Right before the Covid era sprang, I was trying my hand at a multitude of creative ventures to help me pay off student loans and credit card debt. My lovely wife had gifted me a Cricut Maker for Christmas in 2020, so naturally I purchased 108 8 oz. coffee mugs to customize and sell for profit.

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Because obviously the fastest way to pay off $140K of student loans is with Etsy mugs

Unfortunately, making lots of mugs using Cricut-cut vinyl was, frankly, a big pain in the ass. For one, depending on the complexity of the vinyl that was cut, the weeding and application could be a time-intensive process. Additionally, vinyl is not dishwasher safe, and realistically who is going to buy something they have to handwash? I did try using coatings like dishwasher-safe Mod Podge, but even that was a frustrating process whose cure-time overhead resulted in longer lead times for creating inventory. My wife and I would end up creating and selling only enough mugs to fund a take-out dinner excursion or two. Needless to say, fast forward to today and I still have 100 or so mugs left.

I wasn't the only person on the planet to have a similar idea; there was explosion of custom tumblers on Etsy which apparently proved lucrative for plenty of people. I'd come to learn that the folks selling these tumblers were smarter than me and invested in sublimation; this was too rich of an investment for me, however, given that I had also dropped a significant amount of money on financing a Glowforge Pro in the first half of 2020 for another related business pursuit. Sublimation required using a special Sublimation printer that could print sublimation ink onto sublimation transfer paper.

Or so I thought.

I was excited to learn that people had a lot of success in converting Epson EcoTank printers into sublimation printers by simply flushing the printer head nozzles, reservoirs and feed lines and then filling the reservoirs with sublimation ink. I'm no stranger to the EcoTank printer line as my ET-4750 has been going strong for six years. All I had to do was wait for someone to sell an EcoTank printer cheap enough on Facebook Marketplace and go through the conversion process myself. I already had a Cricut Mug press which had gone unused since having been gifted it in 2022.

I'm excited to say that a few days ago, I finally tried to sublimate my first Animal Crossing themed design onto one of those remaining hundred mugs.

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One google search and pitstop to Canva later, my design was ready to go

Unfortunately, It was an absolute failure:

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Yeah, I don't see the design either

Turns out, the process of sublimation is one wherein the dye/ink is heated into a gaseous state which can be absorbed by a permeable polyester substrate. So the key in sublimation is having your material either be made of or be coated with a cured layer of polyester. Unfortunately, these hundred mugs will continue to collect dust for a little bit until I experiment with a polyester glaze I found on Amazon.

Fortunately, I did still have a Cricut-branded sublimation mug blank that came with my Cricut mug press which I hadn't used yet. Eager to test the efficacy of my converted ET-2720, I tried again to sublimate my design:

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Shout out to my homies at the roost

I'm pretty happy with the result and admittedly it has me excited to try this again with other designs. The transferred image could stand to be a little bit sharper and the colors could use a little more saturation -- I'll have to experiment with the print settings and color profiles on my printing setup.

I've long given up on custom mugs being a cash cow; in retrospect, its kind of funny to think how gung-ho I was on trying to making a killing selling niche mugs on Etsy. The margins are terrible! Moving forward, the rest of those hundred mugs will be relegated to fun gifts and maybe the occasional Facebook marketplace sale.

Who would have thought that crafts are more fun when you aren't in it for the money 🙃.