How to Print on a Mug

In this article we will cover:

What are the different types of mugs you can print on?

The most common mug you we see printed is your standard looking white mug, we all own a few of these. The reason this is the most common is because it’s one of the older ways to print on mugs, the technology has been around for decades. We can get more into the specific processes later. However, for now we will refer to this as a coated mug.

Coated Mugs

Coated Mugs are coated with a special plastic-based material designed to ‘receive’ a print. This surface must be white as if it were any other color it would interfere with the colors of the ink you printed. (Think about mixing blue and yellow to make green)

Uncoated Mugs

Uncoated mugs are most common when you see colored mugs. These are generally a true ceramic with no additional coatings. They may be painted, dyed or have another method to create the various colors. However, they do not contain that plastic-based coating.

Cylindrical and Conical Mugs

Cylindrical and Conical mugs are essentially the two shapes you will run into for printing. These are either shaped like a cyliner (top and bottom are the same size) or conical (top and bottom are different sizes. Generally speaking when printing on a mug it will be easier to work with a cylindrical mug. The reasons are simple:

Odd Shaped Mugs

Odd shaped mugs should be your last choice for printing. If your desire is to put digital photos, logos and other color images on mugs, you will not want to have an odd shaped mug. It will just be too challenging to get good and even prints on your mug. These shapes are often too rounded, or too uneven to get the proper pressure and temperature needed to transfer a print from paper to a mug.

How do you personalize mugs with digital prints?

There are essentially two processes used to digitally print full-color on mugs: dye sublimation and white toner printing.

Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation is one of the most common ways to print on a mug. This is a process of using a special ink and paper to print your image. Then you apply a high heat for a long period of time. This makes the print transfer from your paper to the mug. This process  was invented in 1957 by Noel De Plasse in France.

Benefits of dye sublimation printing mugs:

  • Lower initial cost of investment for printers and paper

  • Many places sell sublimation blanks
  • It’s a process that has been around for over 60 years
  • The image is very hard to scratch off once applied

Downsides of dye sublimation printing mugs:

  • Only works on specially coated mugs
  • Only works on white mugs
  • The cost of replacing ink over time can be costly
  • Inkjet printing is generally painfully slow
White Toner Printer

White Toner Printing is the latest technology for printing on mugs. This involves using L.E.D. Printers like the OKI8432wt to print full-color transfers on a special coated transfer paper. This technology is just a new adaptation for technology that’s been around for decades. These printers are much like the copy machine printers you used decades ago. Have you ever had to take a toner cartridge and shake it up to get a few more prints? That is very close to what this technology is like. The toner itself is a plastic based material, so it can be transferred to almost anything, including printing on mugs. In addition to this, there is white toner. That is what makes this so revolutionary, the ability to print white.

Benefits of white toner printing on mugs:

  • You don’t need specially coated mugs
  • You can print on any color mug, doesn’t just have to be white
  • You can print white on a colored mug (much more rare and worth more money)
  • You are working with proven, but still cutting-edge technology that is for way more than just mug printing
  • The printer is SUPER fast
  • No liquid inks

Downsides of white toner printing on mugs:

  • The initial investment will be larger than for a sublimation printer
  • If you don’t apply it correctly, it can be more easily scratched off
  • Since you will be printing with color and white toner, you will need to hone your graphics skills.

The technology to print on mugs has come a long way and is relatively easy to learn. That is one amazing thing about learning how to print on mugs, once you have the skills and equipment, it’s a great business opportunity for anyone.

How much money can you make by printing on mugs?

There is a lot of information that can be delivered about selling and marketing personalized printed mugs. However, its best to look at some simple math.

Cost to buy a blank mug (estimated):  $2 – $4

Cost to PRINT on a mug (estimated): $0.05 – $1

This means you can create personalized mugs for somewhere around $2 – $5 as an estimate. This all will be determined by the type of mug you buy (plain white will be cheaper than a 2-toned) and how large of a print you put on the mug.

Now we all have plenty of mugs we have purchased and given as gifts we know they range from $10-15 easily. If they are especially unique they can be even double those numbers.

Its easy to see that for every mug you sell you can more than double your money. That’s a great business opportunity.

How well do printed mugs wash?

This is actually the trickiest question to ask because it depends on so much. What does it depend on?

  • How did you print the mug?
  • Will it be run through a dishwasher?
  • Is it a commercial dishwasher or a home dishwasher?
  • What detergent is used?
  • Do they run a high temp wash or low temp wash?
  • Will it be hand washed?
  • Are they using a wash cloth or steal wool pad?
  • Is the mug material smooth or textured?

Really when it comes down to it, mugs will hand wash with soap and water, without abrasion very well. Any time you add more heat, more abrasion, more chemicals… you reduce the longevity of the mug. We all have mugs we hand wash, and other we don’t care about tossing in the dishwasher. Advise your customers to hand wash for the best life.

What are the steps of printing on a mug?

No matter what technology you use to print on mugs, the steps are relatively the same. Lets break them down.

1. Create your art.

You will want to design using CorelDraw, Photoshop, or other art software. If you aren’t an artist you can use a service like to get your art created for you by a professional.

NOTE: this is the MOST important step. If you have bad art, you will have a bad looking mug.

2. Print on transfer paper.

Your design will be printed in a mirror format. This means it will look backwards when it comes out of your printer. Remember it’s transferring from the paper to a mug. When you flip the paper upside down, the print is actually facing the right direction.

3. Apply heat using a Mug Press or a Mug Wrap in an oven.

Pressure is the key to getting the print to transfer. You cannot just tape a transfer on a mug and bake it. The pressure helps to push that image onto the mug. Without pressure, only parts of your print will transfer.

NOTE: Why is it you need pressure? It’s pretty simple. Think about how your printer is using 4 colors to print tons of colors. It does this by putting varying amounts of each color in each tiny pixel. So if we scale that up, yellow might only have 1 drop of ink or toner, but purple might have 5 drops of ink or toner to achieve that darker color. This means your print isn’t flat, it’s a microscopic mountain range of colors. Pressure makes sure all those little hills and valleys transfer to your mug.

4. Let your mug cool.

This is the step where rushing means failure. You want to wait for the chemical reactions to stop so when you peel your transfer paper off, the image has transferred to your mug. People will use cool packs, or even a fridge to help speed this process up. However, it can be just as simple as letting it site a while. Peel your transfer paper off when its completely cool.

5. Finish your mug.

This might be by baking it for extra time or cleaning it with special residue removing chemicals. Be sure to check instructions for your specific method on how you might need to finish your mug print.

You have learned a lot today about how to print on a mug. It can be a very fun and rewarding process. It just takes some specialty equipment, some practice and patience. The mug printing business is huge and people are always thinking of new ways to personalize mugs. Here are some ideas to help inspire you.

  • Graduation mugs
  • Monogram mugs
  • Quotes people are famous for saying (mom or dads wisdom)
  • Custom cat mugs
  • Custom dog mugs
  • Favorite Bible verse
  • Birthday mugs
  • Corporate gifts
  • New hire gifts
  • New baby, New mom/dad, New Grandma/Grandpa

If you want to learn more about how to print mugs or how to get into the custom mug printing business be sure to live chat with one of our pros or give us a call at (855)348-4839