Laser engraving stainless steel tumblers

Unless you’ve been off the grid for a few years, you know that decorated drinkware is a hot product segment. From monogrammed mugs to wrapped Yeti tumblers, people love customized drinking vessels. This creates new markets for profitable items for those in the business of  product personalization. You can read elsewhere on the Sign College Blog about using sign vinyl on ceramic mugs, and glitter vinyl on Yeti tumblers. And we’ve presented some heat transfer options in an article about decorating mugs with dye sublimation and laser transfer paper. But there are other approaches to drinkware decoration that bear mention. Laser engraving also offers unique benefits for this market.  If you have a Pinnacle laser engraver, you can do things with tumblers that can’t be duplicated with vinyl. Here are some tips for laser engraving stainless steel tumblers.

Essentials for laser engraving stainless steel tumblers

For brevity’ sake, we’re going to assume that you already have a CO2  laser engraver and a rotary attachment. Those are the essentials for this application. If you don’t, you can step aside and look at our Pinnacle M Series laser engravers. You’ll find that there are limitless other possibilities for customizing durable items from pens to plaques. Give us a call or click here to get started.

 Process – How to Engrave Yeti tumblers

If you already own a Spirit or Mercury laser engraver and a rotary attachment, all you need are a few tips. For simplicity’s sake we’ll layout the process in bullet points first. If  this isn’t your first rotary rodeo, you may want to skip to the tips section to pick up some fine points on making your tumbler engraving more efficient and impressive. Here’s the step-by-step process.

  • Measure the diameter of the tumbler.
  • Open Laser Master or LXI and set the engraver’s bed size as your desktop area. 
  • Open the File/Print window and set the size of the rotary attachment as your custom paper size.
  • Measure the engravable area on vessel from top to bottom. For cylindrical items, this can be almost the full height of the object. If the diameter varies from top to bottom, pick the thickest area of the object.
  • If there is a neck to the bottle, measure this and subtract it from the designated paper size.
  • Create your design in print area on your Laser Master desktop that matches the engravable area on the tumbler.
  • Add a wireframe box around the print area.
  • To engrave silver or stainless mugs, you’ll need to coat it first with Cermark or Thermark. CO2 laser engravers can’t engrave bare metal. The Cermark adds a powder coating that the laser burns into and bonds with the metal.

    Fig 2. Apply the Cermark in a power finish. It shouldn’t bee runny.

  • Change to a #4 lens to allow for the added height of the rotary attachment and tumbler.
  • In the Laser Master Printing Window, use Pen 1 as your wireframe setting. Set the engraving speed to slow with minimal power.
  • If the wireframe preview shows that you need to adjust your origin point, make that adjustment in your software. If the preview shows good placement, you’re all set.
  • Set your engraving speed at the engraver’s maximum wattage (i.e. 40 for 40 watt M-Series) and set the power to 100%.
  • Send the job. It will probably not give you a perfect mark on the first pass. For best results, leave the tumbler in place and resend the job. The second pass will produce a cleaner more professional look.

Tumbler Engraving Tips

  • Manual focus: If your tumbler isn’t perfectly cylindrical, you’ll need to pick a midpoint of the thickest area as your focus target. This minimizes the variance between the extremes in the range. There may still be a

    Fig 3. Engraving a powder-coated tumbler reveals the bare metal.

    variance in the sharpness of the image, but picking a mid-point will make the differences less noticeable.

  • Cermark tips. Don’t overdo it (Fig 2). The coating on the mug should be spotty, not thick & runny. Hold the tumbler about two feet from the Cermark and apply it in short, quick bursts.
  • Wireframe box tip. The goal here is not to actually mark the object. The wireframe step shows you a live preview of where on the mug your image will be engraved. Since placing a drinking vessel in the rotary attachment isn’t an exact science, the preview can prevent costly errors.
  • Choose Your Mugs wisely: Choose un-coated tumblers. Stainless steel mugs that are polymer-coated for dye sublimation don’t work. The polymer coating prevents the Cermark from bonding to the surface.
  • Powder-Coated Tumblers: For a distinctive effect without Cermark, use a powder-coated mug with a dark color. The laser burns off the color exposing the bare metal. The result is an elegant, high-contrast image. (Fig

So if you have a Pinnacle laser engraver, you can add highly profitable customized stainless steel tumblers to your product offerings. Use the wireframe preview tip to reduce errors. Avoid polymer-coated sublimation mugs if you’re using Cermark. And consider starting with a powder-coated tumbler to save a step and produce something uniquely stylish.  Got questions or suggestions? Feel free to drop them in the comments field below.