The Peoples Choice Awards is a glamorous entertainment event that
recognizes the top vote-getters in 15 different categories of TV, film
and music. The really exciting part of all this, though, is the award
itself. The flame-shaped award is hand-crafted out of pure leaded crystal,
weighs 14 pounds and is considered a prestigious work-of-art (with a prestigious
$3,000 price tag).
not every crystal award receives national attention like this one does,
people do take notice of glass and crystal awards and thats why
this is one of the most popular and growing areas of our industry. And
fortunately, as with other areas of the industry, the art of sandcarving
has experienced some new and exciting changes. We now have new options
in sandblasting equipment, new options in photo resists and new techniques
for marking glass and crystal, including laser engraving and laser-assisted
sandcarving. Plus, there are a lot of affordable high-end glass and crystal
pieces available today that are truly remarkable. Heres a look at
the latest trends in these areas.
Sandcarving Equipment Updates
A variety of sandblasting equipment is available for decorative sandcarving
purposes in this industry. Sandblasting cabinets range in size from small
desktop units to larger freestanding cabinets. A typical sandblasting
system also includes a vacuum system and an air compressor that forces
the abrasive out of a nozzle and onto the piece to carve the design.
Selecting an appropriate cabinet size will depend on the type and size
of work that you will be doing. Predominately, people are using
the full-size cabinet, says Robert Gaertner, PhotoBrasive Systems,
Duluth, MN, a supplier of sandblasting equipment and supplies. They
find that the larger cabinets are actually cleaner and easier to work
April Mitchell, Rayzist Photomask, Vista, CA (also a supplier of supplies
and equipment), agrees that many engravers feel the need for a larger
cabinet, at least at some point. Shops that start out with smaller
desktop units quickly see the need to upgrade to larger, more powerful
units if they begin to move beyond the occasional small job or desire
to sandcarve harder substrates like ceramic, slate, granite, river rock,
etc. Ultimately the retailer will need to decide if the equipment used
is efficient enough both for present work and intended growth of the business,
Equipment options in this industry have remained essentially the same
over the years. However, manufacturers have introduced some new convenient
and time-saving features to their basic sandcarving equipment.
Another notable design change that most vendors are now offering is an
automatic recycling unit, which eliminates the need for the
user to recycle abrasive manually. This welcomed convenience not
only abolishes the requirement to lift heavy abrasive, but also reduces
ambient dust in the shop and ultimately speeds up production, says
Another trend is that sandcarvers who started off with table-top
units or used equipment are looking to upgrade their units. Rayzist Photomask,
for example, offers numerous retro-fit kits designed to improve our older
style models, Mitchell continues. Rayzists Reclaim Retro-fit
Kit transforms these models into an updated automatic recycling
unit. As many carvers are finding out, upgrading equipment improves
production and efficiency, quickly increasing their bottom line.
Rayzist has also introduced three new features to its equipment line:
air-streamed viewing glass, a re-designed dust collector and
recessed halogen floodlights. According to Mitchell, the air-stream
feature forces a stream of air across the viewing glass to deflect abrasive,
improve the viewable work space and increase the longevity of the innermost
pane of glass (a wear item that eventually needs to be replaced due to
fogging up). The re-designed dust collector helps improve
visibility by reducing ambient dust, and the recessed halogen floodlights
increase your work space.
Laser engraving is a viable method for personalizing glass; its
fast and easy and is basically a hands-off process, i.e. you
place the glass blank in the laser engraving machine, press a button and
walk away. There is no mask-making involved; you create the artwork on
your computer and laser engrave it. (For the record, CO2 lasers are recommended
for laser engraving glass. The wavelength of a CO2 lasers heat energy
is absorbed into the glass, which creates the mark. YAG lasers wont
engrave on glass because the beam shines completely through the glass.)
A notable difference between laser engraving and sandblasting, however,
is the look created by each of the processes. They are two totally
different looks, explains Mike Fruciano, LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ.
Laser engraving uses the heat energy from the laser to microscopically
heat up the glass, and it chips away the surface. You can get good engraving
results on glass with a laser; however, its a different look and
it doesnt have much depth. Sandblasting has a certain smoothness
and you are able to etch deeper. Because laser engraving produces
a surface etch, you cannot use it to reproduce some of the more creative
sandcarving techniques, such as multi-stage carving. In any case, experts
note, when you compare a laser etched piece and a sandblasted piece, theres
a very visible difference, so you need to know what your customers want
Laser engraving is most commonly used to etch text and designs on glass
products. Leaded crystal can be engraved, although it does require some
skill and practice. There are customers who are engraving crystal
successfully with a laser, says Fruciano. It does require
a different technique than engraving on glass and some different settings.
What makes a difference in crystal is that there is lead in the glass
and the higher the lead content the more the glass retains the heat from
the laser, and in this particular case it would be detrimental because
if the glass heats up too abruptly it will break.
For engravers who want to successfully laser engrave leaded crystal La
serBits recommends, first of all, that you never attempt to work with
customer-supplied crystal. Instead, Fruciano says, buy a case of leaded
crystal from a supplier, experiment with the power settings and then offer
this brand and shape laser engraved once you dial in the power settings.
With leaded crystal its not uncommon to break three or four
glasses before you get the power settings correct, Fruciano warns,
because optic crystal (a superior optical lead-free crystal) is
actually a harder material, so it usually does not present any unique
laser engraving problems.
Fruciano says one question that usually arises when it comes to laser
engraving glass is color filling. (With sandblasting you can etch deeply
enough to use traditional color filling options, such as paint.) Currently,
there arent any viable options that provide both an attractive look
and durability, but that could change in the near future. There
are some new products that will allow some basic primary colors to be
fused onto glass using a CO2 laser, Fruciano says. Right now,
you can do this with a YAG laser and the difference is the YAG laser beam
shoots directly through the glass.
There is a new stencil-making technique that has emerged as the popularity
of lasers has grown. In a sense, it combines the ease of laser engraving
with the look of sandblasting. The process involves applying a masking
material to the glass blank, using the laser to cut through the masking
material to create the stencil, and then switching over to your sandblasting
machine to etch the image.
We have customers that do both direct lasering on glass and laser-assisted
sandcarving. It depends on the look that youre trying to achieve,
Laser-assisted sandcarving has been around the industry for a few years,
but until recently there were some definite technological drawbacks to
the process. The materials were difficult to work with because they were
made of PVC, they were not flexible, were difficult to remove and they
simply didnt engrave well.
A lot of the materials available for traditional sandblasting were
not laser-friendly, Fruciano explains. One reason is that
these materials were primarily PVC-based and this is hazardous when laser
engraved. Plus, engravers cite the drawback that the material was extremely
sticky, making the mask difficult to remove and really only well-suited
for flat items because of its inflexibility.
Much of that, however, has changed. This method has become more
popular because the mask materials have gotten better, Fruciano
says. The solution has been the introduction of polyester (non-PVC)
based masking materials.
Rayzist Photomask has introduced LazerMask sandcarving film for this purpose,
a water based, PVC-Free film that, according to the company, promotes
fast burn times and easy clean-up. Polyester mask products contain
PVC which emit harmful gases and will eventually corrode the lasers
hardware, says April Mitchell. Because of this, leading laser
manufacturers such as Epilog and Universal Laser Systems have endorsed
our LazerMask sandcarving film because it doesnt contain PVC, is
easy to burn and peels off effortlessly.
PhotoBrasive has also introduced a new laser tape masking
material designed for the process of laser-assisted sandcarving. According
to the company, the masking material is very durable, so it withstands
the blast of abrasive; its more flexible than the previous PVC materials
and is easy to remove by soaking the piece in water for a few minutes.
New innovations like these have helped laser-assisted sandcarving become
a more viable glass and crystal marking method. When we fast-forward
to today, especially for medium to low production, theres no reason
why people cant be doing laser-assisted sandcarving. Its very
easy, says Fruciano.
Advantages of the process include the fact that you can use the precision
of your laser to create intricate, detailed resists for sandcarving, including
halftone images, and it eliminates the additional labor, time and costs
associated with making photo stencils. Plus, you can achieve the look
of sandblasting without investing in photo film positive-making equipmentthe
quality should be every bit as good as that of a photo stencil.
By all accounts, laser-assisted sandcarving is best-suited for one-offs
or small runs. Whereas creating a sheet of photo stencils takes a minimum
of 20 minutes, you can create laser-assisted resists in just a couple
of minutes, depending on the design and the quantity. Lasered stencils
are best for low to medium production; for example, five of the same pieces,
says Fruciano. You can, for example, create a layout for five pieces in
CorelDRAW and laser the stencils quickly and easily. Thats
the beauty of it. You can turn the jobs around fast because the production
cycle is a lot less.
Eric Chen from Crystal by Design in Arcadia, CA, agrees I think
laser and sandblasting is the best combination for a small or medium shop.
For larger shops the photo resist is still the best method for mass production.
unique award features an optical crystal circle with a chrome star.
Photo courtesy of CIP Creation Corp., Garden Grove, CA.
Bramble is a glass handled cup that has been hand blown from Cobalt
Blue glass in Europe, using old world craftsmanship. Photo courtesy
of Toujours, Inc., Pico Rivera, CA.
Mechanical Glass Engraving
In addition to sandblasting, laser engraving and laser-assisted sandcarving,
personalizing glass and crystal with your computerized engraving machine
is also an option, and one that can produce beautiful results.
You can create a glass-engraving setup on your machine, but many machine
manufacturers offer glass engraving kits for certain models
that quickly and easily adapt to those machines. Typically, you need a
special, faceted diamond rotary cutter, a burnishing adaptor (that allows
the cutter to float over the glass rather than dig into it)
and a coolant system. Many manufacturers also offer special holding devices
for engraving glass items such as wine bottles.
Trends in Glass & Crystal Blanks
With several easy and affordable options for personalizing glass and crystal
now at our fingertips, suppliers of blanks have taken notice and introduced
more exciting items that you can customize. You can find everything from
freestanding plaques to jade colored globes to crystal sculptures that
can be personalized in-house with your marking equipment. Many of
our products are compatible with multiple personalization options,
says Doug Light, Toujours, Pico Rivera, CA., We are seeing many
more of our clients using laser engravers and have designed many pieces
for that field.
CIP Creation Corp., Garden Grove, CA, offers a complete line of crystal
blanks, including optic crystal, full lead and semi crystals. We
are probably best known for mixed media pieces with optic crystal and
metal, explains Chung-In Park. For example, one piece features an
optic crystal golf ball on an optic crystal base with a chrome-plated
A common theme running through the industry right now appears to be stars,
globes and golf. Our most popular pieces right now are star-related
pieces, golf-themed items and globes. Golf and star themes are probably
the best sellers that we have. A lot of people are getting into golf these
days, says Park. One of CIPs more unique lines is its abstract
golf figurines that look more like sculptured art than traditional awards.
Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, Inc., Montclair, CA, also says that their
most popular products right now include star awards, globe-themed awards
and golf awards, along with summit, tower and diamond shaped glass and
crystal blanks. We are also seeing a trend toward pieces with a
wider engraving area and more height, both of which increase the perceived
value of the award.
SCT Crystal, South El Monte, CA, carries a full line of optical crystal
blanks for the awards and engraving industry. Our optical crystal
awards with golf, globe and star motifs are very popular in the current
market, says Mark Zhu. But we still keep traditional awards
and trophies in our line because many customers still prefer these types
of awards. These customers like to use the same style each year for the
same event. But we also add many new items every year to satisfy changing
Toujours carries a variety of fine 24% lead crystal products as well as
many optic crystal pieces. Our golf awards are very popular, in
part because they are available in three sizes to accommodate the usual
1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers, says Light.
sit down decorative sandblast system is designed for use with a standard
office chair and comes from The Glastar Corporation, Chatsworth, CA.
holiday ornaments from Crystal by Design, Arcadia, CA, make a wonderful
personalized gift and are ready for lasering or sandcarving.
For the truly discriminating customer, there is always the option of having
a design created to custom specifications, something that many suppliers
in the industry do on a regular basis. Custom crystal and glass blanks
can be really dramatic, unique and interesting.
More and more customers need custom designs because theyre
looking for something unique and many prefer a larger space for the engraving,
says SCT Crystals Mark Zhu. Todays customers prefer
more cuts in the crystal surface which reflect into the body of the piece
to make the award look magnificent.
CIP receives requests from customers for custom projects on a regular
basis. I think people are trying to move away from the traditional
pieces, Park says. They are still needed and everybody uses
them, but people are looking for more interesting pieces. A few years
back, people didnt want to take chances with new designs but now
they do it and they actually want to go further with designs. They usually
ask for something really creative, something one-of-a-kind and then use
that for a year or so. One of CIPs most recent orders for
custom work was an award for a beverage company. It was a Coca-Cola
can with a splashing shape of crystal and a black crystal base. The hardest
part was coming up with the splashing shape. It was quite a difficult
project but it came out really nice. Its a one-of-a-kind piece.
Many times, Park explains, customers will derive ideas for custom designs
based on existing pieces. What they usually do is take one of our
items and then modify it so its a little bit of a variation. That
seems to be our trend. Lets say they take our Fantastic Golfer
and say, Well, can you make it taller here and maybe add a globe
there, and things like that.
Gazing Into the Crystal Ball
The future of the glass and crystal blank market looks strong. Suppliers
have already begun working on new lines for 2005 to keep in tune with
changing market trends. Heres a peek into that future:
A combination of crystal/glass and other shining materials, like
aluminum or chrome will be the trend for high-end awards and corporate
gifts, says Topmosts Diana Shih.
CIP focuses on new products each year to meet changing trends in the marketplace.
We do something new every year, says Park. We always
come up with new designs and we do expand our line. We are going to have
more stars, more globes and more golf. And well probably be adding
another media to our mixed media optic pieces next year. CIP is
well-known for its high-end unique designs, and thats something
the company plans to continue developing. Were trying to move
away from straight line cuts by adding more shape to our pieces. Not just
geometric pieces but more flowing lines; something thats softer
than the rigid crystal look, says Park.
According to Doug Light of Toujours, 2005 will see the addition of color.
Cobalt blue and ruby red vases and bowls will stand out next year,
he says. Toujours craftsmen are continuously designing new products
to stay ahead in our market. There are thousands of stock designs, carried
by hundreds of vendors; we must strive to bring fresh ideas to the marketplace.
As people search for new ideas, we will introduce products to fill their
requests, such as our new figurines that incorporate a glass plate that
can be sandcarved.
Crystal Award from Max Gift International, LLC, Tigard, OR, can be
lasered or sandcarved.
Awards, Celina, OH, offers optic crystal, lead free products that
can be sandcarved or lasered.
Selling glass and crystal awards and gifts, and making a profit, requires
some marketing ingenuity. Some of the best strategies involve offering
variety and uniqueness at a price that customers can afford.
Offer more designs, advises CIPs Park. If retailers
can engrave more creative artwork, that should give customers more options.
Also, try offering different services rather than just sandblasting, such
as multiple-depth sandblasting. It always helps to have options. Its
also important to keep the costs down. Sometimes I see etchers who charge
way too much. I know there are customers who will pay that but I think
its better to market to a wider range of people rather than to just
a few people who can pay high prices.
Many customers are looking for a higher level of customization. Instead
of just text, many retailers are really doing more artistic kinds of work.
Theyll take beautiful pen and ink drawings, sketches, things like
that, and convert them over into a mask that they can then sandblast.
One retailer, for example, is a portrait painter who uses her paintings
to create halftone sandcarving stencils so she can etch the images onto
Variety in terms of engravable material and designs is important
to satisfy end users diverse needs and preferences, says Diana
Shih, Topmost. Its important to feature unique designs for
shop displays to impress people so they remember the shop when they have
needs. Artwork design and sandblasting quality always play important roles
in making customers happy and encouraging them to come back again.
Doug Light at Toujours recommends having plenty of samples on hand. The
most successful of our clients have a well-stocked showroom. There is
no better sales tool than allowing the client to see and feel the product.
Looking For a Supplier
Finding just the right suppliers for glass and crystal blanks is vital
to every aspect of your business, from the design standpoint to the carving
to the marketing to the sale.
Reliability is really important, says Park (CIP). Make
sure your supplier has a good level of inventory and make sure that they
have creative designs and creative pieces. Its important to know
how the company functionsif its an honest company, if they
follow through on what they say they will do. You want a supplier thats
not just out there to make money.
Shih (Topmost) offers this advice: Retailers need a supplier who
keeps large quantities in stock and has a short turnaround time so they
can finish the engraving job on time. Especially for those fragile products,
they need a supplier who offers quality guarantees and prompt replacement
services. Finally, they need a supplier who keeps adding new designs to
the product line but also maintains existing items to supply repeat orders.
There are customers who are looking for something new; on the other hand,
many customers, especially corporate accounts, prefer to give the same
awards or gifts every year. If the supplier drops items very often, the
retailers will have problems fulfilling repeated orders and will lose
On-time delivery is paramount, says Doug Light (Toujours).
If the product isnt in retailers hands when promised,
they cant fulfill their promises to their customers. Ours is a business
where the product is often an award that is to be presented at a specific
date and time, usually an awards banquet. These banquets cannot be rescheduled
just because the vendor was tardy shipping your order.
Branching Out & Growing
Personalized glass and crystal blanks are one of the most popular award
and gift markets in the industry right now, and one that appears to be growing
and extending into different areas. The market is branching out to
more gifts and anything thats related to gifts. Some do use crystal
as home décor pieces. That seems to be creating a market on its own,
says Park, CIP.
Crystal award products continue to grow in the awards market,
says Zhu, SCT Crystal. Customers need good quality, good prices and
good service. I think the market is branching out beyond awards and gifts
and into the home decoration arena because crystal products are being designed
to be more lively and fancy. As a result, more and more people are collecting
Selling sandcarved products, whether you use traditional sandblasting, laser
engraving, laser-assisted sandcarving, mechanical engraving or a combination
of processes, can be a lucrative and profitable avenue for your business.
In many cases, the startup costs are low and the profit margins can be incredible.
And theres something about glass and crystal. Even though it doesnt
necessarily cost a lot more than other materials, people perceive it to
be the utmost in high quality and prestigiousness. Its that simple
Wow! factor that can make sandcarved glass and crystal a permanent
and profitable part of your business.