Draw a sketch
Create a new document. Set the width to 20 cm and the height to 9 cm. The print area of a regular mug doesn’t exceed 20x9 cm.
Make a sketch which will have one main object, a few supporting objects and some details to fill in the gaps which will appear once you position your drawings on the artboard. I did a simple owl as the main object. Also, I drew an acorn, a pomegranate, a mushroom, an apple and a couple of pine trees. As details I did a star and few simple hearts and circles.
Define a color palette
Most of the blank printable mugs are white – let’s take advantage of it and make a bright and cheerful illustration on a white background. You will need a simple color palette, consisting of 7 colors. I decided to go for two cool (turquoise and green), two warm (yellow and orange), two dark (light and dark brown) and one light color (beige). So the palette is well balanced – 2 cold, 2 warm and 3 neutral colors.
Start tracing the sketch
Using the Pen Tool (P) we’ll trace the sketch we made, shape by shape. It requires a bit of time and maybe a steady hand if you are a beginner, but trust me it is worth it when you see the final result. It is also perfect for tracing loose, non-geometric shapes such as the sweater sketch.
First start tracing the outline of the owl. Start with the bigger shapes and slowly move towards the smaller ones. Once you are done, color the body of the owl in turquoise. For the ears, eyebrows, wings and the decorative heart we’ll go with the green color. Color the face area in beige, the eyes and legs in brown and the beak in yellow.
We're not done with the owl yet. Using the Pen Tool, draw two simple objects – a spiky shape and color it in a slightly lighter turquoise and a circle and color it in a slightly lighter green. Arrange them over the owl’s body and wings.
Next up is the acorn. Trace the body and the hat and color them light and dark brown. Make a few simple lines over the hat and color them light brown. Copy and paste them in the same position and flip them horizontally (Object > Transform > Reflect). This way you will get a network of lines which will be perfect for the acorn’s hat.
The mushroom goes next. First trace the bigger parts – head and hat. Add the eyes and the mouth. Color the hat red and the face beige.
Draw the spots on the mushrooms hat. Color them in yellow. Open the Pathfinder panel (Shift + Ctrl + F9) and use the Unite command. The yellow circles will merge into one. While they are still selected, Make a Compound Path (Ctrl + 8).
Now copy the red hat and Paste it in front (Ctrl + F) of the yellow dots. Select them both and then use the Intersect command from the Pathfinder panel. This way, the dots will align perfectly to the edges.
The pomegranate is easier to trace. Once you trace the main part, add the eyes and mouth. Also trace the crown. Color it red, yellow for the crown and brown and beige for eyes and mouth. Don’t forget to add few darker decorative spots.
Trace the apple’s head. Then trace the rest of the details. Color it yellow and choose some of our palette colors for the face and leaves.
The trees are made up of 2 parts – body and trunk. Trace the bodies and color them in turquoise and green. Trace the trunks and color them in dark brown.
Last but not least, trace the details. The star is made out of four spiky shapes which are rotated in different directions. You can draw one and then simply multiply it four times and try different directions. Multiply it few times and color it turquoise and green. Color the rest of the details – the heart in red and the circle in yellow.
Composing the design
Before we start composing the design, take a moment to observe a simple coffee mug. The best way for our illustration is if we position the main object in the middle of the canvas so it can be visible in the foreground. We can place the supporting objects and the details on the sides.
Go back to the artboard and position the owl in the center. Scale it to fit the artboard comfortably, without touching the upper or lower borders.
Add the mushroom and the acorn to left side and the pomegranate and the apple to the right. Try to make the composition as if the owl is radiating with elements. You will achieve this by slightly tilting the objects.
Add the pine trees and the stars in the same way as the previous set of objects.
And finally, add the hearts and the yellow dots in the places where you think it’s necessary. Usually those places are gaps of white space, so why not fill it with these colorful objects and make the illustration richer and more diverse. This is our final step. We've made a well balanced composition by having out main protagonist – the owl in the center and the rest of the objects spread radially, from the center towards the edges.
Make a mockup
We should test our illustration before we go to the printers. This is a great test and it will minimize the unexpected errors which might occur in the process of creating it.
I suggest you download this (See attachments section) Freepik vector mug and use it as your mockup.
If you are happy with the mockup result, run to the nearest print store with your illustration file and print your first illustrated mug.
Congrats, you did it! Creating an illustration for a readymade object can be challenging and this is the first step towards packaging design. So if you liked this tutorial, maybe you should consider exploring the possibilities of illustration to serve package design. If not, you can still have your warm beverage in this super cool mug you just created.
There is nothing better than a hot cup of tea or coffee on chilly winter days. So why not make the everyday routine a little bit more fun and different? Try to make your very own custom illustration that will make your mug unique and enjoy your hot beverages more than ever.