hum. Another day, another engraving job. Not that youre complaining
about your work. After all, on most days you find working in the R&I
industry a fascinating experience that is rewarding on both a personal
and financial level. But as you engrave a seemingly endless parade of
plain white badges, you cant help but think that the job could be
a little more exciting at times. Theres no question about it: You
have a bad case of the engraving blues!
But wait! You can beat those blues! With a few
additions to your standard engraving materials and supplies, you can add
some spice and variety to your usual engraving jobs. Tired of the same
old brass plates? Try using some brightly colored, enamel-coated metals.
Burned out on rotary engraving metals? Have you tried some of the laserable
metals available instead? Sick of the standard flexible engraving laminates?
Well, try some of the hot new options out there, like microsurface or
ultra-thin plastics. Need a break from engraving in general? Take a stab
at assembling your own badges or adding colors to those beautiful but
unadorned awards you just created.
Are you ready to learn how to add some zip
to your work with changes to your engraving material and supplies? Well,
read on to learn how to chase those engraving blues away!
of course, are an industry standard. They are used for everything from
trophy plates to plaques to freestanding awards. Despite their prevalence,
though, there is quite a range of options available that can really add
some variety to your engraving.
Brass is perhaps the most common metal used in
the engraving world. Its gold tone increases the perceived value in the
eyes of the customer, which translates into greater sales for you. For
many, there is nothing more prestigious than an elegant brass plate affixed
to a plaque or trophy.
One of the benefits of working with brass is that
it can be exquisitely engraved in a variety of ways to produce different
effects. It can be rotary engraved to some degree, as well as burnished
or diamond drag engraved. If you have been consistently diamond engraving
your brass plates, why not try burnishing them instead? Your customers
will enjoy the sparkling, classy look and the change in method can add
a little fun to your engraving.
The best way to truly inject a little variety
to your brass is to purchase one of the many different types available
on the market today. Brass is offered in both bright and satin finishes.
You can also purchase enamel-coated colored brasses rather than the normal
lacquer-coated brass that you might have been using. Lacquer-coated brass
describes brass that has a clear coating on it that allows the natural,
gold color to shine through. Enamel-coated brass, on the other hand, has
been coated with an opaque colored enamel, usually black or brown. When
the enamel is engraved, the underlying brass is displayed. The contrast
between the colored enamel and the brass is very attractive and customers
are often willing to spend a little extra for this. Today, you can also
choose from a variety of patterned metals having multi colors or even
veining resembling marble and other stone materials.
Bright finishes, satin finishes and enamel-coated
brasses are all available sizes similar to standard brass, i.e., in sheets
that are 12" by 12" or 12" by 24" and between .020"
and .025" thick. Therefore, adding one of these more unusual brasses
to your engraving repertoire should pose no problem in terms of equipping
your shop or machine to handle them.
If you need to engrave a metal, but brass isnt
quite the look you are going for, aluminum is another choice to be considered.
Aluminum is characterized by a bright, silvery color. Its perceived value
is slightly less than brass, but it is also less expensive than brass,
so it can still be a great addition to your shops engraving materials.
Aluminum also offers similar marking options as
does brass. It diamond engraves beautifully and can be burnished to some
degree. However, lacquer-coated aluminum is not recommended for rotary
engraving, as it can produce results that are a little rough and chewy.
Still, to a customer that is used to receiving rotary engraved brass,
a diamond engraved aluminum plaque can be an exciting change.
Like brass, aluminum is available with different
coating options that can liven up your material selection. Lacquer-coating,
which allows the materials natural silver color to be utilized,
is the standard selection. However, enamel-coating is available in a range
of colors and the contrast between the opaque color and the underlying
aluminum can be stunning.
Anodized aluminum is another option. It is considerably
more durable than normal aluminum, and its matte finish is often the look
that you or your client is looking for. It is also more chemical- and
weather- resistant than standard aluminum, which can be a benefit for
outdoor applications. Its hard anodized coating increases its rotary engravability
by resisting depth nose-related scratches.
Trophy aluminums are available in sizes similar
to brass, i.e., 12" x 12" or 12" x 24" sheets and
are usually .020" to .025" thick. Of course, aluminum sheets
can be cut and fabricated in your shop to the desired specifications,
or you can purchase them in pre-cut blanks from the manufacturer.
brass to plaques increases their perceived values. Photo
provided by JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD.
come in a range of colors and textures, such as this granite
plastic from Rowmark, Inc., Findlay, OH.
blanks speed up production times and add exciting new shapes to
your engraving capabilities. Photo provided by Identification Plates
Inc., Mesquite, TX.
Another way to get rid of those engraving blues,
at least in the world of materials, is to add laser engravable metals
to your offerings. How exciting would it be to actually use that high-tech
laser sitting in the corner for metals, something that supposedly cant
be done? Normally, CO2 lasers cannot laser engrave on metal. The
metal acts as a mirror and the laser beam bounces off, leaving
you with little or no engraving. However, there are several metals on
the market that are specifically designed to be laser engraved. They have
a thin lacquer coating (typically colored) as a top layer which is lasered
off to reveal the metal beneath. Victory, a Division of Planter of Chicago,
Illinois, offers a double-coated brass called Laserbrite that can be lasered.
Horizons Incorporated of Cleveleand, Ohio, sells AlumaMark, which is an
aluminum that turns black when laser engraved. Both are excellent options
if you would like to start laser engraving metals to add a new dimension
to your business.
A final option to add some fun to your metal material
selection is to offer die-stamped metal plates. These ready-made, inexpensive
metal plates come in a range of shapes and sizes, ranging from shields
to state outlines to the notched corner look. These are very
popular additions to plaques and awards that are also fantastic timesavers.
Die-stamped plates come in brass, aluminum and occasionally stainless
steel, and can be marked according to the properties of the material,
i.e., brass plates can be burnished, diamond engraved or rotary engraved,
etc. Plates usually range in thickness from .020" to .025",
making them easy to attach to most R&I products.
way to dispel those engraving blues is to broaden the range of plastics
that you offer. Most shops carry at least the conventional
flexible engraving laminates. This type of plastic, introduced in 1963,
consists of two separate extruded sheets, a cap and a core. The cap, which
is about .010" thick, is laminated to the core. Flexible engraving
laminates occasionally come in a 3-ply variety, as well, which consists
of a cap, core and another cap layer. Both varieties come in 1/32",
1/16", and 1/8" thicknesses.
Flexible engraving laminates remain popular because
of their flexibility and ability to be fabricated. They can be sawed,
sheared, thermobent, die cut and hot stamped, to name just a few options.
They are easily rotary engraved, although the wide line widths associated
with deep cuts with a tapered cutter makes finer engraving difficult on
All this information may be very true and useful, you say to yourself,
but it still sounds like boring old plastic to me! Well, thats because
you havent taken a look at the vast array of color combinations
and finishes flexible laminates are available in today! Both 2- and 3-
ply flexible laminates come in a nearly infinite range of color combinations.
Engrave through a red or mauve or forest green or silver cap to expose
a white or yellow or blue or silver core
you get the idea! These
exciting colors, added to the woodgrain, satin and matte finishes now
offered, can turn dependable flexible engraving laminates into a real
hot material in your shop!
Microsurface Flexible Engraving Stock
Most of the excitement surrounding engraving plastics
has centered around microsurface flexible engraving stock. The main difference
between microsurface and laminates is the cap layer; it is much thinner
(about .002") in microsurface plastics. This thinner cap allows for
finer detail when engraving, because a much shallower cutter depth can
be used. So microsurface plastics can be a great addition to your material
selection, especially if you are looking to broaden the quality of engraving
you produce on plastics.
Whats really exciting about microsurface
materials is the practically limitless expansion in the selection of colors
and designs available everything from designer colors to marbles
to granites to suedes you name it, its available in microsurface
Ultra-Thin Flexible Engraving Stock
Looking for an even more exotic type of plastic?
How about ultra-thin flexible engraving stock? This plastic
is really a very thin gauge microsurface material with an overall thickness
ranging from .010" to .030" and a cap coating of less than .003".
This plastic is so thin and flexible, that it sometimes comes on rolls
instead of sheets!
But whats the advantage to such a slim plastic?
Well, its extreme flexibility allows it to be attached to irregular or
oddly-shaped items like pens, thermoses and flasks. It simply molds itself
around these items like a piece of vinyl. Most ultra-thins can also be
both laser and rotary engraved, and the thin cap allows for the same detail
level as standard microsurface plastics. Like the other plastics, it comes
in a huge selection of colors, as well. Spectrum Lights, a self-adhering
ultra-thin plastic that has nearly limitless applications, is a popular
variety of this plastic.
While were on the subject of plastics, what
about the customer that wants an engraved plastic sign to display outside
of his business? Most plastics will not hold up to the elements over time;
you would have to regretfully inform this customer that you cant
supply him with what he needs. How depressing is that? However, if you
had purchased some of the weather-resistant flexible plastic stock now
available, you could not only make the sale, but you could turn a potential
engraving blues situation into a very positive experience!
Weather-resistant plastics are generally acrylic-based
laminates. Their outer cap is treated with UV-absorbing chemicals, which
prevents fading from occurring. The normal hazards that go along with
the elements, light and pollution, are thus minimized. The cap is also
relatively thin, .010", so fine engraving is possible. All these
attributes, along with the large number of colors available, make adding
weather-resistant plastics to your shops materials a sure-fire way
of making both you and your customers a little happier!
With all these exciting, high-tech plastics on
hand, its easy to overlook some of the old tried and true
options out there. One old standby is phenolic (or melamine), which has
been around for nearly a century. This sturdy, rigid plastic is great
for industrial applications such as panels and plates, because its inherent
characteristics make it resistant to chemicals and heat. Since it is manufactured
using heat and pressure, it will not melt when heated. This makes it ideal
for industries where temperature is a major concern.
Phenolic can be obtained in three or five ply
laminates with a slew of color combinations and finishes. It is easily
rotary engraved, and its hard surface resists the shadowing and polish
marks that often occur when using depth regulator noses on more pliable
surfaces. It can be fabricated in house to a certain extent,
but its very hardiness can make this more difficult than the other plastics
on the market. In general, phenolic must be cut and engraved with carbide
tools. All in all, it is a sound choice for industrial work where a heat-
and chemical-resistant material is needed.
on microsurface flexible engraving plastics allows for a great deal
of detail. Photo courtesy of Innovative Plastics, Inc., Algonquin,
holders to your offerings can increase sales of your more routine
engraved signs. Photo courtesy of Gravograph-New Hermes, Inc., Duluth,
on a microsurface plastic exposes the white core beneath the colored
cap. Photo courtesy of Innovative Plastics, Inc., Algonquin, IL.
that we have discussed a few ways to keep from feeling down
when engraving metals and plastics, lets talk about a couple of
other material options that can add some variety to your engraving.
Acrylic has been gaining in popularity for years.
Its outstanding optical clarity makes it a big hit with customers who
want the durability of a plastic but the beauty and distinction of glass
or crystal. It comes in transparent, opaque and translucent varieties,
with mirror finishes and many different colors are available. Since acrylics
are made in solid colors, obtaining contrast in the engraving generally
requires paint filling. Besides the obvious applications of awards and
plaques, acrylics are also ideal for display fixtures and desk accessories.
Like metals and plastics, acrylics are sold in
both finished blanks and sheets. If you choose to purchase sheets, which
are normally between 1/8" and 1/4" thick, remember that acrylic
cannot be sheared. However, it can be sawed, routed, laser and rotary
engraved and sandblasted. No wonder acrylic is in such demand! So keep
it in mind the next time a customer wants something a little different
for her badges or desk set!
Solid Surface Materials
Solid surface materials, which are also known
by brand names such as Corian, Avonite and Fountainhead, are another way
to beat the blahs of normal engraving materials. These products
look like stone or marble, but the color and pattern are uniform throughout
the entire piece. These blends of polyester and acrylic resins are sold
both as pre-made blanks and as sheets that can be cut to your specifications.
Are you scratching your head a little, trying
to think of uses for solid surface materials? Well, they make fabulous
signs, plaques, nameplates, desk sets and donor walls, to name just a
few of their more common applications. Pitching this unique material to
a customer who is used to more run of the mill materials that
other engraving shops offer will surely peak his interest, and yours,
too! Since solid surface materials are of uniform consistency, they require
paint filling to make the engraving contrast with the background color.
those engraving blues receding a little yet? Changing the types of engraving
materials you offer is a pretty good way to make life at the shop more
interesting and profitable, but you can also add some variety by increasing
the amount of peripheral engraving supplies you offer. These
are the things that elevate an engraved badge from nice to
wow or boost the sale of a sign from just the bare bones
to a whole sign system. Read on, and well explore a few of these
Frames & Plate Holders
Sign frames and plate holders? Admittedly, that
may not sound like it will add a great deal of pizzazz to your engraving
experience, but simply adding a feature or product that you havent
carried before can do a great deal to spice things up. They can also boost
the sales of your engraved signs and plates. If you start selling complete
packages, i.e., engraved signs and frames together, you can
really increase customer satisfaction and sales.
Frames and holders are typically available in
anodized aluminum, molded plastic, wood and marble, although they can
be constructed of nearly any material. Frames for signs are often modular,
i.e., they snap together around the engraved substrate to securely hold
and display it. These types of sign frames are very popular for indoor
signage, both temporary and permanent. This can include architectural
signage, like building directories, or a sign in the lobby of the bank
advising customers on the new branch hours.
Nameplate holders are more commonly used to display
small signs or employees names in an office environment. Freestanding
desk nameplates (also called L-shaped holders) are very popular, as are
easels, pedestals and desk bars. Given the high turnover rate in many
offices, selling nameplate holders can be a very profitable addition to
your engraving options.
Badge findings are another avenue that you may
want to explore to add a little zip to your sales. Sure, most manufacturers
sell pre-cut badge blanks with badge findings already attached. And these
ready-made badges can definitely speed up production. But if you have
the capability to attach your own badge findings, you can create custom-made,
unique badges for those customers interested in something besides the
standard 1" by 3" rectangular badge.
There is a huge selection of badge findings on
the market. Some of the most popular include safety pins, single and double
clutch posts, alligator clips, bulldog clips, single and double snap clips
and magnets. For a complete description of these findings and the pros
and cons of each, see EJs article Selecting and Attaching
Badge Findings (March 93). The point is, there are as many
finding options as there types of badges, so you can really let your imagination
run wild with them!
Tapes & Adhesives
Tapes and adhesives are also a common engraving
supply that you may be overlooking. Of course, every shop has a roll of
all-purpose masking tape that is used for everything. But there is a whole
world of tapes out there, specialized for a host of different functions.
Adhesive transfer tapes are ideal for joining objects where a very thin
glue line is desired. Double-coated paper tapes offer more
strength and stability, due to the carrier that holds the
adhesive. Double-coated foam tapes, where the carrier is made of foam,
offer a powerful hold between heavy objects, because the foam permits
more give between the items. There are different types of
adhesives, too, which can increase the stickiness and shelf life of tapes.
And why would knowing this information about tapes
help chase away the engraving blues? Well, your blues could partly be
a result of using the wrong type of tape for your engraving job. If you
often find yourself frustrated because a nameplate you are engraving is
shifting while you are engraving it, or because those trophy plates just
wont stay attached, then you need to find a tape more suited to
these jobs! Check out EJs article Tape 101 (Dec. 02)
for more specific details to guide you in your selection.
You can also perk up your adhesive supply options
by looking into liquid bond materials and solvent welding solutions. These
are chemically reactive substances that fuse together receptive plastics.
While these wont hold down objects while you are engraving like
a tape can, they will allow you to attach components of awards and trophies
in a unique and effective fashion. They are especially helpful when you
need a near invisible glue line on acrylic awards or transparent signs.
frames that allow for easy updates when information changes, such
as this floor directory, can generate additional sales. Photo courtesy
of Innovative Plastics, Inc., Algonquin, IL.
engravable plastic and a nameplate holder combined create an elegant
and popular freestanding desk nameplate. Photo provided by Innovative
Plastics, Inc., Algonquin, IL.
to attach badge findings allows you to create custom-made, unique
badges for your customers. Courtesy of Magic Novelty Co., New York,
Fillers & Foils
Nothing adds more excitement to any engraved piece,
whether it is a plaque, award or sign, than a little color. And one of
the easiest ways to add color is by using paints, fillers and foils.
One of the most common and easy to use coloring
options are lacquer sticks. These crayon-like sticks of pigment are available
in a wide range of colors, from brick red to black to canary yellow. They
work best in rotary engraved grooves with a depth of .005" to .010"
and a width of no more than .003". The lacquer does not stay well
in anything deeper or wider. Simply choose a hue, color in
the area you want filled, and presto you have a color filled engraving!
Opaque paint markers are another simple, effective
way to add color. Like their name implies, they are similar to craft markers
filled with paint. They are best used on smooth, non-porous materials
like acrylic. One drawback to markers is that it can be difficult to control
the amount of paint that is applied. Therefore, take your time and be
prepared to do emergency clean ups as you go.
Obviously, traditional oil-based paints are another
way to insert color into your engraving. Although they may take a little
more time than lacquer sticks and markers, due to application and drying
time, they generally produce the most attractive and durable results.
There are three main sub-categories of paints in the industry; oil-based
enamels, latex paints and lacquers. For an in-depth analysis of these
paints, check out Your Options in Color Filling Materials
(Oct. 97). Just remember when considering using a paint, that they
often require a long drying time and proper ventilation is recommended
for safetys sake.
There are a few methods of adding color in the
engraving world that do not involve paints or fillers. Have you ever wanted
to add color while laser engraving metal? Well, if you use CerMark, from
the Ferro Corporation, you can! CerMark is a liquid applied to the metal
before laser engraving. After the area has been lasered, a permanent black
mark appears. Pretty neat, huh?
Interested in adding metallic colors to those
plain old boxes and plaques you have been laser engraving? Self-adhesive
foils are the way to go then. These sticky, metallic foils are applied
to the area to be lasered. You then engrave and weed away any excess material.
What are you left with? A beautiful gold, silver or bronze design laser
engraved onto your product!
Finally, there is the old standby of oxidizing
solutions. These solutions are used to add black to lacquer-coated, engraved
metals. When the oxidizer makes contact with the bare metal, it turns
it black. Simply engrave the metal, apply the solution with a cotton swab,
wipe away the excess, and you are done! The once unadorned metal plate
now has a black engraving where the lacquer has been removed.
a new day. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and you are a happy
engraver once more. Why? Because with a little planning, you have restocked
your shop with some exciting engraving materials and supplies. Now, every
job you engrave can be personalized in a truly unique way that both you
and your customers will enjoy. And that thought should definitely chase
away those engraving blues!