Probably the number one question I get at my home tiki bar, Balhi Ha’i: how I got my custom glasses. Today, I tell all!
Step 1: Figure Out Your Options
The most common glass customized for home tiki bars by far is the classic Mai Tai glass. That’s what we call it, but the non-tiki world calls it a Double Old Fashioned, or sometimes a Double Rocks glass. Folks also call them Buckets, because they’re shaped like one: short, wide, with gently angled sides. For my own home bar, I went with a Zombie glass, also called a Collins glass or a Highball glass. But there are many other glass shapes you can consider, including stemmed glasses, shot glasses, snifters, pint glasses, you get the idea.
The next thing to sort out: printing area. The company producing your custom glass will have a specific measurement of the space on the glass they’re able to put ink on. On Mai Tai glasses, it’s typically a “wrap-around,” meaning the design can go all the way around the glass. On my Zombie glass, printing was only available on one side, narrow and tall.
Now it’s time to think about colors. Each glass shape may have a different selection of color options available. This was a factor in my decision to go with a Zombie glass instead of a Mai Tai glass: the manufacturer I was working with couldn’t do a metallic gold ink the Mai Tai glass, but they could do it on the Zombie. Why? Who knows! My own gold crisis aside, there is usually a great selection of colors available to choose from. Keep in mind that most of the drinks you’ll be making will be that lovely golden-brown rum-and-citrus color… so you may want to steer clear of golden-brown ink, or the design will get lost.
Step 2: Contact a Printer
Okay, honestly, you’ll be choosing a printer as part of picking out your glass options, because every printer has different things they’re able to do. But I know you wanted to start with daydreaming about the glasses, not the printer, so I started there. Now that we’re done daydreaming, let’s get practical. Here are some of the printers that have been used successfully by your fellow tikiphiles:
- South Pacific Promotions
This is the company of Gene McDonald, hardcore tikiphile. He is the go-to guy for glassware in the tiki business. Gene has a huge advantage over other companies: he has relationships with multiple factories, and is able to source pretty much whatever you want. Where other companies may have limitations with their imprint area or the ink colors they use, his network of relationships means he’s much more likely to give you what you want. He also knows each company’s strengths and weaknesses, and can get you the best quality product, for the cheapest price. He creates the glassware for all the big tiki events like Tiki Oasis and Hukilau, he makes the official SHAG glassware, and produces custom glassware for commercial bars and restaurants, too.
- Absorbent Ink/Print Globe
This is the company I used, but they no longer offer the Zombie glass I got from them. I had a great experience, no complaints. All the same, I’d nudge you toward South Pacific Promotions instead. He’s got a solid track record, he has much broader capabilities, and he’s ‘ohana!
- Royer Corp.
You may encounter some folks who’ve had their custom glasses done by Royer, but they no longer produce glassware.
Once you have selected your printer and glass style, you’ll know exactly what colors and size of imprint area you have to work with, and your printer may be able to tell you about other special limitations you’ll need to consider in your design. This is also the time to ask the printer what format they expect the artwork to be in.
Step 3: Figure Out Your Budget
Ah, dang. This is actually where we should have started. But that wouldn’t have been much fun. Here’s the deal: this isn’t going to be cheap. This is an investment, but I think it’s a good one. These glasses will last you a lifetime, you’ll get a ton of use out of them.
We bought our glasses for our wedding. We did the math, and learned it was cheaper to have custom glasses made than to rent glassware. We also gave the glasses away as wedding favors, a beautiful two-birds-one-stone situation that saved us a bunch of money, time and hassle. We had enough glasses left over after the wedding to use forevermore in our home tiki bar for parties.
The typical minimum custom order is 144 glasses (a gross). You may find places that will do a smaller batch than that, but you’ll find that the cost per glass isn’t good. A lot of the cost is in the setup to print your particular design, not just the materials, so small batches are impractical. (If you happen to be a really kick-ass artist yourself, Gene McDonald of South Pacific Promotions may be able to work out a deal where you can split your order with him, and he’ll sell his portion in his shop.)
Each color is a separate printing run on your glass, so the more colors in your design, the more it costs. Gold inks cost extra.
There is usually a one-time cost for setting up your project. For home bars, you’ll probably only order them once, so it’s just part of the cost, but if you’re doing your glasses for a commercial bar where you’ll be reordering them, future orders will not have this fee.
Don’t forget that there will be shipping, too, and if you’re under a tight deadline, a rush job will also often cost extra.
It’s again worth noting here: Gene McDonald of South Pacific Promotions is able to do the shopping around for you, to get the best price. He factors in the shipping cost, and can help identify a factory near you, saving you even more money.
Step 4: Create the Artwork
Glassware is printed with vector artwork. That means that the artwork used has to be lines, rather than pixels. In the graphic above, the teeny logo in the upper left was blown up in bitmap form, and then in vector form. Vectors keep the information about the shape in “paths” (as seen on the B on the right) rather than in pixels. Vectors can scale and stay true to the design, but bitmaps get gross.
If you draw something and scan it, you’ll be getting a bitmap. If you take a picture of something, that will be a bitmap. Files ending in .jpg, .gif, .png—those are all bitmap files. The kind of file you want—a vector file—is created using special graphic design software, often Adobe Illustrator, which is mighty expensive. (Adobe Photoshop is primarily a bitmap thing, but does have some vector tools.)
But don’t fear! Vectors can be made from bitmaps. It requires a bit of clean-up skill, and the right tools. Gene McDonald of South Pacific Promotions does this for folks all the time. If you’re hiring a graphic designer or other artist to create your design for you, make sure they understand that the final design has to be vector art.
Speaking of graphic designers, here are some artists who have expressed interest in creating artwork for fun tiki glassware jobs (are you a designer who would like to be added to this list? Let me know at email@example.com):
- Atomic Mess is a tiki print artist who also carves
- Christine Benjamin is a painter, graphic designer and illustrator with a great tiki pop sensibility
- Devon Devereaux has done tiki graphic design work for Hale Pele in Portland
- El Nova is a graphic designer and tiki lover with experience doing product design, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Johnnie Velour is well known for his ceramic tiki work, and he is also an excellent graphic designer
- Rachael Schafer is an illustrator who just did her first tiki design, and would love to do more
- Robert Jiménez is a tiki artist who has been wanting to do some glassware designs
- Tiki Diablo, a.k.a. Danny Gallardo, is famed for his incredible tiki interior build-out work for places like the Tonga Hut in Palm Springs and The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, and he does great graphic design, too
- Tiki Kitchen is Aric Harris, Aric has loads of design experience, and loads of tiki love
- Tiki tOny has experience creating glassware designs for VenTiki in Ventura, the beautiful Rincon Room (an amazing home bar), and also has his own glasses, pictured below
- Tony Canepa has done graphics for a tiki menu at Rumba in Seattle, and has many years of experience creating artwork for glassware and other products
- Woody Miller is a tiki artist who would love to create some tiki glassware designs
If you already have artwork, but it’s not in a vector format, Perry Drake would be happy to help his tiki friends get a drawn design turned into vector art (email@example.com), or if you’re going through South Pacific Promotions, Gene McDonald can do this as part of his service.
Designs that don’t work well: very fine lines or gradients. The inks used on glass aren’t suited to that kind of delicate work. Doing a four-color CMYK run to get an effect like a full-color photograph also isn’t going to happen.
Designs that do work: bold, graphic, solid. It doesn’t have to be chunky; the design on my glasses has a lot of delicate features that came out great.
Another consideration: ask your printer if the inks you’re using can overlap, and if not, how much of a gap you need to leave between your colors.
What I did: I drew my artwork on paper, scanned it into the computer, and used Adobe Photoshop to convert the drawing to vector art. The computer auto-generates vector paths, but they’re crude and need a lot of cleanup, that took some time and care. I used Photoshop instead of Adobe Illustrator just because I’m more familiar with it and could work faster; when it was done, I had to pull it into Illustrator to save it as a vector file.
Step 5: Care and Feeding
Handwash these puppies! Some inks (like metallics) are likely to come off entirely in the dishwasher, while other inks may stay on, but fade. Our post-party protocol is to do a quick rinse of each glass, then soak them overnight in a tub with some dishwashing soap. The next morning, we use a glassware brush on each glass, rinse, and air dry on a rack—it’s pretty low-effort.
Now that you have your own glasses, get to mixing! I think tiki drinks are more appetizing when they’re served in glass instead of a tiki mug. Tiki mugs are fun, they’re neat souvenirs, but a tiki drink’s best friend is truly glass.