sublimate on stainless steel tumbler

How to Sublimate Stainless Steel Tumblers (Quick Guide)

There is one very important decision we need to make when we talk about learning how to sublimate stainless steel tumblers.

The fact is that sublimating on stainless steel tumblers is quite basic up to a certain point. Up to a certain point is identical to sublimating T-shirts. Up to a certain point, it’s the same as sublimation on mugs but there is a crucial point where the process differs entirely.

I’ve already written an article discussing whether we can sublimate on stainless steel so I covered this subject in its entirety.

But I also decided to write a separate guide on how to sublimate stainless steel tumblers because I feel that they’re becoming more and more popular among crafters.

Of course, in my opinion, T-shirts will always be the most popular substrate we will want to personalize. But I also discuss sublimating on acrylic or glass sublimation. I wrote about whether we can sublimate on vinyl, on leather, etc.

There is a wide variety of objects we can personalize with sublimation. And among those that are amazing options that we want to personalize with this durable craft are stainless steel tumblers. Let’s see whether you’ll still want to do it after you read this guide on how to sublimate stainless steel tumblers.

How to Sublimate Stainless Steel Tumblers: What We Need

In order to understand whether you’ll want to go ahead with personalizing blank stainless steel tumblers that are ready for sublimation, we need to go over the tools we need.

If you’re not a total beginner to sublimation, you’ll already have a lot of these tools, like a sublimation printer with sublimation paper and sublimation inks, butcher paper, heat resistant tape, heat resistant gloves, and you already own which design software works best for you.

These are the classic tools we need for any project, whatever substrate we want to personalize.

Sublimation tumblers

If we already have the printer with sublimation inks that prints on sublimation paper and we know which design software we want to use, then we must also have the object we want to personalize with our gorgeous design.

The only criteria these tumblers must meet is this: the stainless steel tumblers for sublimation need a poly coating.

Just as t-shirts and other fabrics need to be light in color, no dark shirts for sublimation, and they must have a high polyester percentage (at least 75-70%), the other substrates need something that is called a poly coating or a sublimation coating.

We can buy our substrates with the coating on or we can apply our own coating at home.

If you want to apply the coating at home by yourself, I recommend checking out the Dyepress PolyGloss Sublimation Coating for Hard Substrates.

On the other hand, the easiest way is to buy stainless steel tumbler blanks, like the Baumfeuer Sublimation Tumbler. Obviously, they’re not cheap since we’re talking about stainless steel objects. Still, paying about $10 per tumbler is not all that much since it comes ready for sublimation.

There are also packs that contain multiple items, like 24 tumblers that cost under $150 so the price becomes even cheaper. We will end up paying about $5 per tumbler, which is really cheap from my point of view.

These sublimation blank tumblers will also come with instructions, like:

50 seconds at 334 degrees F in the heat press

or 6 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees F

Others will do the oven method at 365 degrees F for 4 and a half minutes.

We always need to check out these instructions if we’re buying sublimation blank tumblers.

Tumbler heat press or convection oven

Where things turn a different route is when it comes to transferring the design from the paper onto the stainless steel tumbler.

Just as we need a special heat press for mugs so we need a specific heat press for tumblers.

That’s because tumblers have a certain shape, a certain length and diameter. And a heat press for mugs most likely won’t work for tumblers as well because they have completely different sizes, diameters.

Thus, sublimating on stainless steel tumblers is not posing any difficulties in the steps we have to follow to realize our craft because the steps resemble closely what we do when we sublimate mugs or T-shirts.

The difficulty appears when we need to decide how we’re going to transfer the design from sublimation paper onto stainless steel tumblers.

We have two options to consider:

  • buying a tumbler heat press
  • or using a convection countertop oven to bake the stainless steel tumbler with the design secured on via heat resistant tape

If you have neither, both will imply an extra expenditure of up to $200 or something like that.

If you want to personalize dozens of tumblers per day, choosing to buy a tumbler heat press will be more convenient because it’s not as lengthy if we need to process a large number of substrates.

On the other hand, if you are a beginner that just does it as a hobby and just plans on doing some tumblers and some mugs, then using a convection countertop oven makes more sense.

The only thing you must consider is that once you use your oven for sublimation, that’s it, you won’t be able to use it to cook food anymore. It becomes an oven that can be used for sublimation only.

How to Sublimate Stainless Steel Tumblers in 5 Steps

There are plenty of YouTube tutorials that you can check out if you want to witness a visual guide on how to sublimate stainless steel tumblers.

There is this guide that uses a tumbler heat press in case that’s the route you want to take.

And there’s also this YouTube video on how to sublimate a tumbler from start to finish using a toaster oven to complete the transfer from sublimation paper onto the tumbler.

Of course, the steps are the same up till the point where we decide whether we’re using a heat press or a toaster oven.

And, as you saw above, most manufacturers of sublimation blank tumblers will offer instructions about time and temp for both heat presses and countertop toaster ovens. It illustrates that both methods are very popular.

They’ll also be equally successful if we do it right. The only difference is that a heat press performs the transfer onto the tumbler significantly faster.

Step 1. Choose your tumbler

I highly recommend buying a blank stainless steel sublimation tumbler that already has the coating we need for the inks to stick to the surface of our substrate and for them to become durable for maybe years to come, wash resistant and everything.

If you already have experience with applying the poly coating at home then you already know what to do so I’m going to skip that step.

For those who are interested in knowing what applying the coating at home entails, I recommend checking out the website for the Dyepress PolyGloss Sublimation Coating for Hard Substrates because they have instructions and everything there. There are also YouTube videos that go through the process.

Most options for blank sublimation tumblers will be a 20 oz straight skinny tumbler with stainless steel straw, splash-proof lid, rubber base. I also like those that are double-walled vacuum insulated. That’s definitely the main reason for liking stainless steel tumblers, they keep our drinks cold or hot for longer.

Step 2. Other tools we need

Firstly, we need a sublimation printer that works with sublimation inks.

The printer can be a dedicated sublimation printer like the Epson SureColor F170, Sawgrass SG500, Sawgrass SG1000, Epson SureColor F570.

My favorite option is to convert Epson inkjet printers to sublimation by simply buying the sublimation ink that matches that respective model. This is easy to do, more affordable, and the inks are certainly cheaper. However, once we make the conversion, the warranty for that inkjet Epson printer is void. That certainly doesn’t happen with dedicated sublimation printers like the Sawgrass SG500, Sawgrass SG1000.

We’re going to print on sublimation paper, one of my favorites being the A-Sub Sublimation Paper, 125g.

Butcher paper is a cheap component but an essential one. If you don’t want to buy butcher paper, then use regular copy printer paper.

We also need heat resistant tape. Besides heat resistant tape to hold the paper in place, some people might also like to use the help of wrappers that wrap around the tumbler to hold everything in place as we apply the tape.

And a lint roller for making sure that the tumbler is spotless.

Of course, using heat resistant gloves will protect us during the heat transfer part of the process.

Step 3. Making the design

If you don’t want to make your own designs, there are plenty of tumbler templates you can find online. You’ll decide if they’re cheap or expensive. I generally prefer making my own.

You can check out this tutorial if you want to design your own 20 oz skinny tumbler wrap templates.

Of course, measure the tumbler in several places to see what design size you need.

That’s especially important if you want to do a full wrap tumbler with no seams.

There’s a specialty tape measure that you can use for the diameter.

If you make your own designs, you need:

  • the height of the tumbler, which is the width of the sublimation printer
  • and we need to determine its diameter, which is the height of the sublimation print

Step 4. Wrapping the sublimation tumbler

As far as I’m aware, Cricut Design Space is one design software that you can’t use if you want to make a full wrap tumbler. It will work for other design sizes but it won’t for a full wrap.

When we print the design, it will have some white edges and we don’t want any white edges if we make a full wrap. We need to cut those white edges..

You can use a paper trimmer, a simple pair of scissors if you’re that good which I’m totally not capable of or a rotary cutter with a clear ruler. I guess using the rotary cutter with the clear ruler to get the cuts on the edges straight is the simplest method for me.

Once the design doesn’t have any white edges any more, we can proceed to wrapping.

Clean the tumbler with the lint roller or with rubbing alcohol and then let it completely dry.

Place the stainless steel tumbler on a hard surface.

Place it with the bottom up. The top down.

If your sublimation print has a top or a bottom, the top needs to be down. Don’t forget about this inversion.

Of course, when we wrap the print, the part of the paper with the design on touches the surface of the tumbler.

Once the wrapping is done, our eyes will see the white part of the paper.

I also recommend watching this video if you want to wrap a sublimation tumbler with no seams or ghosting.

Step 5. Transferring the print

Once the wrapping is done and is kept in place with plenty of heat resistant tape, it’s time to transfer the print from the paper onto the stainless steel tumbler.

As I’ve mentioned from the beginning of this guide on how to sublimate stainless steel tumblers, you can either use a tumbler heat press for 50 seconds at 334 degrees F or a toaster oven 6 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees F or whatever other time and temp instructions your specific sublimation blank tumbler comes with and then you can remove the paper with heat resistant gloves on and you’re done.