Pinbusters: Watercolor Coffee Mugs

Carlye Thornton | Lariat Photo Editor
Carlye Thornton | Lariat Photo Editor
By Rae Jefferson
A&E Editor

During my most recent Pinterest escapade, I stumbled upon a seemingly impossible DIY pin – simulating watercolor paint on coffee mugs using nail polish.

I am always hesitant to try crafts that require nail polish because of my history with nail polish in its traditional use. Painting my nails is always an ordeal, mostly because I am too fidgety to avoid smudging my nails before they dry, but also because it always ends up chipping.

How can something that won’t stay on my nails manage to cling to a coffee cup indefinitely?

I decided to move forward with the pin anyway. I have tons of coffee mugs and could afford to lose one or two to a bad Pinterest project.

Additionally, the craft only requires a handful of materials; most are household objects or can be cheaply purchased.

If you decide to try the pin for yourself, I recommend using a well-ventilated room. I did the project in my kitchen, which left my small apartment smelling like nail polish and nail polish remover for the rest of the night.

Originally pinned from

What you need

Ceramic mug
Old or disposable bowl
Nail polish
Nail polish remover
(Optional) Wooden skewer/toothpick
Paper towels/cotton balls

What to do

1. Fill the bowl with water – warm tap water works well.

2. Using the nail polish applicator or by tilting the bottle over the bowl, add drops of nail polish to the water’s surface. I added about 10 to 15. Wait for the drops to spread out on the water’s surface.

3. (Optional) Use the wooden skewer, toothpick or other pointed object to swirl the paint into an appealing design.

4. Dip the mug in the water, paying attention to how you want the design to lay on the mug.

5. Set the mug on a paper towel to air dry for about two to five minutes.

6. Pat dry the mug with another paper towel, being careful to avoid applying too much pressure. Fingers will leave imprints in the design if too much force is used.

7. Use nail polish remover and a paper towel or cotton balls to clean up the design and remove nail polish from inside the mug.

8. (Optional) After dumping the remaining water out of the bowl, repeat steps one through six using additional colors.

9. Allow the mug to sit for at least two hours to dry completely.

What went wrong

The first mug I finished was horrendous. The nail polish did not spread on the water like it was supposed to. I dipped my mug anyway, but ended up having to pat nail polish clumps down with a paper towel. The result was more of a spongy look than watercolor. I tried again with a second mug, the black Lariat mug pictured above, and got the same results.

But third time is truly the charm. I used a different brand of nail polish for a green mug, pictured above, and it spread on the water’s surface just like it was supposed to.

Picking a nail polish that works for this DIY will just require trial and error. The polish forms a film in the water and can be scraped off the surface easily. In the end, unwanted designs can be removed from mugs with nail polish remover and a little elbow grease, so there is not much to lose with this project.

I am not sure of whether or not these mugs will make it through a dishwasher. Every blog I looked up regarding this project said to just hand wash them to be on the safe side. The polish seems to hold up against dish soap.

Final consensus

Although the watercolor mug project can require a little trial and error, I still think it is worth the effort. Getting it right in the end made the first two botched mugs irrelevant, and I can still clean them off if I desire to do so.

It is a fairly easy project to pull together and execute, and costs next to nothing. Besides, this is an excellent project for anyone who likes to give handmade gifts for holidays and birthdays.