This article is sponsored by our partner, Your Brand Cafe.
The number of cafes in the United States climbed from 37,189 in 2020 to approximately 38,400 in 2022. While this means consumers enjoy a wide selection of cafes, it also signals increasing competition for coffee shop owners.
Finding ways to stand out from competitors is paramount, particularly for those in saturated areas. Some café owners invest in social media marketing and online advertising, while others focus heavily on local community engagement through events, catering, and pop-ups.
But what about a marketing strategy that can reach thousands of customers daily and travel across your neighborhood and digital platforms? That’s where branded cups come in.
Branded coffee cups may cost more than non-printed cups, but they can offer a greater return on investment for cafe owners through improved brand awareness. We’ve all seen folks take pictures of their cups and post them to Instagram (or, like us, you’re guilty of it, too). You might have even discovered a new coffee shop simply by seeing a stranger carrying a branded coffee cup while walking by.
The challenge, however, can be creating a cup or sleeve design that best represents your brand, company mission, and goals.
Design Advice from the Pros
We spoke to Your Brand Cafe’s art department to understand what makes an impactful cup design.
Your Brand Cafe is a custom cup, packaging, and apparel manufacturer with a production facility in Ball Ground, Georgia. “By handling production in-house, our art team has a unique opportunity to ensure each design is optimized for seamless production and brand alignment,” says Kelly Wright, senior marketing director at Your Brand Cafe.
However, what looks appealing on a computer screen may not always translate well to a cup. Wright explains that the curvature of a cup can warp the design if not formatted specifically for the product ordered. “Designing on a flat surface versus for a cup is very different, which is why we aim to simplify this process for clients. Clients can upload their artwork and our team takes over. Our art department plays a crucial role in optimizing designs for the cup’s unique shape and providing clients with cup or sleeve design assistance as needed.”
Folks with horizontally aligned logos may find designing a branded cup particularly challenging. “Understandably, many customers prefer their entire logo to be visible from a single angle. This is particularly important for photographs and when someone is holding the cup,” says Wright. “One solution could be to opt for a square logo, as it tends to fit more naturally on the cup’s surface. Alternatively, we can also explore the possibility of printing the horizontal logo on both the front and back of the cup at a visible size, ensuring maximum visibility from various angles.”
A major consideration with branded products is how they’ll look on social media platforms. “You want your branded products to be able to photograph well for social media,” says Wright. “When you have your logo really large around a cup, it’s hard to read that in an Instagram post. Creative cup designs can engage customers, prompting them to share their experiences online. This social media content acts as free marketing and generates buzz around your coffee shop.”
When working on a cup design, Wright also recommends considering the material you choose to print on. “I always suggest clients think about how [their design will] print on different surfaces. A lot of times, we’ll have customers with beautiful, extravagant logos, but that logo may not translate well across your entire line of branded products. For example, think about how your logo color will appear against different beverage colors when printed on a cold cup. White tends to stand out against a wide range of beverage colors, ensuring your logo remains visible and appealing.”
Custom cup designs allow shops to go beyond stamped logos on cups and sleeves. Digital printing can open up new opportunities to experiment with color and design, but not every coffee shop has access to a design team. Wright also knows the design process can be intimidating and possibly a game of trial and error, recounting an experience with a client who initially requested a straightforward design with their logo prominently placed on a white cup. “Often aiming for a simplistic look, clients will only send over a logo to be placed on a white double-walled hot cup,” Wright explains.
The design team at Your Brand Cafe created the mock-up, but after seeing the design, the client realized they wanted something more captivating and reflective of their brand. “Our team drew inspiration from their existing branded materials to craft a cup design that authentically represented their brand, resulting in a visually intriguing and engaging cup design.”
Wright also encourages coffee shop owners to explore all printing options when designing branded cups or sleeves. From double-walled hot cups to cold cups with vibrant, full-wrap printing to simple branded kraft sleeves, experimenting with different cup products and printing options ultimately helps a business find the right cup design at the best price point.
Pick a Cup, Any Cup: Branded Cup Designs to Draw Inspiration From
With branded coffee cups, the design possibilities are endless. From simple logo placements to elaborate illustrations, there’s no limit to what can be printed on a hot or cold cup. Take inspiration from these ten coffee shops using branded custom cups to their advantage.
Rollin’ Beans, Brandon, MS
Rollin’ Beans is a mobile coffee shop based in Brandon, Mississippi. The company uses various sizes of double-walled paper hot cups with a digitally printed design that should be familiar to customers: it matches Rollin’ Beans mobile truck exterior. The full-wrap design also covers the entirety of the cup for a 360-degree branded experience.
Owl & Lark, La Grange, IL
In La Grange, Illinois, Owl & Lark’s mission is to bring wholesome foods, juice, and coffee to their neighborhood. The gradient design of their eight-ounce double-walled paper cup gives the white logo illustration, which would have been lost on a traditional cardboard sleeve, a background to pop.
Candid Coffee, Wellington, FL
Scroll through Candid Coffee’s social media feeds, and it’s not hard to see why their fully wrapped, vibrant double-walled cup design works. The cup design perfectly aligns with the company’s brand aesthetic and visuals. Additionally, the design gives a nod to the company’s coffee focus with illustrations of coffee beans, flowers, and leaves.
Stemistry, Scottsdale, AZ
Plastic cold cups don’t have to be bland. Stemistry, a flower bar and coffee shop based in Scottsdale, Arizona, uses Your Brand Cafe’s 16 and 20-ounce premium clear cold cups with a custom design. “Premium printing on plastic cold cups is the perfect, comprehensive printing option that allows brands to explore with limitless creativity. It offers full color and larger print areas for bigger images and enhanced detail,” says Wright.
Stemistry’s logo is clearly visible in front of the golden swirls in the background, creating a visual contrast against the coffee inside.
Farmer’s Daughter Cafe, Bozeman, MT
Farmer’s Daughter Cafe is located inside a hotel in Bozeman, Montana. They utilized different design elements between their cold cups and custom single-wall hot cups, along with dimpled coffee sleeves. Farmer’s Daughter Cafe created a visually engaging design using a simple dimpled coffee sleeve by pairing it with an eye-catching pattern on the hot cup.
Cafe Barista, Kissimmee, FL
At first glance, Cafe Barista‘s 16-ounce clear cold cup may appear to have a sleeve around it. Look closer; you’ll see the sleeve is printed on the cup. This approach uses Your Brand Cafe’s digital printing option, which could save coffee shops money because they won’t need to purchase additional branded sleeves.
Sessions Stand, Marietta, GA
Sessions Stand, serving up coffee and pastries in Marietta, GA, takes branded cups to the next level with this design full of explosive color. But this design didn’t happen by chance—it mimics the giant mural inside their coffee shop. This physical connection between the shop and consumers encourages guests to snap photos of the cups inside and outside the shop.
Kribi Coffee, Forest Park, IL
Kribi Coffee‘s business model is based on disrupting the norms, and the vivid colors on their paper cups continue that theme. Using a digital, full-wrap print, Kribi Coffee can translate its vibrant and maximalist aesthetic onto paper cups to enhance brand impact as consumers take their coffee to go.
Rootline Coffee, Dripping Springs, TX
Rootline Coffee is a farm-to-cup company serving and selling coffee grown at their farm, Finca Esperanza de Gloria, in Nicaragua. To pay homage to their roots, the company uses a digital full-color wrap illustration of the landscape on their 16-ounce double-walled hot cups. Customers can’t help but capture pictures and videos of the cups.
Alma Coffee, Canton, GA
Alma Coffee‘s cups demonstrate the benefits of working with a custom cup company to print and help design logos for all the cups in which you serve coffee. From the simplicity of the direct, standard print cold cup to the bold, vivid colors on the digitally printed hot cups, Alma’s brand is well represented no matter what drink a customer orders. Additionally, Alma’s branded cups allow the company to remind customers about their family-owned farms in Honduras, demonstrating the storytelling capabilities of a branded cup.
Coffee Man, Atlanta, GA
Coffee Man takes branding to another level as its playful and unique brand extends to its coffee cups. Their digital print full-color, full-wrap double wall hot cups serve as an extension of their brand as their coffee cups match the decorated cafe space, giving customers a visual reminder of the brand at all times.
Transitioning from a standard white cup and cardboard sleeve to a custom-designed hot or cold cup can seem like a significant step, especially for those unfamiliar with the process or lacking creative resources. But making the leap is well worth the effort, says Wright. “Branded cups offer a range of advantages, from increased brand recognition and customer loyalty to effective social media marketing and the perception of quality—ultimately benefiting your coffee shop’s bottom line.”
Sponsored by Your Brand Cafe
Your Brand Cafe offers custom branded cups, sleeves, and other supplies to coffee businesses.