resistant tape as normal tape will simply shrivel, melt or even stick to the mug. A roll of heat resistant tape will last a long time as you only use a small piece for each mug.
If you are going to sell your wares or even give them away they will need to be packaged so they can stand up to the rigours of the postal service. Fortunately there is purpose made packaging for mugs and I will show you some options.
Heat Press Machine
This is a pretty basic piece of kit consisting of a cylindrical heating element contained within a clamp, attached to a control panel. The control panel has very basic settings – temperature and time. Simple to use but I found it tricky to get the timings and temperature right for the best mug prints. Don’t worry – the dozen wasted mugs that i had to throw out were not trashed in vain as I will show you the optimum settings so you don’t have to endure the same experience!
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