How to Do Transfer Printing on Mugs

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Things You'll Need

  • Image
  • Desktop publishing or graphic design software
  • Scanner
  • Printable water slide decal paper
  • Printer
  • Cardboard
  • Decal fixative spray
  • Pre-designed water slide decal (if not designing a decal)
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Container
  • Towel
  • Decal applicator squeegee (optional)
  • Paper towels
  • Resin sealer
  • Mask
  • Gloves

Transfer printing involves using pre-designed or homemade custom water slide decals to apply images to hard surfaces. A water slide decal, as the name suggests, requires exposure to water to peel from its paper backing for transfer/positioning to an item such as a mug. Although pre-designed and homemade custom water decals transfer to surfaces in the same way, to do transfer printing on mugs you need to decide on the decal type, as homemade decals require preparation — image selection, design, editing and printing — before you can transfer.

Select an image to use on your mug and import it to your desktop publishing or graphic design software from a storage device (for example, hard drive or camera) or scan the image to your computer using a scanner and then import. If you purchased a pre-designed water slide decal, go to Step 4.

Design and edit your decal as desired, including cropping or re-sizing the image to fit on your mug's surface.

Print your decal design. Load printable decal paper into your printer to print on the glossy side. Print and then wait 20 minutes for the decal to dry.

Put on the mask and gloves and apply four coats of decal fixative spray to your decal. Lay your print sheet, or pre-designed decal sheet (if required), on cardboard with the decal facing up. Follow the spray application instructions. Typically, spraying on the fixative requires that you hold the spray nozzle approximately 3 inches from the surface, apply a coat horizontally, wait a few minutes for the coat to dry and then apply additional coats vertically until the surface shines.

Cut out the decal after it dries (approximately 6 hours) and place it in warm water. Wait 20 to 45 seconds before removing it.

Place your decal on the mug. Lay your mug on a towel, align the decal over the mug’s surface and then gently slide it from the paper backing onto the mug. Position the decal on the surface using wet fingertips.

Blot the decal with a paper towel to smooth it, remove air bubbles and promote drying. If you have a decal applicator squeegee, sweep it gently from the top to the bottom of the mug and then blot with a paper towel.

Put on the mask and gloves and apply the resin sealer to your mug so you can wash the mug without fading, cracking or peeling the decal.


  • If your decal curls in the water, don't worry—this is normal. The decal should straighten before the full wait time passes.

    If your decal slides off its paper backing while in the water, carefully slide the decal back onto the paper with your fingertip.


  • Never use clear printable water slide paper to make a decal that has white lettering, borders or other white areas unless printing the decal for transfer to a white mug, as inkjet printers don't print white color — the decal paper or mug background must provide the color.

    Always wear a mask and gloves when applying decal fixative spray, as fixative sprays contain toxic chemicals harmful to your health.