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How (not) to Make Custom Coffee Cups (My Utter Failure)

I love snarky coffee cups, don't you?  And if that funny cup is a little sparkly? Yes, please!  Personalizing a coffee cup is an easy gift idea, and is actually pretty easy.
How (not) to add vinyl to a mug (and how to as well).

Let's talk about how (not) to add a saying to a coffee cup (and then how to).... so grab a mug of the good stuff and read on...

I've always been a crafter.  I enjoy doing different types of crafts. Especially using materials in unexpected ways, I love a good challenge.  So when I heard about putting glitter heat transfer on a coffee cup, I thought it sounded like a fun idea and gave it a whirl.  I love the way it looked, but I have to say, it was actually an utter failure.  Don't let the pretty picture fool you:

Personalized coffee cups make great gifts- find out how (and how not to) make your own.

Let's start at the beginning.  The design I used on my mug is one of the 12 exclusive heat transfer designs I created.  Take a closer look:

Today is a strong coffee kind of day. I opened the design and right clicked to ungroup it.  This design is saved in three groups: the arrows, the "today is a kind of day" and the "strong coffee."  I created this file this way in case you wanted to use different colors.  I've colored each group (below) to show the groups:

Today is a strong coffee kind of day.

I measured my cup and sized the design to fit below the brim of my mug.  I've actually tried this design three times on this coffee cup and I'll tell you what I learned from each go round.

First try: I cut the entire design out of smooth black heat transfer and pressed.  Complete failure.  I took no photos.  I was never going to speak of it again... but I figured this was a good time to tell you about it... the smooth heat transfer moved and twisted and didn't transfer right at all.  I would not recommend using smooth heat transfer on a mug.  Moving on...

Second try: I switched to glitter heat transfer.  It's thicker, I've seen it done on Pinterest, this is going to work (I said with hope to myself).  So I cut the arrows and regular text out of black glitter heat transfer and the "strong coffee" layer out of silver.  I trimmed the carrier sheet around the strong coffee layer as small as I could around the words and stacked the two layers by sticking the silver layer in the middle of the black layer:

Layering glitter HTV.

Next I lined the design up on my mug:

Adding glitter HTV to a coffee mug.

I used a tape measurer to keep the handle steady (because it was handy).  I heated up my home iron as hot as it would go and relied on the carrier sheet from the heat transfer to hold the design in place (which worked really well actually).  I covered the mug with a tea towel and pressed down as hard as I could while ironing in sections and rolling the iron as I went.

Everything seemed to be going well.  The vinyl took a bit to adhere to the cup, but It WAS working.  Once I got the vinyl to come off the carrier sheet, I used the nose of my iron to press down on some of the parts that refused to stick (apparently glitter heat transfer doesn't melt the like smooth heat transfer does when you touch it with your iron...)

I finally got it all in place and I was super excited.  I mean, look at this cup!  It was going to be my "Monday Mug." (grin):

How to create a custom coffee mug (and how it didn't work as expected).

But then it all went wrong... I don't know what happened, really, but about a week later the vinyl started coming up in several spots.  I tried re-ironing it, I even used my heat press, but it just would.not.stick.  I couldn't help myself:

Glitter HTV on ceramic mug does not work well.

Oh the horror (sad face):

So sad- the design fell off the cup!

It literally peeled right off.  So sad... it was pretty while it lasted.

Third try: This time I was determined to just make.a.mug.  I really love this design and I really wanted on a cup.  So I switched gears and changed from HTV to permanent adhesive backed vinyl.  I added some alignment boxes to my design and cut my layers:

Layering a design for a personalized coffee cup using permanent glossy adhesive backed vinyl.

To read more about using alignment boxes and layering adhesive backed vinyl, check out  How To Layer Vinyl

I layered the vinyl and then, balancing the mug in my lap, I transferred the vinyl:

How to put vinyl on a coffee cup.

This time I'm pretty sure it worked (wink):

Today is a strong coffee kind of day- this is my new Monday Mug!

So, not all projects turn out the way you want them to.  I REALLY wanted that glitter HTV to work out, but it just wasn't happening.

Some things I learned...

You CAN microwave glitter heat transfer.  I was worried that the glitter would refract the microwaves (or something) and cause sparking, but this did not seem to be the case.  Nothing spectacular happened when I popped it in the microwave to heat up some water.

To see if maybe my design was just too thin, I tried ironing a big blob of scrap HTV on the mug... that didn't work either.  Maybe it's my cup? My iron? My technique?  I could only get sections here and there to stick.

In the end, I would not recommend using heat transfer vinyl on a mug.  Save your glitter HTV, it's too pretty to be wasted!  If you want to personalize a mug for someone, use some permanent (glossy) adhesive backed vinyl and you'll be golden.

So, here's to snarky coffee cups and rolling with the crafting disasters we all experience here and there... CHEERS!


I might just need to make myself a shirt to match my new mug- what do you think?


13 thoughts on “How (not) to Make Custom Coffee Cups (My Utter Failure)”

  • Rebecca

    I have been told by many many crafters that anytime you put vinyl of anytime on a cup or a canvas that you have to put some type of acrylic sealant on it.

    I’m less than 6 weeks into my Cricut experience so I’m just starting out but want to try to make some cups. But when I put some vinyl in painted canvas then sealed off t with Modge Podge the vinyl pulled up. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to use a Polyacrlyic?

    • Kala

      Hi Rebecca,
      With regular vinyl, I wouldn't put any sealant over the top. Sealant can have stuff in it that makes vinyl curl/shrink. You normally do not need to seal vinyl at all. I also wouldn't necessarily seal vinyl on a cup for the same reason. The heat transfer on this cup didn't work, I'm still not sure why, but the regular vinyl did and I didn't seal it at all.
      Hope this helps!

  • alexis

    omggg I'm going nuts.. i bought a cricut explore 2,
    i want to simply write a quote on vinyl and stick it to a mug. this is the quote

    i smile because you're my sister inlaw
    i laugh because you have to put up
    with my brother Jesse.

    I've tried several fonts in cricut design
    different sizes... i can't cut small words.

    please if you have any advice let me know.

    • Kala

      Hi Alexis,
      That's a lot of text to put on a cup, I think even if you could get it to cut right, you'd end up with pieces coming up once you use the cup. When you do really thin/small letters, they tend to peel. This might be a better saying for a shirt? I don't do a lot of cutting with a Cricut, but you should be able to cut fairly small letters- do you have the fine tip blade?

      Hope this helps-

  • Jessica

    I was wondering I haven’t been able to find orange iron on vinyl and was trying to find something close but I came across regular orange vinyl. Can I use that instead?

    • Kala

      Hi Jessica,
      In my experience, regular heat transfer vinyl (not glitter), gets distorted easily and doesn't work as well. I know others have used it with success, but if you can't find glitter orange, then you could try using regular vinyl instead, that might work out better.

      Hope this helps-

  • Katora

    Would sealing the mug with an acrylic spray give the vinyl a little bit longer life span on the mug at all?

  • Jill

    I use it, but prior to putting it on my mug, I paint the dishwasher safe sealer (Modge Podge) onto the back of the glitter HTV then put a coat or two on top after I've transferred it onto the mug. I have had zero issues and have run it through the dishwasher multiple times. :)

  • Brenda

    Hmmmm, I wonder why it didn't work for you. I did three mugs. Two glass ones from a $1 store and a ceramic one as well. I used both smooth and glitter HTV. I did notice that I I had to be super careful with the heat on the smooth, but the glitter went on (and is still on) since last weekend. I wrote about it on my blog. Interesting how to people can have such two different outcomes.

    • Kala

      I don't know! It just wasn't in the cards?

      • Sara Koshen

        I have a question... what is HTV...

        • Kala

          Hi Sara! Thanks for stopping by! HTV is heat transfer vinyl. This post is actually one of a series of posts that talk about heat transfer vinyl, you can find all the posts here: and more specifics about HTV here:

          Let me know if you have any questions!


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