The making of a coffee mug…

Coffee beans and pralinesWhether your preferred addiction is coffee, tea, hot chocolate or some other hot beverage – chances are that you drink it from a ceramic mug.  Variations of these mugs have been around longer than anyone can remember – and yet they are still popular for the reliability, functionality and ease of use.  I doubt if there is anything on the market that will replace them in the near future…

There are two basic types of coffee mugs.

The first is hand crafted, making each mug unique.  No two will ever be the same.

The second type is mass produced for the commercial world.  These are the mugs that most people have in the kitchen cupboard, or hanging on a wall near the coffee machine.

Mugs stacked upon mugs

A mug that is mass produced is typically starts life as a form of liquid clay that is poured into a plaster mold.  Once the clay is cast into the mold, it is left to harden.  The plaster of the mold absorbs the moisture from the clay.  Once the mold has absorbed the moisture from the clay, the greenware is removed from mold and allowed to dry.  Once it is fully dry, any seams from the mold are sanded down and smoothed out.

The greenware is placed in a kiln and fired at high temperature (up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on the type of clay, the firing process can take anywhere from 2 to 12 hours.

After the mug has cooled down, a glaze is applied to the ceramic mug and it is then re-fired in a kiln – this step gives the mug the glossy look that we’re all used to seeing on our mugs.

The mug is again removed from the kiln and allowed to cool down.

If the mug is being mass produced, art work is applied to the mug, and the mug is once again heated up in a kiln to transfer the image to the mug.

If the mug is being sold to crafters, like Mug Doodles, the mug skips that last step, but receives a special coating that allows it to be decorated via Dye Sublimation later.  These mugs are placed in boxes (typically 36 to a case) and sold to mass distributors around the world.  These distributors then ship them to smaller companies like us.

Dye Sublimation, is really very simple.  It is a method of applying an image to specially coated items (mugs, metal, polyester material, etc) using sublimation ink. sublimation paper, heat and pressure.  Sublimation ink has the ability to convert from a solid (ink on the paper) to a gas without becoming a liquid.  The conversion starts by heating the ink, and is controlled by applying the right amount of pressure for just the right amount of time.

Once we receive an order for a mug, we load the desired graphic file into Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.  We make any changes to the template that are requested by the customer and print the graphic to our Sawgrass printer.

The paper is then wrapped around the blank mug, and placed in a mug press or wrapped and placed in a 3d oven (at Mug Doodles, we use both a 3d Oven and 4 different mug presses).  The mug is heated up while constant pressure is applied to the paper and ink on the outside of the mug.  The heat causes the ink to convert to a gas form, and the pressure causes the gas to be transferred to the special coating that was previously applied to the mug.

Once the mug is done in the press, the paper is removed from the outside of the mug, and the mug is dunked into a tub of water to stop the sublimation process.

After is cooled down, it is dried off and prepped for shipping to our customer!

You can view our collection of over 500 mug designs by visiting our Etsy store at http://mugdoodles.etsy.com

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