UniNet iColor laser transfer printers are extremely versatile approaches to digital decoration. They excel at everything from decorating dark garments to printing white graphics on black and colored card stock. One of the keys to the iColor's versatility is the range of self-weeding laser transfer papers available. Different papers support different applications. Since there are so many people interested in decorating drinkware, this is a good time to focus on one of the iColor's overlooked applications.

Laser transfers for mug decoration offer significant advantages over sublimation and even vinyl. When coupled with an EnduraPRESS MP5 mug press, a laser transfer printer is a simple yet versatile approach to a booming market. That market includes tumblers, steins and more. Here's how to use an iColor laser transfer printer for mug decoration.

iColor Laser Transfer Overview

Just in case this is the first you've heard of the iColor printers or laser transfer, here's a brief overview.

The iCOLOR 550 laser transfer printer comes with five specially designed toner cartridges engineered to print on special self-weeding laser transfer papers. These papers can be used with a heat press to transfer images directly to various substrates including light and dark fabrics, and hard surfaces. The iColor printers can also print to standard papers, films, and card stock which makes them extremely versatile.

Laser Drinkware Decoration Essentials

So what do you need to use your iColor printer, into a marvelous mug machine? Well, in addition to the printer and mugs, all you need is a mug press, some iColor ICHHARD hard surface transfer paper, heat tape, and a convection oven. And water. iColor ProRIP software comes standard with the printer. Pro-RIP was designed specifically for the laser transfer process. Its intuitive queue-based workflow makes decorating colored and stainless steel mugs easier and more efficient.

iColor Advantages

Before we jump into the How, we should probably talk about the Why. There are lots of other ways to decorate drinkware. You can use a vinyl cutter for spot color decals, you can use a printer and cutter for full color decals, and you can use dye sublimation for full color transfers. We covered all of these methods in detail in our Decorating Drinkware webinar. Why use a laser transfer process for decorating mugs?

Fig 1: The iColor system supports decorating dark and un-coated mugs.
Fig 1: The iColor system supports decorating dark and un-coated mugs.

Laser transfer mug decoration offers several unique advantages. Compared to basic vinyl decals, it offers the added impact of full color and photographic elements including faces, logos, gradient color, fancy fills and more. Compared to large format print and cut decals, it offers the simplicity and efficiency of self-weeding paper. No need to contour cut the image, then weed the decal. Just print, press and peel.

Compare to sublimation, the iColor's advantages are the same as with fabric. Laser transfer can decorate un-coated materials, which are more readily available and less expensive than polymer-coated mugs. And since the iColor system includes white toner, you can apply opaque colored images to mugs of any color, even black. You can't sublimate an un-coated black ceramic mug from the dollar store. The iColor can do all of this and more (Fig 1). With an iColor 550 and an Endura mug press, you can greatly expand your creativity, broaden your product offerings, and improve your profitability.

Process: Print Press, & Peel. Enough about Why. Here's how it works.

  • Load the appropriate toner set for the color of your mug. For decorating white mugs, use the CMYK toner set for full color and rich, opaque blacks. If decorating dark mugs or stainless steel tumblers, select the CMYW toner set and use the Pro-RIP Overprint queue.
  • Print on iColor HARD laser transfer paper. Use the Uninet Hard Surface ICC profile.
  • Cut the paper to fit your mug. You can of course, print several copies of one design on each sheet of paper. Attach the paper to the mug or tumbler with piece of heat tape. (Tip) Placing the tape behind printed areas of the paper may cause defects, so place it on the back of un-printed areas if possible.
  • Set for 3 minutes at 300° F. Adjust pressure on the MP5 by turning the thumb screw. Turn it clockwise to reduce pressure; counterclockwise to increase it. Pull the lever all the way forward to close and lock the press. Press the little red button on the side to start the timer.
    Fig 2: Peel it warm, along the surface of the mug.
Fig 2: Peel it warm, along the surface of the mug. There should be a little resistance.
  • At the end of the cycle, remove the mug and let it cool for 2 minutes. Then dunk or rinse it in cold water for about 30 seconds. (Tip!) Don't wait till the paper is cold and saturated. That may cause blotchy transfer
  • Peel. The ICHHARD paper should still be a little warm and offer some resistance. Remove the heat tape, and starting at one edges, peel the paper back along the surface of the mug (Fig 2).
  • Almost done. The mug is now ready to use, but, to achieve optimal abrasion resistance, the toner needs to be cured. Place in convection oven at 360° F for 20 minutes.

    Care, Concerns, & Creative Possibilities

    Is it dishwasher safe? No. Like most digitally decorated mugs, hand-washing is recommended.

    Can you add vinyl? Yes! A decorative vinyl like Schein holographic would be a great accent to a printed transfer and add some sparkle and value. You can design your graphic in layers, send the print layer to the iColor 550 and the accent layer to your vinyl cutter. Apply the vinyl decal around or over the toner. Since vinyl isn't designed to be oven-baked at 360°, the best time to add the metallic accent is after you've completed the laser transfer and cured the toner. Likewise, mugs with plastic handles or bases aren't suitable for this process. The plastic parts may melt in the oven.

    Get started

    If you have an iColor 550 and are ready to add mugs to your laser transfer repertoire, pick up an EnduraPRESS MP5 mug press. If you don't already have an iColor and are ready to start your drinkware decoration business, Click Here to Look at UniNet Printers.