Choosing Sublimation Mugs

By Tom Chambers

As one of the most popular of all sublimation blank items, mugs are available in a variety of styles and rim, handle, and/or interior colors.  But the most common of them all is the omnipresent 11 ounce white “C” handle coffee mug.  These are available from a wide range of manufacturers, distributors, and resellers, in almost as wide of a variety of quality levels.  All of these mugs are not created equal, and if you find some bargain mugs and have problems with image quality, soft coatings, or shape irregularities, any cost savings go out the window.

So just how do you go about the task of choosing mugs to sublimate?  Here are 5 basic tips that will ensure you pick the right mugs.

  1. Buy from a reputable supplier. First and foremost, you want to buy your mugs from someone who has a reputation for selling quality products at a good price, with great customer service in case you do have questions or a problem.   Someone like us here at EnMart.  Yes, I am admittedly biased, but to be fair, there are some other reputable suppliers out there as well.
  2. Mugs should be perfectly round with straight and smooth sides. All mugs have a slight taper or curve to the top rim and bottom edge.  This is to assist removing the mugs from the mold when they are made.  That curve should be very minimal though, with the area between the top and bottom of the mug as smooth and straight as possible, and perfectly round.  That lets your press provide even pressure and heat to produce the best image quality, with full top-to-bottom printing around the entire mug being easily achievable. Lower quality mugs can have uneven sides, larger curves and tapers on either the top or bottom, and can even be out of round.  All these things can make it challenging to get a good print, and nearly impossible to print full top-to-bottom.  If this happens to you, then you are buying the wrong mugs, and should definitely give our high quality mugs a try.
  3. Mugs should always have a hard coating. All coatings are not made equal either, and there’s a big difference in how a hard and soft coating sublimates.  Soft coatings typically require lower temperatures to sublimate, or you’ll wind up softening the coating up so much the paper will stick to the mug to where you may never get it off. Hard coatings, on the other hand, don’t get soft until a much higher temperature, so your paper isn’t likely to stick at all.  Another huge plus is that hard coatings are dishwasher safe, and the images you put onto these mugs will last for years – much longer than any softer coated mugs.
  4. Mugs should always have a smooth, even coating. Inferior coatings may have visible blemishes, or even thin areas in the coating.  You may even see spots where there is no coating, and no coating equals no sublimation.  You want to see a smooth, glossy finish with no imperfections.
  5. Mugs should sublimate with full, rich color. Even if you follow all of the above tips, there is no substitute for sublimating a mug and seeing what it looks like.  Assuming all of your settings are correct and there are no issues with your sublimation system, you should see rich vibrant color similar to the image on your monitor.  If not, you might have mugs with a lower quality coating.

The bottom line is that if you are using the correct settings, proper sublimation ink, quality sublimation paper, and a well made mug press, then you should expect no less than great results when you sublimate your mugs.  If you have light areas of thin color, can’t print all the way to the edge, have poor and dull colors, or any other quality issue, then it might be time to look for a new mug.  After all, the price difference between a soft coated economy mug and a high quality hard coated mug usually isn’t more than a few cents anyway, and that can easily be recouped by eliminating wasted mugs and time, along with gaining a reputation for selling quality products.

Tom Chambers is EnMart’s sublimation guru,  the guide and mentor regarding all things sublimation.   Tom was instrumental in introducing inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries, and has been working with the process since the early days of thermal ribbon sublimation. 

Actual Advice: Answering your Sublimation Questions

Advice-2We just started a series called Actual Advice,  in which we answer questions from customers,  on SubliStuff’s sister blog, EmbroideryTalk,  and I thought it would be fun to have the same series over here.    Often the best indication of what people need and want to know is in the questions they ask,  and I figured it would be helpful to share the questions and answers here on this blog so more people can benefit.    So,  without further ado,  here are a few questions we’ve been asked.

Question 1:  Can you buy mugs from the dollar store and sublimate them?   The first thing to say here is nothing is impossible.  Yes,  theoretically,  you could buy mugs from the dollar store,  buy a coating spray designed for sublimation, coat the mugs yourself and sublimate them.   In practice, however,  that’s a dicey proposition.  Coating items for sublimation yourself is difficult,  and getting the coating evenly applied can be problematic.   Dollar store mugs may also be less sturdy and less able to stand up to the heat and pressure of a mug press.   There’s also the fact that sublimating mugs this way won’t save you much.   The cost of buying a dollar store mug,  purchasing coating and the implements to apply that coating and then spending the time necessary to apply the coating would probably far outstrip the cost of buying drinkware for sublimation that is already professionally coated and prepared.

Question 2:  Do you do sublimation tutorials at your EnMart locations?  We do set up sublimation tutorials upon request, provided we have the necessary equipment and personnel available.   We do keep printers set up in the R&D lab,  but they are sold as demos after a certain period of time.    The R & D heat press also tends to get sold at trade shows,  as it doubles as our trade show press.   On the plus side,  this allows us to ensure that we have the latest equipment in the lab.   On the minus side,  it sometimes means that we don’t have the necessary equipment available.   The other half of the equation is that our sublimation lab and our sublimation experts are at the company headquarters in Michigan,  which is the only location that offers tutorials.     If you are interested in a tutorial,  and are able to come to the Michigan location,  you can always contact us to see if we can set one up.

The 5 Ws of Sublimation: What Can Be Sublimated

Note:  This post is the start of a series called the 5 Ws of Sublimation.  The traditional five Ws are who, what, when, where and why.    For the purposes of this series, however,  I’m changing the five Ws to who, what, why, which and when.   This post deals with what sorts of goods can be sublimated.

Sublimation is attractive to many people because of the wide variety of items that can be sublimated.   From garments to mousepads to coffee mugs to canvas bags,  sublimation offers decorators a vast array of options.   If you’re planning to add sublimation to your shop,  or already sublimate but are looking for more options for products you can offer,  here are a few categories of items that can be sublimated.

Drinkware– From latte mugs to beer mugs to the good old fashioned mug you drink from at the local diner,  there are a number of options when it comes to drinkware.   Coffee mugs are probably the most popular and the most well known sublimated drinkware option,  but there are also beer mugs and water bottles.   Travel mugs are another popular option.

Tags – Everyone likes to be able to identify their luggage or sports bag and many companies also have employees that wear name tags, so tags that can be sublimated are a useful item.   Whether it’s a luggage tag for your resident road warrior,  a personalized license plate for a company car,  or a name tag for the local restaurant’s newest employee,  personalized tags can sell very well.  You should also remember that pet tags can be best sellers too.

Key Chains – Key chains are another great product that can easily be sold to corporate clients.  The local car dealership would probably love to have key chains with their logo and company info to give out to new car buyers.   Key chains with little added extras like a tape measure would be a great giveaway for a hardware store.

I could go on and on about the many products, both hard goods and soft,  that can be sublimated,  but the reality is that almost anything you can think of can be sublimated,  provided it can withstand the heat and pressure necessary for sublimation,  and provided it has a poly coating.     Items that cannot fit into a traditional heat press can often be sublimated with a wrap and an oven.    Innovation and experimentation have led to many options for those who want to offer a wide variety of sublimated products.

The other item which must be mentioned when discussing what can be sublimated is, of course, fabric.    To get the best sublimated image,  you fabric should be 100% polyester and it should be a light color.  White is preferable for colors to be their truest,  but images are sublimated on fabric that is light grey,  light blue,  light pink and other light colors.   One popular manufacturer of performance wear and t-shirts for sublimation is Vapor Apparel.

Please keep in mind that sublimation cannot be done on dark garments.  There is no option for a white underbase when it comes to sublimation.   You should also keep in mind the fact that blended garments,  a poly/cotton blend for instance,  will give you an uneven sublimated image.   Some people like the distressed look that sublimating a blended garment can cause,  but for the best sublimated image possible,  it is always recommended that your fabric be 100% polyester in a light color.


Sublimation for the Holidays

I know it’s hard to start thinking about Christmas when some parts of the country are still dealing with record high temperatures,  but now is the time to start thinking about what to offer your customers for the holidays.   Customers who are looking for new decorations or a unique Christmas gift may already have started early.   You need to have your stock in place now so you can fill those holiday orders when they come.

One perennial favorite for Christmas is, of course, ornaments.    EnMart carries round ornamentsoval ornaments and heart ornaments.   All are ceramic and suitable for sublimation.   They would be a great product to offer a customer who wants a personalized ornament,  or for someone creating a theme tree,  who may need ornaments all relating to a single theme.

Personalized mugs or steins can also be a great addition to the yearly holiday gathering.    Whether it’s a brunch with hot chocolate,  in which case personalized 11 oz. mugs would be a hit,   or a carol singing party,  with steins of hot cider at the end,   personalization can add that extra decorative touch.

There are also lots of great ideas for personalized gifts for business people.   A personalized business card holder is a classy way to carry cards without them getting smudged, wrinkled or lost.    Those who have a longer commute might appreciate a personalized travel mug.   A personalized message board could take pride of place in someone’s office.    Someone who is abandoning the briefcase might appreciate a personalized canvas bag.

Whatever sublimated items you decide to offer,  the trick is to remember that holiday gift giving and decorating is being planned now.  If you wait until Thanksgiving or the beginning of December you may miss out on potential holiday sales.  If you plan ahead and have a list of holiday gift ideas waiting for your customers,  you may find that your sales figures make it a very happy holiday season for your business.