Tumblers. Travel mugs. Thermoses. Water bottles.
Whatever you prefer to call them, they're popular, they sell well, and they're a lot of fun to make!
In this post, we'll walk you through wrapping and “baking” a sublimation tumbler, using a countertop convection oven or air fryer.
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Supplies You'll Need
Sublimation tumbler “blank” – We'll start with a straight, white, 20-oz sublimation tumbler, but there are other options, and we'll be adding tutorials for some of those options, as well!
(Paper thickness/weight – I use 105g for tumblers, because it gives me a little more ability to manipulate or stretch it to fit, but I have also used the 125g I had bought for pressing shirts.)
Heat-resistant tape – some folks use blue painter's tape for the seam, although I haven't tried this, yet.
Recommended: Silicone bands – these are basically like the wristbands that kids wear (in fact, you can borrow those in a pinch!), and can save you a ton of tape and time. They are used in the convection oven method, to hold the design tightly against the tumbler at the top and bottom edge, and help prevent “ghosting”.
These bands won't work with a tumbler press, because they would add a layer of thickness at the ends of the tumbler, keeping you from applying equal pressure along the entire length of the cup.
Another option is a silicone wrap that fits around the entire tumbler.
Oven thermometer – this will give you a more accurate reading of the temperature inside your oven, since the oven's thermostat can be off by quite a bit.
Heat-resistant glove or oven mitt, that will allow you to turn or remove the hot tumbler from the oven.
A mat or trivet or other heat-resistant surface, where you can let your sublimation tumblers cool before unwrapping them.
Preparing the Design
Start by measuring your tumbler – the standard design size for a 20-oz straight skinny sublimation tumbler is 9.3 inches wide/around, and 8.2 inches tall, but a batch of tumblers can vary in size, so you'll want to use a tape measure to get your tumbler's exact dimensions.
Have a design picked out? Size the image to fit your tumbler and send it to your sublimation printer. Make sure your printer is set to the correct paper type and print quality, and remember to MIRROR YOUR IMAGE, either in your design software or in your printer's settings (but not in both places!), to prevent any lettering in the design from appearing backwards on your finished tumbler!
Once you have your image printed, you may want to trim off the excess paper outside the bottom edge of the image, and from at least one side edge.
Can't cut a straight line to save your life? Join the club! A paper cutter makes this easier, or you can use a self-healing cutting mat with an Exacto blade or rotary cutter.
If your printer pulls the paper through and keeps it perfectly straight, then you may not need to do any cutting – you can just print with the bottom and one side edge aligned with the edges of the paper. I did this with my first tumblers, but over time my designs began to print crookedly, which caused problems with lining up the other edges.
For now, I'm printing the whole image with white space around it, and cutting off the excess at the bottom edge and one side edge.
With this method, it's fine to leave the white space above the top edge and along one side.
Wrapping the Tumbler
Wrapping a tumbler with good results is something that comes to you with practice. It's a simple enough thing to do; basically, we're taping a piece of paper around a cylinder. And you may have great results right from the start!
Or, you may have a white seam line where the edges of the design meet, or have flared, white areas at the top and bottom of your finished tumbler. Or blurred sections of your design. These can all be related to wrapping, and you may go through a few test tumblers before you get your preferred method down.
It's easier to show you a video on how I do this, than it is to try to explain. I've cobbled together tips from other crafters, tried different methods, kept some tips and given up on others. You will probably do the same, and that's part of the fun of making tumblers in your own unique way!
Your tumbler is now ready for baking! Or wrap a few more, if you want to save time or electricity by baking in batches.
Baking a Sublimation Tumbler
Now, on to the actual sublimation process. Again, you could do this in a press designed for mugs and tumblers, or you can use a convection oven. Both methods have their pros and cons, and again, you will find your favorite way of doing things.
A note if you'd like to use a tumbler press at this point – the time and temperature settings will differ, you'll use tape and no silicone bands, and you'll turn the tumbler once or even twice during the pressing. We're working on adding a tutorial to the site.
In the oven, you can complete more than one tumbler at a time, so if you have several that are already wrapped, you can do them in batches, and save yourself some time. may want to turn once, halfway through, or use a stand-up oven.
Preheat your oven – I've placed an oven thermometer inside, to get a better idea of the accurate temperature. I tend to set my oven's dial to 360 or 365 degrees, to keep an actual temperature range of between 365-380 degrees. The temperature will fluctuate, if the oven kicks on and off, or if I open the oven door to turn a tumbler.
I've found that as long as my thermometer is reading above 350 degrees, I will still get good results. Higher is better, and if the temperature sits too closely to 350 for a while, I will add a bit of baking time.
Your countertop convection toaster oven or air fryer will most likely have a rack – you can lay your tumbler on this and rotate it a half-turn, about halfway through the baking time.
If your oven is tall enough, you can also remove the rack, and stand your tumbler up, between the heat elements. Many people still turn the tumbler halfway through, for consistent baking on all sides, but you might not find it necessary, depending on your results.
I will bake a sublimation tumbler for five to six minutes. Five minutes if the temperature is reading closer to 375 degrees, and I can see the design showing through the paper. Six minutes, if I feel the temperature wasn't consistently high, or if I've just gotten distracted. (There's also the distinct smell of the ink processing, which lets me know that I forgot to open a window!) Over time, you'll recognize when a tumbler is done baking.
You'll use similar settings for other sublimation tumblers, including stainless steel and “glass can” sublimation tumblers. And if you notice something not working for you, change the process to suit what works best on your tumblers.
The Finished Product
Have a spot ready for your sublimation tumblers to cool a bit before you begin removing the tape and paper. While the tumbler is still hot enough to accept the sublimation ink, you don't want to move the paper around. This helps avoid blurring or smudging of the design while the ink is still processing.
You can let the tumblers sit until they cool completely, or until you are able to pick them up without a heat glove. At that point, they'll be too cool for any more dye to be absorbed.
Pull off any tape or bands, unwrap your paper, and voila! You have your newest creation!