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I'm starting a project and want to have customized coffee mugs for people who support the project. I've never designed anything for a coffee mug before and am unsure of the typical standards. I know that print design is typically 300dpi, etc (I haven't done print design in forever, so it could have changed.)

But are there any standard dimensions, dpi, and colors for coffee mug printing? I don't really know how they print onto a coffee mug, so I'm very unsure of how to create it. I need large portions of transparent parts for my ideal design. I'd like to just set up a wide graphic in photoshop, much like I would create a texture for a cup in 3DS Max.

So, summary of the question:

What dimensions, color mode(CMYK?), and other graphical considerations do I need to design for? Is there any kind of PSD template for a cup wrap? And for a bonus, do "cup printers(?)" print inside of cups as well? How would I create a template for that?

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Which I am in the process of / have already started doing. But the same as any model, there are a hundred different places that could print and waiting 5 days for a response from all of them before I decide the ideal way to produce is 5 days of non-productivity. I'd say John's answer taps on most of the concerns. I'll post what some of the companies respond to me with. –  Tom Feb 28 '13 at 2:08
    
Here's a good example of my point. This is the response from Zazzle after asking for details. Thanks for contacting the support team at Zazzle.com. We do not currently offer the option to print on the inside of our mugs. Please feel free to review the suggested links below for more assistance regarding this topic: Answer Link: Basic Design Tool Functionality (Adding Images & Text) (http://zazzle.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/120) - As a result, Zazzle is no longer in my list of possible companies. –  Tom Mar 1 '13 at 22:57

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

I've never dealt with this, but I can tell you what I would do:

If you already have a printer lined up, ask them for the print specifications. If you don't already have a printer lined up, find one and ask them for the print specifications. I'm sure most are accustomed to clients sending them artwork and they will lay it out for them on their template. However, I'm sure if you ask nicely enough they will provide you with a template.

The template is going to vary based on the size and shape of the mug. Is it just a straight cylinder? Then the template is likely just going to be a rectangle. However, if the mug is tapered then the design process gets a little bit trickier.


Before you create your design, it is important to know a few of things:

What is the print area?

I would ask for the size of the print area as well as the outer circumference of the mug they supply. It would also be helpful to know what the margins are. This way you can create a render as close as possible to the finished product.

What colors are available?

Spot colors? If so, how many can you use per design? Is a color library (such as Pantone) used? Is four-color (CMYK) process available? Since you asked about color mode: when in doubt, use CMYK (for printing applications).

What is the printing process?

I don't know the different printing processes used for mugs, but you should know which will be used prior to designing. For example: If it's four-color process, you don't have to worry about much. If it's pad or screen-printed, then if you want gradients you need to use halftones.


Design considerations:

Design in vector format

Vector format is always preferred. That way, you don't need to worry about what DPI to design in. I can't imagine you have an incredibly complex design in mind for a mug, so if you're not comfortable working with vectors then maybe this is a good project to learn. Your printer will thank you for providing vector format artwork (some even charge to convert it from raster if necessary).

Cylindrical printing is not the same as flat surface

When you wrap artwork around a cylindrical surface, it's not going to look the same as when you look at it on a flat monitor. You may find that scrunching the artwork horizontally makes it look better once it's curved. You're on the right track with plans in mind to create a 3D render, but I would go a step further: print it out on paper and make a "paper mug" so you can see what it looks like cylindrically.

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