Ease of Use: 17/20
Quality of Final Product: 18/20
There’s a strange thrill in peeling off transfer paper, revealing a mug you just designed. Even if you accidentally affixed the paper the wrong way and all of the letters are backwards. Or if you chose a design that’s a little too finely detailed, resulting in an hour spent tediously cutting out every line in your creation. Both happened to me while testing Cricut’s latest gadget, the Mug Press, and yet, I couldn’t wait to try making another custom mug.
The trial-and-error process wasn’t so much getting used to the devices; it was learning the best technique for the type of design I wanted to create. There are a few ways you can use the Mug Press to design your own mugs—and, as I learned, an ideal approach for each one. Here’s what I figured out the hard way, and what you should know before trying it yourself.
Getting Started Is Easy—and an Investment
First things first: If you’re thinking of making one or two mugs in the foreseeable future, the Mug Press isn’t for you. The press itself costs $199, and you’ll need a Cricut machine (be it the Cricut Joy, Maker or Explore series), which start at $179. Then, you’ll need to factor in the materials themselves: a lint roller ($3), Infusible Ink transfer paper ($10 for two sheets) and Cricut mugs ($28 for six) or sublimation mugs ($73 for 36), which have a special coating that allow the ink to transfer. And, depending on what kind of design you’re making, you may need Infusible Ink pens, heat transfer tape, laser copy paper and butcher paper. That’s $419 just to get started, if you’re totally new to the Cricut world.
Once you have the materials, Cricut makes setup remarkably easy. It’s as simple as downloading the Cricut Design Space software to your computer or phone, powering on your Cricut machines, and connecting them.
So, How Does the Mug Press Work?
There are two primary ways to use a Cricut machine and the Mug Press to create a mug: There’s a “drawn” option, where an Infusible Ink pen is used to draw the design onto paper, which is then pressed onto the mug. And there’s a “cut” option, where Cricut cuts the design onto Infusible Ink paper, which you peel off, stick on the mug and the heated press permanently transfers the design onto it.
Making a Custom Mug, Step by Step:
Use Cricut’s Design Space program to create a mug design on your computer or phone. Mirror the image (so the words don’t show up backwards) with the click of a button and connect your computer/phone to your Cricut cutting machine.
Load the cutting machine with an Infusible Ink pen or the cutting tool, depending on your design. This is what I learned the hard way: If your design has fine details, use the ink pen. If your design is relatively simple, use the cutting tool for a cutout design.
Load a sheet of Infusible Ink on a standard grip mat, press “go” and watch it create your design.
If you’re using a cutout design, use a weeding tool to remove the cutouts, or negative space, in the design.
Turn on the Mug Press and let it preheat, like you would an oven. (This takes about 3 minutes.)
Wipe down the mug with the lint roller to ensure it’s totally clean, wrap the Infusible Ink sheet around the mug and lower it into the press.
Push down the handle on the press, and in just a few minutes, it will beep, letting you know it’s done. Remove the mug, placing it on a trivet to cool.
Once it’s cooled down, remove the Ink wrapper and voila! Your mug is born.
The Bottom Line: Even Imperfect Mugs Look Pretty Impressive
The end result is a dishwasher and microwave-safe mug with a smooth, glossy finish (and yes, it really is dishwasher-safe—after multiple washes, none of the mugs scratched, peeled or faded). The design isn’t raised and won’t peel off easily, like vinyl stickers can, though I wished the drawn logo didn’t bleed as much. That could be due to the quality of the copy paper I used to transfer the design; Cricut recommends using laser copy paper for the best results. (Confession: I used copy paper that claimed it worked with “most laser printers.” Other crafters seemed to create crisper designs.)
Oh, and a pro tip: If you’re using the Cricut Explore Air 2, like I was, it’s worth selecting “more” on the pressure gauge before printing your mug design, especially for cut creations. On the normal setting, the Infusible Ink paper seemed to tear, rather than pull apart cleanly, creating feathery, wispy edges to my design.
If you don’t have a Cricut cutting machine yet, it may be worth holding out until June 10, when the company launches two new machines: the Cricut Explore 3 ($299) and Maker 3 ($399). Both cut designs using Smart Materials faster than ever before (up to 8 inches per second), though the Maker 3 gives you a much larger range of DIY projects you can tackle, since it can create designs on 300-plus materials (from paper to leather), compared to the Explore 3’s 100ish materials. They’ll be available on Cricut.com starting June 10, and at major stores on June 27. (Both are compatible with the Mug Press, BTW.)
The best part, though, is how the cutting machines and Mug Press tap into your creativity in new ways. Remember that mug I messed up with the backwards lettering? As I got more familiar with the devices, I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for fixing it (see above for the results!). One Infusible Ink press later, and my failed mug has suddenly become my new favorite.
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