Making personalized mugs with vinyl decals is a great craft project for all levels of crafters, and fantastic for gift giving. Simply grabbing a dollar store mug, cutting a design, and putting vinyl on the mug is all you need to do to end up with a personalized gift that will undoubtedly make the recipient happy. You can even make vinyl stick to other surfaces, so you could use it to paint wine glasses.
However, since personalized vinyl mugs make such great gifts, it’s worth considering how to extend their lifespan and make them a little more durable and easy to care for. You can do all of these things via one extra step: sealing the vinyl.
Sealing vinyl on a mug gives it more longevity without adding that much extra work. In order to seal vinyl, all you need to do is to pick your favorite brand of sealant—we’ll guide you through all the best ones available. Next, you’ll apply the sealant to the mug by either spraying it or lathering the mug with gentle brush strokes. This requires several coats, and between each coat, you’ll have to wait for the substance to dry.
In this guide, we will walk you through your options and show you exactly how to seal vinyl on a mug. We will also throw in some extra tips on getting into vinyl for any beginners out there, because believe it or not, sealing vinyl on a mug is not just for experienced crafters!
Why Do You Need to Seal Vinyl Decals on Ceramic Mugs?
There are several reasons why you want to seal vinyl on ceramic mugs, be it dollar store mugs or a more expensive product.
Whether you intend to give your mug away as a quality gift or keep it for yourself, wouldn’t you rather it last as long as possible?
This is the main advantage of sealing vinyl: longevity. Applying sealant adds a protective layer to the entire mug which stops the vinyl decal from peeling off or getting damaged.
Although your vinyl mug will be pretty durable as is, sealing vinyl makes it even sturdier and adds extra protection. Once you apply vinyl to your mug, you can no longer directly touch the vinyl decal.
This means you don’t need to worry about your fingers or other objects catching the edges of the vinyl sticker and peeling it off or weakening it.
Easy to clean
Lastly, sealant makes the mug easier to clean. You don’t need to worry that your sponge might scrub the edges away or that the soap might damage the adhesive. And, even better, if you choose the right kind of sealant to put on your mug, you can even put your new mug in the dishwasher!
This advantage is very useful when gifting your vinyl mugs—because giving someone a high-maintenance mug that requires hand washing is a little bit awkward. In such a scenario, if you don’t tell them exactly how to care for it, they might dishwash a non-sealed mug anyway and significantly shorten its lifespan. That’s why it’s better to seal vinyl on a mug before you gift it.
What Can You Use to Seal Vinyl on a Ceramic Mug?
Picking the correct sealant for your needs is quite important, and there are four main options for you to consider when you seal vinyl. Each has its own pros and cons, and we’ll go over them one by one below.
Mod Podge, sometimes spelled ‘modge podge’, is a cheap and popular sealant aimed at the casual home crafter.
You’ll find this brand easily in all craft stores and on Amazon. It comes in multiple varieties such as gloss finish, matte finish, or glitter finish.
Another variety that is important for sealing a ceramic mug is non-toxic dishwasher-safe Mod Podge. This variety is, as the label suggests, designed to create products that can be washed in the dishwasher. However, it should be noted that reviews of its effectiveness can be mixed, and it is therefore not the most reliably dishwasher-safe sealant on this list.
As it is aimed at fledgling crafters, Mod Podge is super easy to use and it’s non-toxic, so it’s perfect for projects with the kids. Simply apply a thin coat with a brush and wait for it to dry before adding another. With a sealant like Mod Podge, there’s no set number of coats you need to apply; it’s really up to you.
Tip: you can use a foam brush/sponge brush to apply Mod Podge to avoid streaks and brush marks.
The biggest drawback of using Mod Podge is the ‘cure’ time. While it can dry in just a few hours, you shouldn’t use your mug until it has fully cured—and this takes 28 days! Keep this in mind when choosing a sealant for your vinyl projects.
This is another brand of sealant, and it is also readily available in craft shops, hobby shops, and on Amazon as a spray sealant or in a jar. The main difference between it and Mod Podge lies in the thickness. Triple Thick has a very thick consistency and will always create thicker layers than Mod Podge, which creates a comparably thin layer.
One advantage of this is if you are using glitter finishes: Triple Thick sealant will create a layer thick enough that you won’t be able to feel the glitter anymore. It will create a completely smooth surface for you to handle.
Triple thick can also be applied with a paint brush, foam brush, or sponge brush just like Mod Podge.
And, although Triple Thick does not market itself as being dishwasher-safe, its thickness actually allows it to cope pretty well. In fact, a lot of people prefer using Triple Thick over the dishwasher-safe variety of Mod Podge.
You may have heard of epoxy resin before, as it is used for all sorts of things other than sealing vinyl. It’s far more expensive than other sealants on this list, and it is also far more difficult to prepare and apply. However, it undoubtedly gives the most effective and durable results.
A ceramic mug personalized with vinyl and sealed with epoxy resin will have a hard, smooth, glossy finish, be incredibly durable and completely dishwasher safe. It also has a fairly quick curing time (though this varies with different options) and is good at leveling itself out into smooth, even layers. It’s also FDA approved, meaning it’s completely food-safe.
The difficulties with epoxy resin are mostly in its preparation. To make it, you first need to mix two different liquids. The chemical reaction between these two liquids begins to slowly harden the mixture as soon as they make contact with each other, which is why it doesn’t come pre-mixed.
That’s also why you cannot reuse this sealant, because by the time you’re done with it, it will have hardened. Some varieties of epoxy resin will require you to continuously mix the liquids for around ten minutes.
This is a water based sealant often used to varnish wood, but it also has many other uses.
It’s mostly used on interior furnishings, meaning it isn’t very good at dealing with harsh conditions. You should definitely hand wash a mug sealed with polycrylic and keep it out of the dishwasher.
One of its advantages is that it can come in spray form, making it really easy to add layers quickly to seal vinyl on a mug. However, this sealant needs to be applied in multiple thin layers and never in a single thick coat. Trying this will end in vinyl cracking, peeling, and lastly, warped sealant.
Depending on what you’re using it for, polycrylic can often be swapped out for a similar sealant called polyurethane. However, this is not the case when sealing vinyl on mugs.
Polyurethane is a more heavy-duty sealant for outdoor use and it could damage your vinyl. It also doesn’t produce a completely clear coat and could stain your mug yellow. Make sure to use polyacrylic for regular vinyl.
None of these sealants are microwave-safe, and if you really want to use your mug in the microwave, you’ll need a Cricut Mug Press such as this one. It quickly seals vinyl mugs and makes them both dishwasher and microwave friendly.
Tips to Seal Vinyl on a Mug
In terms of skill and experience needed, making personalized mugs with adhesive vinyl really is a craft that anyone can do and achieve great results with.
However, it’s not something you can just wake up one morning and decide to do that day after breakfast. Why? Because you need equipment and tools. It’s not a long list, but it’s a pretty important one, so read the below carefully.
Cricut cutting machine
Most notably, to create the mugs you see everywhere with cute phrases written on them, you’ll need a Cricut cutting machine. This is a special machine used to electronically cut vinyl with far greater precision than we humans can with a pair of scissors or a craft knife. It also cuts a whole lot faster.
At first glance, it might seem like a tool that you would only need if you were planning on working with vinyl long-term. But if you think about trying to cut out a cute phrase in a fancy font by hand, you’ll quickly realize that Cricut vinyl tools are not optional.
There are several options if you want to own a Cricut machine. This one is a good example of a tool that will aid you in several craft projects and will let you create your own Cricut design space.
When you insert a sheet of vinyl into your Cricut machine to get cut, the end result will initially look no different from how it started. This is because you need to peel away the excess adhesive vinyl to reveal the design that has been cut. This process is called ‘weeding’.
Initially, you can peel away the bulk of the excess background vinyl with your fingers, but a lot of the time there will be much finer details in your design that will be difficult to remove by hand.
This is where weeding tools come in. You can get full sets of them for just a few dollars. They can be used to grab and remove precise pieces of vinyl from your design.
This is also known as a ‘squeegee’ and is basically a scraper with a rubber edge. They come in different sizes and can be used to clean windows or remove air bubbles from a screen protector. In this case, it will be used to apply smooth and even pressure to your curved surface and it can make applying vinyl much easier.
Certain types of decals, be it vinyl or transfer, automatically come with a carrier sheet to help you apply them.
However, the type of permanent vinyl you need to use for mugs does not. Instead, you need to attach the tape yourself. There are different types of transfer tape, but the main point is to use ‘standard grip’, not ‘strong grip’. If you’re unsure what to buy, Cricut brand transfer tape is very popular.
How to Apply and Seal Vinyl on a Mug
Here’s a super simple step-by-step guide to applying and sealing permanent vinyl on a mug.
Step 1 – Cut your design
Choose your design and follow the instructions for your cutting machine. The machine will come with all the information you need to use it, so don’t worry! If you don’t have the instruction pamphlet, simply type the exact model of your machine into a search engine and follow the guidelines for it.
Step 2 – Weed your vinyl decal
Use your fingers and your weeding tool to remove all of the excess vinyl from your decal. You’ll know when you’re finished because the end product should look exactly how you want your design to look on the mug.
Step 3 – Apply transfer tape
Cut an appropriately sized piece of transfer tape, remove the backing and apply it smoothly to your permanent adhesive vinyl. You can use the scraper here to help smooth it out.
Step 4 – Prepare the mug
Before you stick the vinyl down, it’s a good idea to clean the mug with rubbing alcohol. This will get rid of any dust, dirt, or fingerprints and really help to stick the vinyl on a mug.
When you’re ready, remove the backing from your vinyl until all you’re left with is the vinyl design directly on the transfer tape.
Step 5 – Apply the vinyl design
Now, all you need to do is position the design, apply it, and use your fingers or scraper tool to apply pressure and smooth out the vinyl.
When everything looks nice and stuck down, remove the transfer tape slowly and with a consistent amount of force, but be careful not to damage it.
Step 6 – Seal the vinyl
The details of this next step depend on the sealant you chose. You may be painting on layers of Mod Podge, Triple Thick, or epoxy resin with gentle brush strokes, or spraying layers of polyacrylic for a glossy coat.
If you’re applying multiple layers, make sure to let the previous layer dry before applying the next one. You don’t need to apply a sealant to the very top and very bottom of the mug, and remember to avoid the parts your lips will touch if you’re not using the FDA approved epoxy resin.
Read above to learn how long your sealant needs to cure for and leave it to sit for the required amount of time.
Sealing vinyl onto your ceramic mug is an important step in making a great product that can be used and washed without too much effort.
Different sealants will give different results, and the lifespan of your mug will vary depending on other factors like your dishwasher settings. However, it is pretty much guaranteed that a sealed mug will last longer than a non-sealed mug, so make sure to try it out!