Right around the middle of October every year we in Rowmarks marketing
department get together and start tossing around ideas for the coming
years trade show circuit. Our first task is to pick a theme that
the booth will carry throughout the year. With the theme chosen, I can
begin working on our booths creative sign designs.
theme of the upcoming ARA Las Vegas Show has already stirred some creativity
and Im expecting the final result to be very interesting. The plans
for the Rowmark trade show booth at the Las Vegas Show are usually somewhat
secretive, but I am excited to give you a sneak peek at one sign that
has been designed for this years display.
sign is loosely based on a poster that promoted one of Houdinis
most famous and most dangerous escapes, the illusion of being buried alive.
I chose to use Houdini as the subject of my first sign for two reasons.
First, I find it amazing that seventy-seven years after his death, Houdini
is still recognized throughout the world as one of the greatest showmen
who ever lived. Secondly, Houdini was known as a master of self-promotion.
He created magnificent posters to advertise his escape challenges, which
are very interesting from a design standpoint.
Buried Alive sign is one of many designs created for display
in which I get the chance to experiment with the combination of different
engraving techniques, as well as shape, surface and color combinations.
The techniques used to design and construct this sign will be very useful
to sign makers looking for creative solutions to their projects. The process
of laser engraving photographic images into plastic is one that may be
of particular interest to engravers. In the following article, I will
provide some hints to help you obtain quality results in your engraving,
as well as the process that I went through to create the Buried
buried alive has always been one of the most primal fears of humanity.
Terrifying and morbid are the words that come
to mind when I think of this particular stunt. In my design, I tried to
convey what I felt when I first read about Houdinis death-defying
escape. Rather than doing a colorful sign I chose to go with the colors
black, white and silver. For some reason, the choice of these particular
colors seems obvious even thought the original poster contained colors
like blue, red and gold. I felt the colors were using will help
to express the cold helplessness that someone buried alive might experience.
completed "Buried Alive" sign fashioned after Houdini's
the color combination was decided upon, I used CorelDRAW to begin experimenting
with the layout and fonts. It seemed best to keep the layout relatively
simple so it would be easy to control where your attention is drawn. A
24" x 18" rectangle would serve as a backer for the sign. On
top of the first rectangle I drew a smaller rectangle, 23" x 17",
the difference in size providing a half inch border which nicely framed
incorporated a lasered image of Harry Houdini that I found while doing
research for the booth theme. Because of the shape of the photo and the
layout of the sign itself, just placing the photo in the middle of the
sign would not work. Instead I tried using the popular sign designers
trick known as emphasis by repetition and repeated the image
begin the production phase I scanned the photo into Corel PhotoPaint at
300 dpi using grayscale mode. Next, I made some slight adjustments to
insure optimum clarity and detail. Because the majority of the photo was
black, I decided to use a dark cap engraving material with a light core.
To accomplish the correct tones, I changed the image to a negative by
clicking the Inverse command. This action changed the highlights to black;
the laser burned those highlights through the black cap to show the white
core resulting in a normal appearance upon completion. At this point,
I was able to import the photo into CorelDRAW.
in Corel, I drew a 5.5" x 7.25" rectangle and centered it over
the photo. By selecting PowerClip from the Effects menu, then choosing
Place Inside Container I was able to PowerClip the photo inside
that point the photo was at the exact size I wanted. I made two copies
and placed them on either side of the original. I drew a new rectangle,
this time 18" x 8", and centered it vertically within the first
rectangles, then moved it up 21/2" from the top of the 23" x
17" rectangle. Using the 18" x 8" rectangle and the Trim
tool in CorelDRAW, I cut a hole in the 23" x 17" rectangle.
This is where I placed the laser engraved photos spaced 3/8" apart
sign was really starting to take shape at this point so I began to assign
colors to each piece. I came to the conclusion that the best material
choice for the 24" x 18" backer would brushed silver/black LaserMax
be. The 23" x 17" piece and the laser engraved photos would
be best produced using black/white LaserMax.
most of the sign design now complete, I began to focus on the search for
the perfect fonts. The headline of the sign would, of course, be the words
Buried Alive. It had to be eye catching and the font used
had to reinforce the fear evoked by the words. I chose John Handy, a font
that is quite unusual. It looks like something you would see etched into
wood or stone. By capitalizing every letter but slightly enlarging the
first letter of each word, the headline became eye-catching and powerful
with a look that supported the words it contained.
positioned the headline above the photos, where it could be engraved into
the black/white LaserMax. The rest of the text would be positioned in
the space below the photos. For the majority of the text, two lines boasting
Houdinis talents, I decided on a more neutral font, Avant-Garde,
and engraved it into the plastic. By using a slightly heavier typeface,
in all caps with a little extra space between each character, this text
sustained a presence without becoming a visual distraction.
cutting the black LaserMax. To 23" x 17".
cutting the brushed silver LaserMax
last piece of the puzzle was, of course, to add Houdinis name to
the sign. This sign seemed to cry out for a classic font, heavy enough
to standout and neutral enough to complement the rest of the design. I
found these qualities in the serif font Novarese. Bolding the font, using
all caps and spacing out the characters helped me achieve the exact look
I needed. In order to reinforce the magical and masterful essence of the
name Houdini, I elected to have the letters laser vector cut from LaserMax,
brushed silver/black, which would then be applied to the sign between
the two lines of engraved text.
the design was complete. I filled in the colors of the text using white
for everything engraved and silver for the name Houdini. This helped me
get an idea of how the sign would look upon completion. Very satisfied
with the results, I reached for the phone and called our Fabrication Technician,
Steve Williamson, so we could get started right away.
would like to say that while I create the designs for the booth signage,
my crazy ideas would never become reality without Steves expertise.
He is a master of his trade who has taught me volumes during my time at
dove right into the project, starting with saw cutting a piece of brushed
silver/black LaserMax to 24" x 18". Next, Steve wanted to complete
the 23" x 17" piece of black/white LaserMax. He began by laser
vector cutting the LaserMax to the needed size. Using a slower cutting
speed and lower power helped to eliminate the risk of smoke residue and
melting. By leaving the clear protective masking in place we protected
the plastic from excessive burning. In this case, the laser made two passes
before Steve was satisfied with the results. He cut down just far enough
to snap out the needed pieces in order to prevent melting on the opposite
side of the plastic.
the vector cut was complete, Steve removed the clear protective masking
material from the area to be engraved. He used a speed of 60 and a power
of 30 to engrave the LaserMax in our 40-watt laser. Putting the laser
out of focus, down .004, helped to insure a smooth melt. Remember that
while these settings have proven to work well with our laser, they will
not necessarily work on yours. Every laser is different! Work with your
laser to become familiar with the settings and document those that work
best for you.
the lasered text was completed, we pulled the plastic out of the laser
and cleaned it using dish soap and water and a horsehair brush. Once Steve
dried the piece, I added double-sided adhesive to the back of the plastic
to mount it onto the brushed silver/black background panel.
next step was to vector cut the letters, which would be applied to the
black/white LaserMax. I first applied double-sided tape to the back of
a piece of silver LaserMax. With that complete, Steve was ready to send
the job to the laser but before doing so, he used CorelDRAW to set up
one more vector cut: a rectangle around the outside of the letters. Once
the vector cutting was complete, I popped the letters out of the plastic.
The rectangle that Steve drew was cut as a piece that could be lined up
with the left and bottom edges of the black LaserMax piece and served
as a template for placing the vector cut letters exactly where they needed
The last of the engraving that needed to be completed was the three Houdini
photos. As I said earlier, we used black and white plastic with self-adhesive
back for this portion of the sign. Steve set the dpi to 1000 with a power
of 9%, a speed of 50% and a ppi of 1000. The power setting needed to be
low in order to prevent over burning and the lower speed setting provided
for the most accurate detail possible.
was engraved with a 40 watt laser using a speed of 60 and 30% power.
cut outside of the letters served as a template for placing the letters.
these settings are just a guideline and may not work with your machine.
Its important for you to practice this process and become
familiar with the settings of your laser to produce the best end
Steve was satisfied with the results of the laser engraved photos,
we applied masking tape to the engraved portion to pick up any residue
left on the plastic. All that was left at this point was to piece
the sign together. We carefully put the pieces in place and finally
the Buried Alive sign was complete.
with different engraving techniques, shapes, surface and color combinations
can produce very rewarding results. Todays expansive selection
of engraving materials and color combinations gives you practically
limitless design possibilities. The techniques I have described
here can benefit any engraver whether you are producing name badges,
plaques or signage. If you take a chance and color outside of the
lines a little you will stand out from your competition.
consumers are looking for someone who can provide them with a truly
unique product. You can be exactly what they are looking for. Try
some of the ideas that Ive discussed and youll be able
to give your customers a quality product with a one-of-a-kind look.
sure to stop by Rowmarks booth this year in Las Vegas to check
out the Buried Alive sign and the rest of the signage creations.
Well be happy to provide you with the files to create any
sign that we display.
of the lasered pieces completed the project.