How to Sublimate a Tumbler 

Tumblers have been a popular item for crafting for a couple of years now. It all began with glitter, but as time has gone on, sublimating has become the new favorite thing – and can you blame the world?

You can get some pretty amazing pieces of art using sublimation, and no one can get enough of it. If you have been eyeing sublimation and have wondered how people do it, you’ve come to the right post!

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Here, we are going to take a look at what sublimation is, what you can actually sublimate, and how to do it using three different methods.

By the end of this post, you should have all the information you need to do some sublimating for yourself, even if you don’t have the fancy equipment. Now, if you’re ready to get into it, let’s begin/

What Does it Mean to Sublimate a Tumbler?

To start off, let’s learn a little more about what sublimation is.

Chances are, you have seen sublimated things without knowing it, or what the word was. In short, sublimation is a chemical process that transforms solids to a gaseous state.

The liquid state is skipped altogether, and the ‘solid’ ink is transferred and embedded into a substrate made of polyester via heating, which turns it into a gas.

The process is a little confusing, but the results are amazing. You get permanent, peel proof designs that are a stunning high quality.

Sublimation isn’t like putting a sticker on something – this process results in your design becoming part of the material that the tumbler is made of.

Because of this, the finished product looks professional and art-worthy. The finished results can look so good that you can give them away as gifts or make money by starting up your own business – they will definitely look good enough to be in a store, anyway!

What Other Things Can You Sublimate?

You would be surprised by how many things you can sublimate. Depending on your preferences and interests, you can try sublimating:

  • Glass sheets
  • Ceramic tiles
  • Ceramic mugs
  • Aluminum sheets
  • MDF coasters
  • Polyester mouse mats

This is by no means a definitive list. In fact, there are probably hundreds of other things you could sublimate, but for the sake of time, those are the most popular.  

How to Sublimate a Tumbler

There are three ways you could sublimate a tumbler. We will go through each of the methods in detail below, so you can follow everything step-by-step.

Depending on the recourses and equipment you have, one option might be better than another, but this is up to you to decide.

Of course, there can be specialized equipment, like the Cricut Mug Press, so if you have one of these lying around, this is the perfect use for it.

Before we get into it, it is important to note that you cannot use just any tumbler for sublimating.

Unfortunately, in order to sublimate, your tumbler needs to be coated in polyester so that the sublimation ink can get bound to it during the heating process.

The process will not work if there is no polyester coating. Because of this, sublimation can be expensive as you need to buy specific sublimation tumblers. 

There are similar DIY methods you can do at home with regular glasses, but the results will be different. If you want to get the best, long-lasting results, sublimation is the way to go.

Things You Need to Sublimate a Tumbler

In order to sublimate a tumbler, there are a couple of things you will need. The list is as follows:

  • Sublimation tumbler (blank)
  • Sublimation ink
  • Sublimation or Laser paper
  • Heat-resistant tape
  • Butcher paper
  • Sublimation shrink wraps 
  • Heat source
  • Heat-resistant gloves

Sublimation Ink

There are a few options you can go for with this. These options include:

  • Infusible Ink Pens (you don’t need a cutting machine)
  • Cricut Infusible Ink Transfer Sheets 9these work great with electronic cutting machines like the Cricut)
  • Pre-printed sublimation transfers
  • Sublimation Ink for Printers (you can get bottles that will fit your printer, if you have one)
  • Artesprix Sublimation Markers 

Heat Source

Depending on what you have, there are a couple of options you can use to sublimate your tumbler:

  • Cricut Mug Press
  • Craft Oven
  • Tumbler Heat Press (we will not be going through this method as it is specifically designed for sublimating tumblers. You can check out the basic steps here to see how to use it)

Deciding on the Transfer Process

Before you can get too excited, there are a few things that you will need to figure out first. The first thing you need to do is decide which transfer process you are going to use to sublimate your tumbler.

This means that you need to decide if you will use ink sheets, pens, or pre-printed transfers. We will go through the options in detail below, so you can decide the best option for you.

  • Infusible Ink Markers and Pens – these pens can be used to transfer designs and can be done by hand or up in the Cricut machine. You can use Artesprix Markers to do this, too.
  • Infusible Ink Transfer Sheets – if you use this, you will need to have something like a Cricut machine to cut it out. These sheets are essentially a sublimation that has been printed out onto a sheet, making it easy to use.
  • Pre-Printed Sublimation Transfers you can buy pre-printed sublimation transfers from online stores like Etsy. This will save you the time of having to figure everything out yourself.
  • Sublimation Transfer – you can convert your Inkjet printer to be able to do this pretty easily, and you can print out your own transfers.

Picking (or Making) Your Sublimation Design

How to Sublimate a Tumbler1

You can easily order sublimation prints online on stores like Etsy, but you can also make your own. Ordering them is definitely a lot easier, but you need to realize that it won’t be your art that in sublimated onto the tumbler.

Of course, a lot of people don’t mind that, or they simply don’t care too much, but others will. 

If you have a creative eye and like to come up with your own designs, doing that is great. You can end up with unique pieces that you can love for years to come.

When  it comes to sublimation, any kind of design can work, so you don’t need to reel in your artistic skills. You can even use printed photographs and other kinds of graphics to put on your tumbler!

As long as you convert your Inkjet printer, anything is possible with this.

To use Infusible Ink and have a Cricut machine at your disposal, it’s a super easy and fun option.

You can use Infusible Ink Transfer Sheets by picking a design available in Cricut Design Space, then letting it run through as it usually would, iron on vinyl.

Although the weeding process is slightly different to the usual, it is  nothing to be worried about is it is easy to learn. 

If you have some kind of electronic cutting machine, like a Cricut, and are going to use Cricut Design Space, you can use an SVG file for your designs. If you have Silhouette Studio, using a DXF file is recommended.

Using a software Adobe Photoshop, or something similar, will give you amazing results.

To use your Inkjet printer for printing out your designs, all you really need to do is get sublimation ink that fits the printer.

While you can use an old printer for this, you will get better results from using a brand new, unused printer. That way, you can be sure that all the ink you see is sublimation ink, and there will be nothing being printed that doesn’t belong there.

Sublimating Using the Cricut Mug Press

  1. Create or order the design you want to sublimate into your tumbler
  2. Print the design using the correct template size to fit the size of the tumbler you will be sublimating
  3. Cut one or more sides flush to the design
  4. Clean your blank tumbler to make sure there are no smudges, dust, or debris on it
  5. Wrap your paper design around the tumbler so that the ends overlap
  6. Tape the ends using heat-resistant tape
  7. Place your tumbler into the shrink-wrap sleeve
  8. Shrink the shrink-wrap down using a heat gun (or any other device that will get the job done)
  9. Place the heat conductor onto the side of the tumbler you are going to press first
  10. Carefully put the wrapped tumbler into the Cricut Mug Press (preheated)
  11. Close the lever
  12. When the machine beeps, you will need to carefully remove the conductor, then apply the opposite end
  13. Press the lever again
  14. When the machine beeps again, remove the tumbler from the machine
  15. Gently take the shrink wrap off the tumbler
  16. Peel off the heat-resistant tape from the paper, and remove the paper from the tumbler
  17. Your tumbler is now sublimated and looks gorgeous!

Sublimating Using an Oven

A convection or toaster oven can work for sublimating, as long as the temperature settings can reach up to 400 °F. You should have an oven that you can dedicate to this craft, as once you use it for sublimating, it should never be used for cooking again.

The gases that the process creates are harmful if they are ingested, and using the oven for both purposes can be dangerous. 

  1. Create or order the design you want to sublimate into your tumbler
  2. Print the design using the correct template size to fit the size of the tumbler you will be sublimating
  3. Cut one or more sides flush to the design
  4. Clean your blank tumbler to make sure there are no smudges, dust, or debris on it
  5. Wrap your paper design around the tumbler so that the ends overlap
  6. Tape the ends using heat resistant tape
  7. Place your tumbler into the shrink-wrap sleeve
  8. Shrink the shrink-wrap down using a heat gun (or any other device that will get the job done)
  9. Set your oven temperature to 400 °F
  10. Wait until the oven reaches 380 °F, then place a sheet of printer paper on the rack to prevent the shrink wrap from sticking to it (it will gradually brown, but don’t worry about it)
  11. Put the wrapped up tumbler inside the oven. You will need to place it lying down on the rack between the tho heating elements at the top. Try to center them quickly, as the longer the doors are open, the more heat will escape.
  12. You may want to set the oven on a timer of around 10-15 minutes to make sure you have enough time to get everything done, The tumblers will only be inside for a few minutes, but it would be detrimental to have the oven turn off too soon
  13. Get your timer and set it for 4 minutes.
  14. As time ticks away, keep an eye on the tumbler. The design will begin to show through the paper and shrink wrap as the heat does its thing. It should be visible, but not fully clear. If you end up seeing every element of the design, you will know that the tumbler has been pressed for too long.
  15. The tumbler should be ready to come out between the 3:50 and 4 minutes mark
  16. Get your heat-resistant gloves and gently remove the sublimated tumbler from the oven
  17. Put the tumbler on a heat mat, and leave it to cool down for a few minutes
  18. After a couple of minutes, carefully peel away the tape and shrink wrap with the paper. Never use scissors or any other sharp objects, or else you risk scraping and ruining your design

Common Problems You Might Experience 

There are three common things you may experience when sublimating. These will all be very noticeable and can be annoying, but you need to remember that it’s a learning process.

There will always be mistakes initially, but as you practice more, you will master the art.

  • Fading in particular areas your paper probably wasn’t taped to the tumbler tight enough, or the shrink wrap you used wasn’t tight enough. You always need to tape down the length of paper where the sides overlap, as well as around the bottom and top of the tumbler. Ensure that the paper is smooth, and has no wrinkles or bubbles.
  • Faded designs faded designs indicate that the temperature wasn’t high enough or enough time wasn’t given for the process to finish. It is helpful to keep a thermometer in the oven you are using and ensure that the temperature stays right. If you are using an oven and 4 minutes have passed without the design showing, allow another 30 seconds before taking it out. 
  • Vintage look / browning color this means that the temperature was too hot for too long. If you are using an oven and are experiencing this problem, you can try taking the tumbler out 30 seconds early and see if that solves the problem.

Final Thoughts

Sublimating can result in some incredible designs. The end results make great gifts, or simply nice decorations for around the house.

If you get the hand of the process and can make quality tumblers (or anything else), why not start your own little business? 

Hopefully you know everything you need  in order to make these stunning creations. If you have managed to successfully sublimate tumblers or something else, share it with the world! Happy crafting!

Michael Moore

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