Custom Drinkware: Everything You Need to Know

A collection of custom glassware
To fully comprehend all that we can offer, read on to learn about the vast history and various printing processes used for custom drinkware.

Origins and History of Drinkware

It is hard to talk about the ins and outs of drinkware without mentioning its history.

Cups are a tool that have been around even before historical events were recorded. Ancient cups that have been unearthed were presumed to be used by rich families for alcoholic beverages or by civilians for presenting offerings to the gods. When it comes to the history of cups, most ancient examples are made of glass. It is important to first look at the history of glass production to understand how it led to the expansion of custom drinkware.

Drinkware’s origins are initially tied to the production of glass dating back to Mesopotamian times. Although naturally occurring glass obsidian had existed thousands of years prior, archaeological evidence suggests that the first true glass was made in Ancient Egypt. Due to Egypt’s favorable conditions, most well-studied glass has been found there. It is also possible that the glass was imported to Egypt from Mesopotamia or northern Syria. Later in history, the Roman people would incorporate glass into their daily lives on a grand scale. Upon the discovery of glass blowing in the first century, B.C., glass was the standard vessel used and it became more popular than pottery vessels. Glass vessels would become equivalent to plastic for Romans, resulting in the adoption of glass containers by Europe and then eventually the rest of the world.

A collection of Egyptian glass

Skipping ahead several hundreds of years, the production of drinkware eventually became standardized when the pressed-glass machine was invented in 1825 in the United States. The introduction of mass-produced, generally inexpensive glass was a big reason it was adopted into mainstream society. Although glassware had become more common, custom drinkware was also being produced as well. Aside from standard glasses, a select few companies started making intricate crystal glasses for the world’s elite. During the Victorian era of the 1890s the drinking glass was a sign of wealth and heavily carved crystal stemware was used to illustrate the lavishness of one’s livelihood. Over time, drinkware would become increasingly inexpensive to produce and could now be crafted with a variety of materials, from wood to plastic (aka the immensely popular red Solo cup). Drinking cups have evolved into a necessity for every building; homes, businesses and restaurants alike. Today, drinkware has become something far greater than an item we drink out of; it is how we express ourselves and our interests. When it comes to modern drinkware, the customization options are virtually endless. To further understand custom drinkware we must analyze the printing processes used, step by step.

A collection of Victorian Era glassware

Custom Drinkware Printing Processes

Laser Engraving

The History of Laser Engraving

Engraving on drinkware started in Rome in the second century, AD. Later in time, the Venetian Republic would become an authority in engraving and created ornately engraved designs on articles of glass. The Venetian engravers were sought after by other countries wishing to have a luxury glass industry as well. Many Venetian glass workers migrated to various areas around Europe, most notably England and Germany. The move of Venetian engravers led to the explosive expansion of engraving around the world. Over the course of several hundred years, engraved drinkware has become incredibly detailed and efficient due in part to the efficiency of modern-day engraving machinery. Laser engraving originally started out as a way for product bar codes to be implemented in grocery stores starting in 1974. Within a decade, 33% of grocery stores had adopted bar codes. Through the 1980s and 1990s, computerized systems had advanced far enough to be directly integrated into laser engraving systems. The advent of computer operated systems led to laser engraving becoming more economical. In the early 2000s, TYKMA Technologies merged with Electrox to become a worldwide organization offering fiber laser systems. It is also worth noting that Giant Robo Printing harnesses one of TYKMA’s innovative machines for laser engraving work, the Minilase Fiber Laser Marking System. Before the process can be explained, it is important to point out the substrates one can use for laser engraving. Laser engraving is for metal drinkware, tumblers and wood rather than glass due to engraving deeply ingraining the substrate being used.

The Laser Engraving Printing Process Step By Step

Laser engraving, like most processes these days, is mostly a computer-controlled process. The process of laser engraving can be summarized simply as a digital image programmed to be engraved by a laser beam. This laser beam creates heat of a high enough temperature to cause the material to vaporize and the design to take shape. It’s a quick process, as material is burned away with each pulse of the laser. This creates a cavity in the surface that is easily perceivable to the human eye and touch. The last step in the laser engraving process is up to the engraver: they can either make the cavity deeper in order for it to be more distinguishable or they can leave the engraving be.

Pros and Cons of the Laser Engraving Printing Process

There are positives and negatives to every printing process. The positives and negatives vary greatly on what your print job calls for. One of the biggest reasons to use laser engraving is that engraving produces crisp designs that are virtually impossible to remove. That being said, if the design is messed up during printing, the whole print must be restarted. Another positive of laser engraving is its ability to put virtually any design or image onto a wide variety of materials. A potential downside of engraving on certain materials is that denser materials take longer to engrave, so production speed is not always consistent.


If you are in need of more information, click here to view our laser engraving service page.

Sandblasting

The History of Sandblasting

Sandblasting, also known as Abrasive Blasting, is the process of propelling a stream of abrasive material using compressed air. Sandblasting is a form of glass engraving. Engraving actually removes material and cuts the design into whatever you are working on. Although it can be used for artwork, sandblasting is used in industrial settings as well. Sandblasting can be used in a work setting to clean brick, stone, concrete, and even walls. It is important to next discuss the various steps of the sandblasting process.

An example of a sandblasted pint glass

The Sandblasting Printing Process Step By Step

Like every print job, the process starts with the art. Much like our other methods of decoration, a good vector art file is important. The art we receive or design ourselves is used to create a film or stencil that then goes over the object that will be sandblasted. The stencil serves as a path for the sand to imprint along. The object is then placed in the sandblasting cabinet, where it will be hit with highly pressurized abrasive material. The object is then removed from the cabinet, where the outer film is removed and the glass is cleaned.

Pros and Cons of the Sandblasting Printing Process

One of the positives of sandblasting is that the design will be permanent. Glass engraved designs can’t get ruined or washed away no matter how many times it is run through a dishwasher. One downside of sandblasting is that it is hard to avoid imperfections caused by tears in a stencil. Abrasive material can crack a surface that was mistakenly left uncovered. If a design is not printed clearly or the substrate is cracked, the whole process must be restarted.

If you are in need of more information, click here to view our sandblasting service page.

Screen Printing

The History of Screen Printing

Screen printing has been around for centuries and consistently provides people with high quality prints. Originally, screen printing was used in China starting in 960 A.D. and it was called silk printing due to silk being used for the screens. By the late 18th century, screen printing was adopted in western Europe. Despite being adopted by western Europe, screen printing did not catch on until silk mesh was more readily available. In the 1910s, Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens studied and experimented with chromic acid salt sensitized emulsions for photo-reactive stencils. This research helped bring the screen-printing process into the modern era, allowing for stencils to become a new yet pivotal part of the printing process. Screen printing became a staple of pop art culture in the 1960s in part due to the artist Andy Warhol. Warhol created one of most famous pieces of screen-printed art in 1962, titled Marilyn Diptych. The art showcased one portrait of Marilyn Monroe printed in various colors thanks to the several color screens used for printing. Many artists would go on to use screen printing as it works well on canvas. Two other famous screen-printing artists include Roy Lichtenstein for his comic strip inspired art and Harry Gottlieb for his art showcasing outdoor activities and early 1900s factory men at work. Screen printing is still used for creating art to this very day.

An example of a screen printed pint glass

The Screen Printing Process Step By Step

Screen printing on drinkware starts with a design supplied by either the customer or made by the designers here at Giant Robo Printing. Once a design is approved for use, the design stencils are ready to be made. A stencil is made by blocking off parts of a negative image for the design. This negative image is used as a template for the screen. The screen is then coated in a UV-sensitive emulsion which will help solidify the shape of the stencil when applied onto an article of drinkware. Next, the screen will get hit with a high-pressure stream of water. Washing removes excess emulsion and provides a screen template for each design. The stencil is then taped to the piece of drinkware after it is pressed and rolled. Ink is then pressed into the drinkware using a squeegee, where the stencil shapes the ink into the intended design. The ink is then cured with a dryer to preserve the quality and longevity of the design on the drinkware.

Pros and Cons of the Screen Printing Process

The biggest positive when it comes to screen printing on drinkware is that it is a scalable process. Once the screens are established, your design can be printed and reproduced as many times as you would like. Another positive of using screen printing is that the ink provides a vibrant pop to the design, all the while being resilient to fading. One of the glaring negatives of screen printing is that it is not meant for limited or individual order quantities. Another thing to consider is that each shape and color requires an individual screen, so designs with many shapes and colors will be very hard to complete effectively using screen printing. For orders dealing with a small quantity of prints or orders using a wide variety of colors, the direct to garment printing method is preferred. 

If you are in need of more information, click here to view our screen printing service page.

Dye Sublimation Printing

The History of Dye Sublimation Printing

Dye Sublimation printing dates back to 1950s France. In 1957, a French researcher by the name of Noel de Plasse concluded that dye sublimates and that he could manipulate it for printing. Although Plasse discovered this while working for a textile company named Lainière de Roubaix, he wouldn’t pursue the technique commercially until he later founded his own company, Sublistatis SA. During the 1970s, the first company to implement dye sublimation printing in the United States was the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. A man by the name of Wes Hoestrka led the team there to invent the first dye sublimation printer. Due to his help in evolving the industry, Wes Hoestrka is considered the “father” of the computer image sublimation process.

An example of a dye sublimated camping mug

The Dye Sublimation Printing Process Step By Step

Dye Sublimation printing starts with the same way every print job does: with a design being selected. Once the client’s design is approved, it is printed onto a piece of transfer paper that is the same height and width of the item being printed on. The transfer paper is then placed on top of the drinkware and the heat press is placed on top of both. The pressure and heat of the press machine turn the dried ink on the transfer paper into a gas. The gaseous state of the ink then seeps into the drinkware, leaving a permanent design. After the ink transfers over, the drinkware is then put in a sublimation oven to dry before it is ready to be delivered to the customer.

Pros and Cons of the Dye Sublimation Printing Process

One of the biggest positives of using dye sublimation for a print job is that designs that use this printing process are dry and ready to handle almost immediately after printing. Another upside of dye sublimation printing is that since it doesn’t incorporate liquid ink, there is practically no clean up required. One negative of “dye sub” printing is that special transfer paper must be used or else the gaseous state of the ink cannot penetrate the drinkware. The biggest downside when it comes to dye sublimation is that it only works on synthetic fibers and items that have been coated with a special substrate to allow the ink to sublimate onto it.

If you are in need of more information, click here to view our dye sublimation service page.

Cut Vinyl

The History of Cut Vinyl

Prior to the 1990s, all signs were either handmade or hand painted. Although a company was able to produce the first vinyl plotter machine in the early 1980s, it was the only company capable of producing it and the machine cost $10,000. When personal computers became more common in the 1990s, more companies were capable of producing vinyl equipment for less money while being more efficient at the same time. Reducing the economical barrier to enter the market allowed smaller shops to compete against bigger sign franchises. By the late 1990s, hybrid vinyl plotters allowed for full color images to be used on vinyl. Today, many sign makers use cut vinyl and digital printing to create cost effective and vibrant designs.

A printed vinyl whiskey tasting glass

The Cut Vinyl Printing Process Step By Step

For putting vinyl on items, there are two methods: pressure and heat applied. The method applied depends on the vinyl being used and the surface being printed on. For vinyl printing on hard goods, or in this case drinkware specifically, the pressure applied method is what we will be focusing on. The first step is approving the design. Once that is decided, the design is printed on permanent adhesive-backed vinyl. The design is then cut out and cautiously placed on the drinkware. Pressure is slowly and lightly added to the design until the vinyl is sturdily placed. Now that the vinyl print is secured tightly to the drinkware, it is ready to be delivered to the customer.

Pros and Cons of the Cut Vinyl Printing Process

One positive of using vinyl printing is that it produces a vibrant design. One glaring negative of using cut vinyl for drinkware is that it is not machine washable. If you are considering using vinyl for drinkware, we recommend that you wash it lightly by hand or use it as purely a promotional item.

If you are in need of more information, click here to view our vinyl service page.

Gift Giving with Drinkware 101:

How to pick the right custom drinkware item for everyone on your gift list

Tumblers

A tumbler is a flat-floored beverage container usually made of plastic, glass or stainless steel. The original theory on why these articles of drinkware are called “tumblers” is that due to the weighted bottoms, it stopped the drinkware from falling, or “tumbling” over. Designs can be printed on tumblers in a variety of ways, from dye sublimation to even being laser engraved on. Tumblers are a great multi-purpose article of drinkware, from water to mixed drinks.

Three different types of tumblers

Growlers

A growler is a bottle or jug used to transport draft beer. They can be made of glass, stainless steel, and even ceramics. The modern glass growler was first introduced by Charlie and Ernie Otto of Otto Brothers’ Brewing Company in Wilson, Wyoming, in 1989. Ever since its introduction, growlers have been a common staple of craft breweries around the world. Growlers make a great gift for the craft brewery connoisseurs in your life.

A growler for craft beer

Mug

The mug has been a prominent article of drinkware since the beginning of time. Mugs are some of the oldest examples of custom crafted drinkware, some dating back to 4000 BCE. Constantly evolving, mugs have been made with a variety of materials over the course of time, from wood and bone to modern day ceramic materials. From coffee to just water, mugs can be used for seemingly any beverage. The mug makes a great practical and universal gift for anyone in your life.

Two different types of mugs that can be imprinted on

Glencairn Glass

The Glencairn glass was first developed by the Scottish company, Glencairn Crystal Ltd, specifically for drinking whiskey. This type of glass was collaboratively designed by some of the biggest whisky companies in Scotland so that the inward-curving glass highlights the aromas of the brown liquor. If you have a whiskey enthusiast in your life, the Glencairn glass (or a set of them for sampling) might be the perfect gift for them.

A glencairn glass

Collins Glass

A Collins glass is a glass tumbler that typically contains 10 to 14 US fluid ounces. It is used to serve mixed drinks, most notably Tom and John Collins cocktails. It is cylindrical in shape and narrower and taller than a highball glass. A Collins glass is perfect for the friend or family member that considers themselves a mixologist.

A collins glass

Pint Glass

The pint glass is one of the most widely used pieces of drinkware today. This type of drinkware became popular in the United Kingdom during the middle of the 20th century when they replaced tankards. English, Northern Irish, and Scottish law dictated that certain steps must be taken to ensure that a pint of beer is exactly a pint, as it is illegal to not sell an exact amount. To create a standardized way to measure pints, the pint glass was invented. Pints have been a staple of breweries and pubs alike for decades, and they make the perfect gift for the beer aficionados in your life.

A pint glass

Stein

A stein is a traditional mug made out of stoneware that is normally sold as an ornamental souvenir or collectable. Stein’s can also have hinged pewter lids with a thumb lever to lift the cover off easily. The English word stein has its origins from the German meaning, “stone”. Steins are commonly used at Oktoberfests and Beer Garden events around the world. Have a friend or relative that loves a good German celebration or just beer in general? This might be the perfect gift for them.

Reading Liederkranz stein

Wine Glass

Wine glasses are a type of stemware, meaning that they are goblets composed of a bowl, a stem and a foot. Wine glasses are normally used for, you guessed it, wine. It is recommended to hold the glass by the stem and not the physical glass as your hand may end up warming the wine. Wine glasses are available in many shapes and many believe the shape affects the flavor. Some also believe that certain wine should be consumed in specific types of wine glasses. Do you have someone on your gift list that is a wine connoisseur? A custom wine glass might be the best gift for them.

A stemmed and stemless wine glass

Chalice/Goblet

Derived from the Ancient Greek word for “cup”, a chalice is an old and time-tested piece of drinkware. The Romans initially used wide, bulky goblets in great feasts but then began to use them for Holy Communion. Over time, the church dictated the construction and treatment of the chalice. Some of the most notable changes to the chalice include the bowl size being reduced, a larger base for stability and that the chalice should be at least gold-plated on the inside of the cup. Chalices aren’t just big golden cups for religious ceremonies, however. Chalices/goblets can also be made of glass for more practical and recreational uses. Overall, a chalice is a great gift for religious family members, friends or even just someone that wishes to enjoy their beverage of choice in a fancy piece of glassware.

A goblet

Snifter

A snifter is a piece of drinkware with a short-stem glass, a wide bottom and a narrow top. Snifters are normally used when serving aged brown liquors such as bourbon or brandy. Although brandy or bourbon are popular choices to put in a snifter, they are also optimal for beers with complex aromas or those with a high percentage of alcohol by volume. Have a friend that fancies the brown spectrum of spirits? Or maybe a friend that enjoys intricate craft beer? A custom snifter could be the right gift for them.

A snifter glass

How to order custom drinkware from us

This guide is meant to serve as a brief overview of what can be used as a substrate for custom drinkware orders. Have questions or are curious about what else we offer? Contact us at team@giantroboprinting.com or call us at 484-787-3845. Need custom drinkware done for a gift or a project idea? If so, we ask you to please fill out our quote request form, where you can let us know exactly what you want and we can put together a proposal with a quote and mock-up. This will save you time and headaches in the long run, as we can streamline the design and set up process.