Making Teacher Gifts Easy With My Cricut Mug Press

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Last year I had one child in middle school, one child in virtual school, and one pre-schooler running around yelling “Pants! Who needs pants!” It’s been a hot minute since I’ve had to think about elementary school. Snacks, change of clothes, lunch they won’t discard, snow pants for the winter, getting on the bus, and teacher gifts that don’t make teachers regret their life choices.

This year, I am making one easy decision: that all teacher gifts will be Cricut-made and include a hefty gift card for our nearest coffee place!

I have been dabbling with my Cricut Mug Press all summer, making all kinds of mugs. Some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. If I forget a step, I get a mish-mash of my design. If I forget the butcher paper, I watch for ten minutes waiting to see if I stained the Cricut Mug Press. Every mug I make—every step I take—I get better at it, and the steps involved are working their way into my muscle memory. Each family member now has a mug of their own design and ideas for another one.

All Images: Sarah Pinault

It was time to take my next big step in the world of the Cricut Mug Press: infusible ink pens.

I was a little dubious about using laser printer paper as recommended, but all the tutorials and YouTube videos from the at-large Cricut community assured me that standard printer paper was the way to go. No specialist material was needed, which was really nice considering I anticipate messing up many of these sheets on my way to perfection.

I started with a base design from their software and tweaked it a little, well, a lot, for the start of school. I knew that I wanted this to be more than just standard imaging. So after the image was done being drawn and cut by the Cricut Maker, it was time to get personal.

This past year and a half have been hard on my virtual schooler; this past 3 years since his ADHD diagnosis has been a roller coaster. Through it all, his school guidance counselor has been one of his strongest advocates. She has given him tools and support, both in class and outside. She has loved him and welcomed him, played to his strengths, and challenged him where needed. We love her. So, of course, our first kid-made mug had to be for her.

Once the Cricut Maker was done making, I handed the mug sheet over to my son, and he further used the infusible ink markers to draw a picture of himself with his guidance counselor. It was adorable and loving, and everything you would want it to be emotionally, but I doubted both markers and machine and couldn’t believe this could come out looking the way he wanted. I prepared for the meltdown.

Ten minutes later, and after a few minutes by a fan and open window, we were ready to unveil our mug. We were met with surprises—good and bad.

The design my son drew was simply stunning. The color enhanced in a good way, not the blur I had expected. The blur in the picture is the unfortunate side effect of my photography skills. The actual image was clear, and true to the vision he had when scribbling grass on his design. I have visions of mugs covered in my favorite artwork of theirs from over the years. My son simply loved it and was over the moon about gifting it to one of his favorite people.

The 0.4mm markers used in the machine itself were a bit of a disappointment. For some reason, I expected something more substantial from them, and I would probably have been better off using one of the chunkier infusible ink markers. The lines were, of course, very thin, but you could see where the pen hit the paper much more clearly than I would have liked. I found myself missing the full-color design of the infusible ink sheets.

I had an issue with one of the pens being out of ink straight from the box, so I had gone over the lines with another color. This didn’t work, as the colors behaved as colors do, and my purple over pink ended up being more of a green once heated and infused (pictured above and to the left). Always test your pens before using them, even if new, I guess.

Where the mugs I have made with the infusible ink sheets have a very professional appearance, my first attempt with the pens, felt and looked exceptionally homemade. Yet despite my less-than-stellar first impression, I was encouraged enough by my first attempts with the pens to immediately try another. I could see the potential through my pickiness.

I’m a big fan of words—of words on unusual things. Specifically, I am a big fan of full song lyrics, or excerpts from novels, on unexpected things, like tea-towels or mugs. Having had Gene Wilder stuck in my head all day, I opened a new mug blank canvas in Cricut Design Space and quickly wrote up the lyrics to “Pure Imagination.” I then, rather less quickly, rather laboriously, in fact, arranged them the way I wanted them on the mug. I un-grouped all the words so that I could select a few keywords and phrases to use a different color on, and then let the machine do its work.

It was a silly amount of fun to switch out pens for each word. Though they didn’t switch out in the order I had anticipated, so my color sequence went a bit off. “Pro”-tip: the sequence follows the order you changed the world in Design Space, not the order the word appears in the sentence. Wonder of wonders, given that this was an entirely text project, I remembered to turn mirror image on.

I have a tendency to get ahead of myself and decided to combine the infusible ink sheets with the written page. To paraphrase Gene Wilder, anything I wanted to do, I did it. So the errors you see on the mug are caused by me running away with my enthusiasm. I did not use enough heat transfer tape to hold the three separate pieces together, so they slipped over each other. Well before that, I had accidentally deleted the lines on the design in Design Space that show where you should stop your design, so my lyrics went into the space that does not get direct heat. Lessons learned, and I loved so much about this text, purchased digitally, that I think this may be one of the things I reproduce with the kids as the year goes on. Christmas carols, anyone? Even with the errors I made, I absolutely adore this mug and the way the lyrics came out.

I have been wondering if the butcher paper really made a difference in keeping the inside of the Mug Press clear, and after a heavily inked mug project, I can safely say, yes, yes it does. Always use the butcher paper, and if you run out as I did, triple up on the printer paper! Just make sure you always use protection.

Much like the infusible ink sheets, once the ink from the pens has been infused, the design is seamless. Unlike vinyl transfer, the ink leaves no residue on the outside, nothing that can be picked or chipped off. The pens themselves allow for a greater degree of flexibility and detail in design than you can achieve with more traditional vinyl, or even with the infusible transfer sheets.

A note about colors. Yes, I now know not to use one pen on top of the other, and I know to check the pens for ink quantity prior to using them in a design. I was already aware that the colors would not match the color on the cap, but I was unaware of just how different the post-infused coloration would be. Some of the darker colors, this is not a problem, but when you get into the realm of yellows and oranges you start to have issues, especially when using text. The yellow on my mug, well that was a deep orange pen. I was not happy with this particular word, I thought I had picked the right colors for a dark mug post-press. Lesson learned.

Join me in the glory that is the pen stair that the infusible ink pens come in.

There are plenty of tutorials online that talk about how the colors will appear after they are pressed, so if you are doing something where paleness will matter, it’s definitely worth checking them out first.

I think I am going to be very happy with my choice of teacher gifts this year, and I hope the teachers are pleasantly surprised by the personal touch.

Disclaimer: GeekMom was sent review samples of some items in this post.

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