Some people have huge collections of coffee mugs arranged on shelves as a display, showing off everything from the businesses they support to the places they’ve visited. They’re souvenirs, they’re memories, and they’re collectibles.
Did you know, though, that you aren’t limited to just the mugs you can find on the shelves of your nearest gift shop or the digital shelves of Amazon? In addition to the vast array of printed designs on sites like Etsy, it’s also possible – easy, even – to design your own mug and have it printed just for you.
Interested? We’re here to help, so let’s go through the entire process from start to finish.
Step 1: Choose Your Mug Style
The first thing you need to do is choose the style of mug you want to use. While this might not seem like an impactful choice, it’s surprisingly important. If you pick a mug with a sloped side and print a flat design on it, you might end up with something skewed or distorted. Knowing the shape and topology of what you’re printing on is a big part of making sure that print looks good.
You also want to know the size of the mug. A small mug with a big design on it can look overdone or poorly fitted. A smaller design on a larger mug might be understated and elegant, or it might be comically small and difficult to parse. It’s all about matching.
On top of that, color can be important, too. It used to be the case that 99.99% of all the mugs you could get custom printed were plain white cylinders, specifically to avoid all of these issues. Today, there is a huge array of different mug styles to choose from, as well as different colors for the base. You don’t want to design a blue monogram to go on a blue mug and lose it entirely, right?
Fortunately, we have a lot of different designs available. Check these out:
- Plain flat cylindrical 11-oz mugs.
- Tapered 16-oz tally mugs.
- Conical 9-oz vixon mugs.
- Huge 20-oz multi-cup mugs.
- Drum barrel-styled 10-oz mugs.
- 13-oz pot belly mugs.
- 14-oz camp mugs.
- 14-oz diner mugs.
We also have mugs with additional features, such as:
- 15-oz soft bottom mugs.
- 12-oz lidded travel mugs.
- 26-oz massive, lidded, great grip mugs.
- 14-oz lidded double-walled, insulated mugs.
This is just a selection; we have 50+ different mug styles, most of which are available in at least 30 different colors and finishes. You can browse the entire collection here.
Step 1b: Decide a Quantity
Here at Ethix Merch, we specialize in two things: ethical, sustainable, and union-made production, and bulk orders for events, companies, and other purposes. You might notice that our mugs generally have pricing information for various numbers of mugs ordered at a time, with a minimum of 144 mugs. We typically provide large numbers of mugs for use in event swag bags, company awards, and employee appreciation hand-outs, and even as customized products for retail vendors.
Before you turn away and start looking elsewhere, if you need less than 144 mugs, feel free to reach out! We work with a variety of different manufacturers for our mugs, and some of them are more than happy to fulfill smaller orders. Just ask us directly about your needs, and we’ll see what we can do.
Alternatively, if none of our mug designs are available in the quantity you need, you can feel free to shop elsewhere. We highly recommend looking for local-to-you manufacturers because domestic-made ethical pottery and ethical screenprinting are way better than ordering a custom-designed mug to be shipped overseas, polluting our planet. There are so many talented potters and producers throughout the country that it’s a shame to even look elsewhere.
Step 2: Learn the Design Specifications
The second thing you need to do is learn what you need in a design to be printed on a mug. Different producers will have different requirements, so here are ours:
“We require art files in vector format such as EPS or PDF created from a vectorized file. JPG, tiff, and PNGs are not suitable. If you are not sure if your files are in vector format, we can check them and let you know. We can also convert your files if necessary for a nominal fee or no fee, depending on the amount of work required. Ideally, we want to have your company brand guidelines so we can be sure to respect and enhance your brand.
What are the artwork guidelines for printing on a custom T-shirt or other merchandise?
- Adobe Illustrator — CS5 or newer. Convert text to outlines. Please avoid using transparencies with spot colors. Support files must be EPS, TIFF, or PDF. Export files as AI, EPS, or PDF.
Accepted Software Formats:
- Adobe InDesign — CS5.5 or newer. InDesign native artwork must be accompanied with all support files, including fonts and linked images. Support files must be EPS, TIFF, or PDF. Export files as IND, EPS, or PDF.
- Quark Xpress — 9.0 or newer. Quark Xpress native artwork must be accompanied with all support files, including fonts and linked images. Support files must be EPS, TIFF, or PDF. Export files as QXD, EPS, or PDF.
- CorelDRAW — Mac format; version 11, PC Format; version X5. Keep colors as spot. Send all support files. Export text as curves. Export files as AI, EPS, or PDF.
- EPS — Illustrator: Save as Illustrator EPS. Quark Xpress: Save the page as EPS.
- TIFF — PhotoShop: Save as 300 dpi grayscale at actual size. Bitmap Raster Image: 1200 dpi at finished imprint size.
- PDF — File must contain: vector art, high resolution (300 dpi) grayscale images at finished imprint size for halftones and postscript fonts.
- Fonts — Convert all text to “paths” or “outlines” (Vector Art). If this is not possible, send fonts in both screen and printer Type 1 fonts used. List all font names. We have the complete Adobe font library. No PC fonts are accepted.
- Compression — Stuffit® and WinZip®
Please note we DO NOT ACCEPT artwork created in Microsoft Publisher, Powerpoint, Excel, Paint, Word, etc. Such files would need to be recreated in the proper format.“
This is taken directly from our ordering information FAQ page; if you have any questions, feel free to reach out and ask! We’re more than happy to help.
If all of the above looks complicated, it’s really not that bad. If you’re paying an illustrator to come up with your design for you, just copy them the information, and they’ll know what to do. If you’re doing it yourself, all you really need to know is that you should use a vector format.
Why a vector? Well, have you ever seen an image posted somewhere like Facebook, where it has jagged pixelized edges, or it looks blurry or fuzzy because it’s been upscaled or changed? That’s a non-vector format. Vectors, unlike most artwork formats, don’t store the 1:1 pixel information but instead store mathematical formulas of how to render and draw the art from scratch.
The benefit of this is that a vector can be reproduced at any scale. The same vector image can be used to create a building-sized poster or a design for a button, and it will have the same level of smooth, crisp clarity in both formats. Other image formats don’t scale well in the same way.
The reason we prefer to use a vector is that it can be adjusted to tiny degrees without messing up your design and will still look great on any mug. If you use a flat, rasterized image format, you’ll end up with issues with the design, particularly for more complex and slanted mug styles.
Basically, if you want your mug to look good, make sure you have vector artwork.
Step 3: Create Your Design
The hardest part of this entire process is the creation of the design you want to use.
Note: Some people want custom mugs with existing art or designs on them. This may or may not be a copyright or trademark issue, depending on the design and what rights you have to use it. If we or our suppliers feel that your design crosses a line, we may ask for validation that you have the right to use the design or refuse to produce it. This also holds true of any illegal designs. Further, it’s not our responsibility to validate every design; if you end up committing a copyright violation, the liability is yours.
The simplest method is to work with an artist, graphic designer, or illustrator to bring your ideas to life. Talented artists are all over the country and can be found online, and they’re often quite cheap for a basic design service for something like a mug design. Just browse various platforms, from Twitter/X to ArtStation to Upwork, pick an artist to work with, and have the design you have in mind brought into reality.
If you aren’t sure about a third-party designer, we have in-house designers and a whole team that can help you with every step of the process. Just check out our services page to see what we can offer!
If you want to DIY your design, you can do that too. We recommend using Adobe Illustrator because it serves the purpose the best. It’s the industry-leading vector art design program, after all. It’s also available with a free trial, which should be more than enough to design a single monogram or logo for use on a mug. Even if you can’t use the free trial for one reason or another, their subscription plans are fairly cheap.
If you want to play around with a free tool, either to mock up a design idea for a graphic designer to refine or to produce something on your own, there are a lot of options out there as well. One of the most popular is Canva, a web-based design app that has a library of free assets and the ability to upload your own (like your company logo), and you can export it in a vector PDF. There are also a bunch of Canva alternatives, too.
Obviously, if you want to work with another mug creator, they may have different requirements for formats and image types, so you may have different tools available to you. It all depends! We’re just going by what we have and what our partners prefer.
Finally, we pride ourselves on ethical and union-made items. If you want to take pride in that as well, there’s the opportunity to add a Union Bug to your design. Just ask!
Step 4: Submit Your Order
Generally, submitting your order is quick and easy. You have a file to attach (along with any accessory files you might need, like custom fonts, as outlined above), and you have your chosen mug design, color, style, and quantity. Put all that together on the quote page for your given design, submit it, and you’re good to go!
Alternatively, if you’re unsure of the details, you want a smaller minimum quantity, or you want assistance with the process, we’re always available to chat. You can just drop us a line.
The production of your mugs can vary. The larger your order, in general, the longer it will take. In some cases, if you’re working with one of our suppliers and asking for just a few mugs, there may be a delay while they find a chance to fit your order in between other larger orders.
Usually, turnaround time is around 3-4 weeks. However, if you’re working with us for art preparation and design, there may be a longer timeline as we work back and forth to refine your design before sending it to production. There will be time involved for sending proof and making sure everything looks good, too. We want any mugs we produce to be of the highest quality, so you are sure to be satisfied!
Once you validate the design and printing, your order will be submitted, and all you need to do is wait for them to arrive.
Step 5: Enjoy Your Mugs!
So, your mugs have finally arrived. Now what?
Enjoy them! Whether you’re handing them out to event attendees, giving them to employees for reaching milestones, using them to stock your break room, or selling them on your store shelves, you’re good to go. And, if you need more or want to have another design produced, we’re always available. Just reach out!
Daniel Cardozo, CEO of Ethix Merch, is a passionate advocate for ethical promotional products. With a mission to transform global supply chains, he serves on the Labor 411 Foundation and Advertising Specialty Institute’s Promo for the Planet Advisory Board. Daniel is dedicated to empowering socially and environmentally-conscious consumers.