Applying vinyl to various objects is a great project for beginner or hardcore crafters, and there’s no end to the designs you can find on the internet or even draw yourself. Whether you want a glitter mug, a tumbler, or a nice set of water bottles, there are lots of options for those who like to indulge in some arts and crafts.
However, in order to enjoy your special decal for a long time, it’s recommended that you seal it with permanent adhesive vinyl. This will keep the surface area protected under any circumstance and make the vinyl stay exactly as it was the day you applied the decal.
Sealing vinyl on a stainless steel tumbler is actually really easy. All you need to do is pick the right type of sealant, either spray sealant or one that comes in a jar. Apply it all over your decal in several thin coats, making sure to let each one dry before you add the next one. Lastly, you’ll have to let the sealant dry for the correct amount of time, and we will be sure to tell you just how long to let the vinyl cure before you can use your mug.
Vinyl sticks really well to steel too, so you’ll have no problems getting great results with your vinyl decals. It’s called permanent vinyl for a reason: steel is the perfect material to work with here.
The guide we prepared for you below is the ultimate resource for sealing vinyl on your tumbler. Let’s have a look at everything you’ll need to put the vinyl onto steel.
Materials You’ll Need to Apply Vinyl to a Stainless Steel Tumbler
In order to pick the best vinyl sealing method that won’t have any issue adhering properly to your mug, here’s a list of things to prepare before you get started.
1 – Stainless steel tumbler
You can pick up tumblers from Amazon as well as a number of brick-and-mortar shops.
There isn’t much to bear in mind when buying a tumbler to apply vinyl to, aside from the shape.
You can buy any shaped tumbler you want, just know that the more complicated and curved the surface, the more difficult it will be to apply the decal neatly.
If you think you’re up for the challenge, then buy the curviest tumbler you can find! As an example, this tumbler has a bit of shape to it, but it still has plenty of room for applying vinyl decals.
2 – Vinyl
There are many different types of vinyl, including permanent adhesive vinyl and iron on vinyl, and other types called indoor vinyl and outdoor vinyl.
For steel tumblers, you’ll always want adhesive vinyl, also known as sticky vinyl.
You’ll also want to make sure that you buy permanent or outdoor vinyl because it has a longer-lasting adhesive. The best vinyl is always going to be the one that’s going to give you the best mileage, meaning it will last as long as possible before the decal eventually wears out.
Some of the most popular brands include Cricut Premium Permanent Vinyl, Cricut Joy (which is also a DIY machine for applying vinyl and creating decals), and Oracal 651.
The Cricut naming seems a little more informative, but actually, the Oracal numbers have meaning too. The 6 refers to the number of years the decal will last, and the 51 tells us this vinyl is permanent and meant for outdoor use.
3 – Cricut machine
The Cricut cutting machine is a super important tool for vinyl decal craft. Without one, you’d have to try making decals by hand with a craft knife.
This isn’t impossible for some simple designs, but imagine trying to cut out a phrase in a fancy font. What would take you hours to do could be done in minutes and with far more precision by a vinyl cutter. You can find plenty of these on Amazon, but if you’d rather try a different brand, USCutter is also an option.
4 – Weeding tools
Once your design is cut, you need to peel away the excess permanent vinyl. Some larger parts can be done by hand, but tiny pieces of excess vinyl in fonts (e.g the hole in an A) will be more difficult to remove. This process is referred to as ‘weeding’.
This is where weeding tools come in. They are essentially sharp sticks with a handle made for grabbing small bits of vinyl with precision, so you don’t damage the design around it. These tools are often sold in handy kits made up of dozens of pieces.
5 – Transfer tape
Transfer tape is the tool used to transfer your vinyl design from its backing paper to your intended surface, such as mugs or plastic cups.
There are various different types, but for ease of use, we recommend transparent transfer tape . This lets you your design as you position and apply it, aiding precision and creating neat vinyl designs.
For adhesive vinyl on steel tumblers, you’ll also want to make sure you choose regular grip tape instead of strong grip.
6 – Squeegee
This is a scraping tool used to smooth your vinyl decals and help attach them to the surface. They work best with flat surfaces. For curved surfaces, you’ll probably use your fingers as well.
7 – Rubbing Alcohol
Cleaning your steel tumbler right before applying the vinyl decal will make it much easier for the vinyl to stick. It isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s definitely recommended.
How to Apply Vinyl to a Steel Tumbler Step-by-Step
You’ve got everything you need to put vinyl on your mugs, so let’s go over the process step-by-step.
Step 1 – Cut the decal
If you own a Cricut machine, you’ll know how to do this. And if you’ve just bought one, all the instructions you need will be right there in the box, so make sure to check the user manual.
The best thing about a cutting machine is that it can cut any design. You can choose from one of theirs, upload one from the internet, or upload a design you’ve drawn yourself.
While you can choose any design you want, remember that blockier designs and thicker letters will stick better to steel.
Step 2 – Weed your vinyl
Onc your design is cut, trim it to a workable size.
Next, use your fingers to grab the excess vinyl at the corner and pull—this will remove the bulk of the excess vinyl.
Any remaining pieces of vinyl left can be removed with your weeding tool.
Step 3 – Apply transfer paper
Once your design looks how you want it to, remove the paper backing from an appropriately sized piece of transfer tape and stick it over your design.
It’s a good idea to grab your squeegee here and use it to smooth out the tape and make sure everything is stuck down well.
Step 4 – Clean the tumbler
Use rubbing alcohol or an alcohol wipe to clean the area of the tumbler where you’ll be attaching the vinyl decal.
Do this just before you apply the decal—the less dust, fingerprints, oil, and general debris on your tumbler, the better.
Step 5 – Apply the adhesive vinyl
A good tip here is to find a way to secure your tumbler. If you have objects you can put on either side of it to stop it from moving, that would be perfect.
When you’re ready, remove the backing paper from your vinyl so all you’re left with is the clear transfer paper and the vinyl design itself.
A good technique to put the vinyl onto steel is to pull up the sides and create a ‘taco’ shape. This will allow you to place the middle down first and make sure the design is straight and centered.
It’s then easier to smooth out one half at a time than it is to start from a corner. It can also be useful to make some small cuts in the transfer tape to help it shape itself to the curve of the tumbler.
Lastly, use your squeegee or your fingers to smooth over the decal and push down all those nooks and crannies.
You want to make sure everything looks perfectly stuck before you peel off the transfer tape.
When you peel the tape off, make sure to do it slowly. Sometimes finer parts of your vinyl design will try to stay stuck to the tape and you’ll need to coax them off.
Once all the tape is removed, you’re finished!
Do You Need to Seal Vinyl on Stainless Steel Tumblers?
The main reason to seal your vinyl decal is that you’ve decided to put vinyl on a surface that will be in use quite often. A tumbler is picked up and set down many times each day, and each of those times, your mug suffers from a little wear and tear. After a few weeks or months, the vinyl sticker will start peeling off, look scratched, or simply just used.
In order to prevent your personalized decal from getting damaged, you can choose to seal vinyl. Adding an extra layer of protection to your mugs simply ensures that the quality of your project remains just as good as it was on the day you first applied it.
Things to Know When Sealing Vinyl on Stainless Steel
Once your adhesive vinyl is safely applied to your tumbler, it’s time to let it rest for a good 24 hours. In the meantime, you do have one more thing to consider: do you want to seal your vinyl?
Using a sealant on your vinyl can give it extra protection, and in some cases make it look better and allow it to go in the dishwasher.
But with steel, there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, stainless steel is super smooth, reflective, and shiny.
But with most types of sealant, you will likely be left with imperfections or brush marks that will look a lot more prominent on stainless steel than they would on plastic.
Secondly, making your craft easily washable or even machine washable is a big reason to apply sealant.
But with stainless steel tumblers, dishwashers are already a no-go because they can harm the way the tumbler works.
So if you’ll be hand washing your tumbler either way, there isn’t much reason to add the sealant.
Adding a layer of clear coat or sealing agent to a steel tumbler will still make it more durable, though. It protects the edges of the vinyl sticker from peeling off, and stops it from getting caught and damaged by sharp objects.
If you’d like to make your tumbler more durable, only one type of sealant will do the trick—epoxy resin.
What Can I Use to Seal My Vinyl on Stainless Steel?
Once you’ve decided to seal vinyl on your mugs, the next step is to pick the right product that will let you do so quickly and easily. Let’s go over the most common methods.
Epoxy resin is a high standard, heavy-duty, food-safe sealant that creates a tough glossy finish. It actually creates dishwasher-safe crafts as well, although that doesn’t apply to a steel tumbler.
If you want the sleek, smooth finish and uninterrupted reflections on your tumbler to stay intact, this is really the only way to go.
Epoxy resin is really good at leveling itself out into smooth layers, so even if you’re not a pro yourself, you’ll be able to reach a professional standard.
You can also apply it by wearing a pair of rubber gloves and using your hands. However, it’s a lot of work just to protect your vinyl from peeling.
Preparing this resin involves mixing two liquids together continuously for ten minutes.
Epoxy resin takes around 12 hours to dry and around 72 hours to fully cure.
How Do You Seal Vinyl on a Steel Tumbler Without Epoxy?
The other two main options for the job are Mod Podge and Triple Thick. These are both cheap, easy to use sealants that you will find on Amazon and in craft stores.
You can buy different types of Mod Podge, including dishwasher safe Mod Podge, but since your tumblers will always be hand washed.
The main difference between the two is that Mod Podge (otherwise known as modge podge) is thinner and non-toxic, while Triple Thick is thicker.
Mod Podge also takes a whopping 28 days to fully cure. This means that once the surface is dry, you have to store it away in a dark dry place and completely leave it alone for 28 days.
Triple Thick, on the other hand, can endure some light usage after 48 hours, and only takes 7 days to fully cure. Both of these two sealants are applied via brush.
You can use a foam brush or a sponge brush to try and minimize the number of brush marks and imperfections, but it is very unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve a finish even nearly as good as epoxy resin.
While multiple coats can be added to your tumbler, in this case only one or two layers are really needed. You are just aiming for light protection, not dishwasher-safe vinyl mugs.
When you add a second coat, make sure to let the first coat dry first.
Note: it only needs to be dry to the touch, you don’t need to wait for the whole curing time!
Putting vinyl decals on a steel tumbler is super easy and works really well.
All you need is the equipment listed and a cute design and you’re ready to go.
Making a personalized steel tumbler with vinyl decals is a particularly awesome project because people love to carry their own tumblers around with them.
Our stainless steel mugs or tumblers keep us company throughout the day, so having one that’s extra nice to look at is a bigger deal than it might seem!
Sealing your tumbler, however, requires a little bit of thought first. Do you really need to seal it? And if you do, just how professional and perfect do you want it to look?
There’s no right answer to any of these questions, you can choose whatever option you feel suits your project best. One way or another, enjoy your brand-new mug!