Everyone loves a good mug

In this month’s Dye Sub Column, Jimmy Lamb, Sawgrass’ education manager, explains how you can become a mug-master.

It wasn’t too long ago, when the mug choices for sublimation were pretty limited. But in recent years, the variety of mugs has exploded.

Different sizes, shapes, colours abound. That’s the good news. The bad news is that with so much variety, you need to realise that different mugs may require different production techniques.

Many mug presses only work with cylindrical mugs within a small range of diameters. Tapered mugs will not work and neither will wider ones. Thus, you need to know your press limitations and only offer mugs that fit your unit.

Mug presses

However, if you are in the market to buy a mug press, keep in mind that mug presses come in a wide range of shapes and sizes too. Some offer the ability to changeout the cylindrical heating element, which is what wraps around the mug. This means you can produce mugs of almost any size. In addition, many of the interchangeable heating elements come in tapered versions too.

As an alternative to using a mug press, you can also use a mug oven for sublimation. In this process, you apply the transfer to the surface of the mug and then lock it into place with a mug wrap which come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. The mug is placed in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

While this takes longer than a mug press, depending on the size of the oven you can sublimate multiple mugs at the same time.  For example, if it takes 12 minutes of heating and you have six mugs in the oven, that averages out to two minutes per mug.

Once you have settled on the process to press or heat the mug, then its time to look at the rest of the production process.

Considering that mugs are typically four to five inches in height, if you printed one image on a sheet of A4 paper, you would be wasting a lot of paper. A better option is to calculate how many images can fit parallel to each other on a single sheet of A4 or A3 and make full use of the entire sheet of paper. You will also find that many sublimation dealers carry mug paper, which has been cut to specifically fit mugs with little or no waste.

Mug projects

Now you are ready to start a mug project. Using your desired art software, create a design that fits the customer’s needs. Where possible use photographs, as they tend to increase the perceived value of the product, which in turn can lead to higher margins. Be aware that you can completely cover the mug with an image except where the handle is. Thus, most mugs have two images, one on each side of the handle. These should be printed and pressed at the same time.

After the transfer(s) is printed, make sure it will wrap around the mug and that each end will reach the handle. Trim away any unnecessary paper with scissors. I highly recommend that you use a pencil to draw a small arrow point upward in the top right corner of the transfer on the backside. This will remind you which way is up when applying the transfer to the mug.

Layout out the transfer with the image facing up and place the mug in the middle of paper with the handle straight up. Wrap one end of the transfer onto the mug so that it touches the handle and apply a piece of heat tape. Now wrap the other end so that it touches the other side of the handle. Make sure the paper is tight against the surface. Now apply a piece of heat tape to secure that end.

Double-check that the paper is right side up by looking at the arrow that you drew on the back side of the paper.

Wrap the mug with a piece of newsprint or Teflon to ensure that no stray ink can get onto the press platen. (Not needed if using a mug oven).

Place the mug in the heat press and adjust it so that it will apply equal pressure to all surfaces of the mug. Pull the mug back out and set the time and temperature of the press. Once it’s heated up, place the mug back in, lock it down and let it sublimate.

Upon completion of the heat cycle, remove the mug from the press, (or oven) then quickly remove the transfer from the mug. This needs to be done while it’s hot.

Ceramic takes a long time to cool down, so at this point many sublimators will dip the mug into a bowl of lukewarm water to quickly remove the heat. Though it’s a common process, most mug manufacturers recommend against it because it may crack the coating on the mug. A better solution is to use a kitchen cooling rack. This will speed up the cooling without endangering the coating.

And that’s it! Now you are ready to become a mug-master.

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