HIX Graphics Blog

The Pitfalls of the Mug Sublimation Process

Jun 1, 2018 3:30:14 PM / by Henri Coeme

Creating the perfect sublimated mug is not the act of performing one step flawlessly; it’s the culmination of a process that includes doing many steps correctly and learning the mishaps to avoid. Because so many things can go wrong along the way, it’s essential to know what to look for and the tips to follow to ensure success. Most of the issues are rooted in the three most important elements of the process: heat, time and pressure.


Consider several parts of the process that can be problematic and learn more about how to streamline them.


Design Issues

Before you even get to the sublimation process, design issues can thwart your chances at selling a mug. Here are some first concerns:

  • Is the design attractive?
  • Are the colors aesthetically pleasing?
  • Do the colors of the design complement the mug color?
  • Is it a design that people will feel connected to?

Once you’ve determined the design itself is a good one, it’s time to compare the design to the mug shape. Is it appropriate for the shape of the mug? For instance, a curved latte mug is not a good choice for a design that includes a face or other image that could look distorted when printed. A design printed on a slanted mug may look skewed, unless worked up specifically for that shape. For 360-degree designs, it’s essential that you include a fluid transitional seam that is easy to align.


Printer/Ink Issues

When you’re using a high-end, industrial printer, knowing how to effectively use it is key. Understanding the settings and other elements to its use is imperative to developing a quality product. User error attributes highly to sublimation problems.

One of the other most common issues associated with problematic sublimation printing stems from ink. Several problems can be traced back to ink issues:

  • Stale ink: Ink gets dry if not used regularly. It can clog up print heads.
  • Outdated ink: Sublimation ink usually has freshness (or expiration) dates. Once beyond those time intervals, the ink may not be as predictable. Buying ink in bulk is a great bargain, if you’re going to use it within its freshness window.
  • Wrong ink: While you may think that all sublimation ink is interchangeable, that’s not the issue. Many brands develop their own inks that work best in their printers. If you’re using the wrong kind of ink, you won’t get a quality product.

Another prevalent issue that comes back to your printer settings is the color profile. If the color profile hasn’t been scanned in properly or if the proper printer driver is not used, your product will not be printed correctly.


Mug Problems

What you see in a mug is not always what you get. Several components must exist for a mug to be an acceptable canvas for a sublimation product.

  • Mug Surface: The surface must be void of pinholes and blemishes and provide a smooth texture. Irregular surfaces cause hazy images. If the wall thickness is irregular, heat will affect various areas differently and the sublimation process will be negatively affected.
  • Coating: sublimation mugs have a polymer coating that allows the ink to transfer to the surface. It expands as it heats, allowing the ink to penetrate and link, then traps the ink as it cools. If the coating is insufficient, the image will be, too. If the coating is uneven, the image will not be uniformly transferred. If the coating is too hard, the mug is difficult to print on. If the coating is too soft, the image may fade too soon.


Paper Transfer

Problems with the paper transfer can cause a myriad of issues with your image. Depending on the shape of your mug (slanted/curved/straight), the transfer must be a proportional fit.

Issues arise when the transfer is not the correct size to cover the entire mug with the design or paper, protecting it from silicone ink migration.

Often, the problem is due to misplacement -- placing it crookedly or in improper alignment will cause the effort to be ruined.


Mug Wrap Issues

HIX manufactures seven standard styles of mug wraps that fit the majority of sublimation mug projects you’ll be working on. Other shapes and sizes of drinkware can be custom-manufactured.
Making a perfect fit between the wrap and the substrate is important. One-size-fits-all wraps available in the market can be the cause of many problems in the sublimation process, such as

  • Incorrect dimensions of the wrap: Results in uneven pressure
  • Cumbersome attachment requiring tools: Results in misaligned design or, at best, loss of time
  • Torn or damaged wrap: Results in uneven pressure
  • Wrap too tight: Results in color shifting or mug damage
  • Wrap too loose: Results in color shifting, outgassing (ink escape from sides) or blurry text


Sublimation Temperature

As the sublimation process is chemically-based and depends on all compounds working together, temperature is a critical variable when it comes to the end product. Incorrect colors result from improper heat levels (too hot or too cool) and too short/too long dwell time.

Insufficient air circulation inside the oven chamber will create color shifts or uneven sublimation. Sometimes, mugs are not spaced out sufficiently inside the oven, also resulting in incomplete sublimation of the final product.



Bringing the sublimation process to an abrupt halt is also important. Blurry pictures can be a sign of prolonged cooling at the end of the sublimation process. Immediate cooling keep the images, colors and text crisp and bright.

Transfer paper needs to be removed quickly, without smearing the mug or shifting the paper. If not, ghosting may occur, showing a duplicate or fuzzy image.

It is easy to see how multiple problem may occur during the entire sublimation process and design. As many steps exist in the chain of events, as many opportunities arise for problems to occur: an image is blurred, the colors are “off” or it’s visibly incorrect in other ways. Tracing your steps and identifying the culprit part of the process is a key way to avoid the same issue next time.


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Topics: Sublimation Industry, SubliPro Conveyor Oven

Henri Coeme

Written by Henri Coeme