Turn blank ceramic mugs into an art business

blank ceramic mug with cartoon print image

Mug sublimation – what equipment do you need?

Creating your own designs on blank ceramic mugs can be great fun and make you money.  The startup cost is relatively cheap and there are a few items that you need to purchase before you can get into full production.  In this article I have listed the products that I use personally and have found to work well and produce great results.

I am assuming that you already have a computer and suitable software such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to be able to create and size the design for the mugs.  

If you would like to see how this section of the design process works please take a look at my extensive post on how to make mugs using a sublimation printer and mug press which guides you through the whole process.

ricoh dye sublimation printer imageeRicoh Sublimation Printer

I have used this printer for 2 years and its prints superbly every time.  It was quite interesting to look at some of the reviews on Amazon which range from generally 4 and 4 star but with a batch of quite heated 1 star reviews.  this had me puzzled as i have only had a great experience with my printer.  It was quite interesting to note that some of the more critical one star reviews were from reviewers who were not ‘verified purchasers’ which to me makes the comments unverified!

ricoh dye sublimation printer front paper drawerThe tray holds 250 sheets (International A4) and is very easy to front load.  

The printer can be set to either duplex or wireless connectivity and comes with an installation disc that is easy to follow.  

My only criticism is that it does take a while from switching on the being ready.  It goes through a lot of internal checks a cleaning preparation before its ready to print.  on saying that it really is no big deal if you know beforehand..  

ricoh dye sublimation printer ink compartment imageFitting the 4 ink cartridges is very easy.  The front right hand panel flips down and the cartridges are push fit with each color slot clearly indicated.

With a healthy 128 Megabytes of RAM it can tackle just about any print job you can throw at it.

The print interface on your computer is very easy to follow with several settings as you would find with any printer.  I tend to keep my print quality to best or at least 300dpi (dots per inch).  This will ensure excellent print quality.

There was some criticism of having to keep running the printer every now and then to stop the ink  from drying out and clogging.  I left my printer idle for 4 months and there was no loss of quality with the ink at all.  In fact it performs much better than my conventional HP printer which does have ink drying problems if left for prolonged periods.

If I went back two years ago to the time I was about to buy the sublimation kit I would  buy the Ricoh Sublimation printer without hesitation.  It has been trouble free, has produced great results and I have been continually impressed with its consistent reliability.  to me it is the best sublimation printer.

Get the latest price for the Ricoh Aficio SG 3110DN Sublimation printer here… 

sublet ink Sawgrass Sublijet sublimation ink cartridges

There are four cartridges for the Ricoh sublimation printer Yellow, Cyan, Magenta and Black. They normally come in packs of four or you can buy them individually.  

One word of warning! I would strongly advise you to buy a recognised brand as a cheap ‘alternative’ could be a disaster both to the printing process and to your printer.

Get the latest price for the Sublijet 4 color ink set for the Ricoh SG 3110DN Printers here…

texprint sublimation transfer paper 110 sheets imageeSublimation Transfer paper

This looks like normal quality printing paper.  However it is designed to take sublimation gel ink and hold the ink firmly in place during the sublimation process which involves relatively high temperatures, potentially over 374OF/200oC .

Again it is advisable to use a recognised brand to ensure you get a quality print.  I recommend Texprint 8.5″x 11″ Sublimation Transfer Paper in 110 sheet packs.  

This is specifically designed for  the Ricoh Printer,  3110DN.   Use this link for the TexPrint Desktop Sublimation Transfer Paper pack and get a free roll of Innosub heat resisting tape.

heat resistant tape sublimation printingHeat resistant tape

Heat resistant tape is required to secure the sublimation paper print to the mug.  This is special tape which is heat resistant up to 425oF/218oC.  

I recommend the Thermal Tape-heat Resistant Tape for Sublimation – Polyamide (8mm).  

There are a couple of options with a double pack or a pack of 10.  You will need to be turning out a considerable amount of mugs to warrant a 10 pack!

promo heat sublimation mug press imageMug Press

A mug press is actually a very simple device.  It consists of a heating element contained in a clamp and a heat control unit.  It’s very basic and simple to operate.  There are many available on the market and most are imported from China.  

When buying a mug press be careful as they can be calibrated in Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

mug sublimation printingIt can be a real pain in the neck to get them altered if you have the wrong calibration after you have bought the unit.  How do I know?  Because it happened to me and it was hells delight trying to get the control unit changed over. 

The unit I have is a Promo Heat Sublimation Heat Transfer Press Machine – for Coffee / Latte Mugs which has been faultless since I started using it for pressing my cartoon musician mug range.  It is very easy to use and reasonably compact.  Looking at Amazon reviews it has an average 4 star rating with 86% giving 4 and 5 star ratings.

See the latest price and further information for the Promo Heat Sublimation Heat Transfer Press Machine here…

blank ceramic mugs sublimation 11ozsBlank Ceramic mugs

I use 11oz blank sublimation mugs to produce my cartoon musician mug range and they are perfect for thePromo Heat Sublimation Heat Transfer Press Machine.  

When I first started pressing mugs I bought small quantity to try out first.  Unless you have a ready made market and know you are going to sell a truckload I would advise you to buy smaller amounts as they do take up a fair amount of space. Blank ceramic mugs usually cone in a small polythene sleeve inside a small lightweight bubble wrap bag.  

Mugs are usually packaged in boxes of 36 and the Demon Decal brand is currently the more viable supplier on Amazon with free shipping.  There are ‘cheaper brands’ – however they charge shipping and when combined are more expensive.

See the latest price for Demon Decal 36 Grade A Coated Sublimation Blank Ceramic mugs (White 11oz) here…

Mug Sublimation – a great way to turn your art into products

Kitting yourself out is fairly straightforward and there is not a great deal of risk involved if you are confident with your artwork.  I used my musician based designs to create a range which quickly replaced the cost of buying the equipment.

To recap you will need need:

  • Ricoh Dye Sublimation Printer

  • Sublijet ink

  • Sublimation paper

  • Heat resistant tape

  • Blank ceramic mugs

  • Mug heat press machine

If you would like to know how to use the equipment please see my in depth article on sublimation printing which takes you through the process, pitfalls, tricks and tips here…