Sublimation Tumblers: Convection Oven vs Mug Press

Whether you’re creating sublimation tumblers as custom gifts or want to sell them as part of your business, you probably have some questions about the best way to make them. And a common question involves the heat source used to press the design: should you go with a convection oven or a mug press?

Which is Better?

While many people have their preferred method between the two, both a mug press and a convection oven will give you great results; choosing the best option for your hobby or business will depend on what supplies or equipment you have on hand, how much you want to invest, as well as how many tumblers you intend to make.

In this post, we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of each method, and help you decide which is the best option for you.

Which Method Costs Less? Can I Use My Household Oven? What About My Cricut Mug Press?

When you are starting out in sublimation, you are probably concerned about upfront costs, especially if you only want to make a few tumblers at a time, or aren’t sure how much you’ll enjoy making tumblers.

A countertop convection oven is perfectly good for sublimation, and will cost less than buying a standalone mug/tumbler press. Mug presses can run anywhere from $200-$400, depending on the model.

Countertop convection toaster ovens are available in stores for less than $100, and you can probably find one for much less at a thrift store or yard sale.

In fact, you may already own a convection oven that you can use – BUT once you use this oven for baking tumblers, you will not want to use it for cooking, due to possible chemical residue from the sublimation process.

About that Cricut mug press – yes, it can be used for some tumblers, but it will add steps to the process, like pressing one half of the tumbler at a time.

What Supplies Will I Need For Each Option?

There are some differences in the supplies you’ll need, but both methods will have a few requirements in common:

A printed design on sublimation paper, ready to press (you can print this yourself with a sublimation printer, or you can order a printed design from someone else)

  • A printed design on sublimation paper, ready to press (you can print this yourself with a sublimation printer, or you can order a printed design from someone else)
  • Heat-resistant tape
  • A heat glove or oven mitt for handling the hot tumblers as a they come out of the press or oven.
  • A mat or rack where your tumblers can sit while they cool.

There are a few other items that will come in handy, but there are differences in the process:

Mug Press Method

What you’ll need to go the mug press/tumbler press route:

Your press needs to be compatible with the size tumbler you will be making. If it is a free-standing press, you can order one with heating elements that match the most common size mug or tumbler you’ll be pressing.

If you are also shopping for (or already own) a shirt press, some of them come with mug press attachments (something to consider when you’re just starting out in sublimation printing) – this could save you money over buying multiple presses for different projects, although in the long run you will probably want to have a dedicated press for specific types of items.

Mug presses are available with different heating element sizes, and they are sometimes sold with multiple attachments for larger or smaller tumblers and mugs. Companies may also offer additional attachments for sale: for example, a heating element for pressing images onto shot glasses.

When using a mug press, you will want to have protective paper, to keep ink from staining your press sleeve, where it could get on future projects.

When working with any kind of heat press, you may want to invest in an infrared temperature gun, to monitor and adjust the temperature. Your press may run hotter or cooler than the temperature on the display, and this will affect how the colors turn out on your tumblers.

Convection Oven Method

For the convection oven method, you will want to have a countertop convection oven that can be dedicated to your projects – again, you won’t want to use it for food after baking your tumblers in it.

You will need to wrap your design tightly around the tumbler, and tape it well.

Once the paper is taped down well, many people will insert the tumbler into a shrink-wrap plastic sleeve, and then use a heat gun to shrink the sleeve onto the tumbler, creating a consistently and tightly wrapped image.

Whether you use the shrink wrap or not, you can also use silicone bands to keep the design pressed tightly around the top and bottom edges of the tumbler, where blank areas of “ghosting” can often appear because of gaps between the paper and the tumbler.

The oven will need to be preheated to about 350 degrees (this can vary, based on your oven, and we'll discuss it in another post), and will need to maintain temperature while the tumblers “bake”. Overbaking or under baking can result in less vibrant colors, scorch marks, or seam lines.  Use an oven thermometer to keep an eye on this. If you have the supplies to spare, you can also play with different settings – maybe try “air fry” instead of bake.

If your oven is larger, you may be able to stand the tumblers inside without touching the heating elements. If not, you can lay them across the rack – they will need to be turned about halfway through.

Pros and Cons – Things to Consider

  • Size restrictions: a heat press will have elements that fit certain-size tumblers. The convection oven can be used for multiple sizes.
  • The amount of time it takes, per tumbler, and how many tumblers you intend to create.
    The press can produce one tumbler at a time. The oven can bake more than that at a time, but takes a bit longer, and you may have more preparation steps, which could balance out the time difference.
  • There are different supplies and costs that come with either sublimation method.

Consider the number of steps/simplicity. A heat press definitely costs more than a countertop convection oven, but you may find it simpler to press and be done, without the extra steps of shrink wrap or silicone bands. They sell tumbler presses that are set for a 20 oz or 30 oz skinny straight tumbler, which are popular sizes that you may want to print most often.

On the other hand, a convection oven can be used for various sizes, and if you get a quick wrapping method down, or choose to go without shrink wrap, you could save time by baking several tumblers at once.

There are also other options. For example, it's possible to use that heat gun for sublimation printing, or for adding smaller images to a finished product.

Again, both mug presses and convection ovens produce great results, so it really comes down to personal preference: which one you choose will probably depend on the supplies you already have on hand, as well as what your goals are with sublimation printing.

Base your decision on what works for you, and start creating your next beautiful project!

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