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A New Spin on Wedding Favors

Copyright © 2017 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in July 2007, Volume 33, No. 1 of The Engravers Journal
Lasered and sublimated mini "flip-flops” underscore the couple’s
Hawaiian wedding theme.

   You never know where that next order will come from. One day when I had a few extra minutes, I made a courtesy phone call to the purchasing agent of a long-time customer just to say “Hello.” It was shortly after Christmas, and she began reminiscing about the “Santa on the beach” gifts that we sent to our valued customers. Then she mentioned that she was getting married in June and having a beach-themed wedding. The conversation quickly led to her asking if I could make wedding favors using this beach theme. Just like that our company, G.L.G. ART Custom Engraving, had a new client.
   This wasn’t just another order, however. We do mostly industrial engraving and sometimes having “art” in the company name can have a negative connotation for potential customers. On the other hand, sometimes retail customers pick us out of the phone book just because “art” is in the name. We often joke about this around the shop. When we’re faced with a challenging and creative project like the one mentioned above, we get an opportunity to wear our “art” hats.
   The bride-to-be mentioned she would like to incorporate flip-flops and Hawaiian sun dresses and shirts into the wedding favors and center pieces. We kicked around several possibilities and discussed using flip-flops in a variety of concepts, from engraving something on regular engraving stock to sublimating coasters. Terry, our new customer, wanted 175 favors, one for each person attending the reception, so we knew the favors must be reasonably priced.

Tabletop favors included these laser-cut miniature Hawaiian islands.

   I kept envisioning a pair of miniature flip-flops, so I sat down at a computer, opened CorelDRAW and sketched the outline of a flip-flop. The appropriate substrate for this idea was still eluding me, so I rummaged through our sublimation supplies and spotted a mouse pad. Now there’s a material that has some flip-flop potential. I quickly created a sublimation file of the drawing, printed it onto the mouse pad and used a pair of scissors to cut out the shape. I lasered a clear, three-pronged strap, attached it to the cutout shape and this became our prototype, which we sent for Terry’s approval.
   She was thrilled with the results and, after some discussion, we worked out the details of the project, established a price and the order was virtually solidified. The dictionary defines “virtual” as follows: being something in effect even if not in reality or not conforming to the generally accepted definition of the term. (Encarta® World English Dictionary© & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.) The order was virtual because in addition to the flip-flop favors, there were still fifteen centerpieces to be designed and priced and, of course, a written proposal and quote to be completed and signed by the customer. This did occur over the next few days and the order did become reality, which then led to the often repeated phrase, “How am I going to do this?”
   During our preliminary discussions, Terry said she wanted the flip-flops to be magnetic. I was disappointed with this decision because I had fallen in love with the texture on the underside of the mouse pad, which I thought simulated an actual flip-flop (Fig. 1). But believing the motto that the customer is always right, we included the magnets in the project. Now that all of the parameters were defined, we were ready to begin mass production of the job.

Figure 1: The realistic tread on the mouse pad bottom.

   The entire project was designed and produced using CorelDRAW. I wanted the flip-flops to be variegated in color and to have various color patterns so I used two rectangles, one at each end of the sketched outline, which I filled with different colors. The Blend command in CorelDRAW created a color variation across the area between the two rectangles. I then used the Power-clip command to place the color pattern inside the flip-flop shape and, lastly, added the couple’s names and wedding date to the design. After creating several different color combinations this way, we then produced the second flip-flop in the pair by mirroring the original image using the Mirror command in CorelDRAW. Once all the pairs of flip-flops were produced and filled with the various color combinations, we spaced out several pairs on the sublimation sheet over an area equal to one mouse pad and began printing (Fig. 2).
   Next, the individual flip-flops had to be cut from the mouse pad material. As mentioned, we hand-cut the prototype using sewing scissors. After manually cutting about three of these, however, it became painfully obvious that this wouldn’t be viable for mass production. We created a new flip-flop pattern by tracing the designs from the mouse pad and making each flip-flop .030" larger with the Contour command in CorelDRAW. We used the larger outline to cut the flip-flop shapes out of a 1/8" thick piece of Plexiglas. Placing the mouse pad under the Plexiglas template so that the flip-flop shapes on each material were aligned with one another, we then used a laser to vector cut the shapes from the mouse pad material (Fig. 3).



Figure 2: A mouse pad sublimated with flip-flops. Figure 3: A mouse pad under the Plexiglas laser cutting template. Figure 4: Using scissors to finish cutting the flip-flops.

   This is a bit messy and doesn’t work well if you try cutting completely through the mouse pad. For best results, we made two passes at 100 percent power and a speed of 3.2 percent using a 25-watt laser. This only cut about 80 percent into the mouse pad, but we easily cut the remaining 20 percent away using the sewing scissors (Fig. 4). Additionally, the holes for inserting the thong straps into the flip-flops were vector cut at the same time as the outline. These holes were also cut about 80 percent through the mouse pad material, creating a perfect location to place the ends of the straps.
   Creating the thong straps for the flip-flops presented a small challenge in itself. The first design was weak and had some sharp corners at the intersection of the three straps. We redesigned this with smoother transitions and tested the straps, made from 1/32" clear reverse matte Rowmark material, which proved to be flexible and reasonably strong. The redesign also included the addition of little arrowheads at each end of the strap (Fig. 5), which acted as a barb to secure the straps when pushed into the vector cut location holes. The redesign was successful.
   To finish off the flip-flops, we ordered some magnetic sheet stock with adhesive backing to place on the bottom. As mentioned, I was so in love with the simulated tread the mouse pad offered that I was disappointed with the idea of magnets covering this feature. Therefore, we scored the magnetic sheet in a criss-cross fashion using a low-power vector cut from the laser. The magnetic sheet was then turned over and the flip-flop shapes were vector cut (Fig. 6). Cutting sheet magnet with the laser is almost as messy as cutting the mouse pads, but it was necessary to ensure a clean cut and a matching outline. After peeling the protective tape from the adhesive side of the magnets and applying them to the bottom of the flip-flops, we poked the straps into their location holes and the wedding favors were complete (Fig. 7).


Figure 5: The flip-flop strap close-up. Figure 6: Vector cutting the magnetic sheet, tape side up. Figure 7: Finished flip-flops.

   Now it was time to focus on the centerpieces. Using the original “Santa-themed island” from our recent Christmas gift give-a-ways (Fig. 8), we created a slightly larger island and placed a palm tree on each end of the island. Then we placed a clothes line between the two trees and hung a Hawaiian shirt and sun dress from it. The final touch involved creating a sign that read “Gone Honeymooning,” which was placed in the ground below the clothes. The details for this prototype evolved from an imagination running wild while experimenting with different ideas in CorelDRAW.
   Most of the materials used for the centerpieces were the same as those used with the Christmas gifts. The water is made from 1/8" blue fluorescent acrylic and the sand is made from 1/16" textured plastic engraving stock. The palm tree trunks on the Santa island were sublimated and applied over white Plexiglas. This would not work for the centerpieces, however, because viewing would take place from both sides. We had to come up with another approach, which also involved making the trunks thicker and stronger.
   The solution was to use two 1/8" thick clear/dark brown reverse-engravable Rowmark acrylic pieces and solvent weld them together with the clear matte finish on the outside and the brown cap layer on the inside. This produced a trunk that appeared to be completely brown with the color showing through the clear matte surface. The edges were sharp from being vector cut, so after the two pieces were solvent welded together, we rounded the edges slightly using a course, rat-tailed file. We measured the thickness of the trunk using dial calipers to ensure a proper cut and fit into the island’s sand/water base.

Figure 8: The original Santa on the beach.

   The palm branches are made from the same 1/8" green mirror Plexiglas used for the Christmas gift, but cut slightly larger. The “Gone Honeymooning” sign is made from 1/16" white textured engraving stock. The two outside shapes were created using the Mirror command, however, the text on the sign was not mirrored. This would allow the pieces to be solvent welded back to back, making a sign that could be read from either side. This assembly was also measured for a snug fit into the island base.
   From the time we quoted this job, we knew we wanted to use sublimation to create the clothes, but we hadn’t worked out the details on just how to do that. Our bride-to-be gave us the website address where she and the groom had ordered their Hawaiian regalia. We were able to download a basic design for the shirt and sun dress and, using CorelDRAW, we created these images into useable sublimation files. We printed the images onto the sublimation sheets, cut them out and then pressed them onto a Soft L’Ink T-shirt (Fig. 9).
   My wife, Kathy, whose nickname is “Krafty” because of the time she spends working on crafts when not working at the shop, was consulted about the clothes. She’s a very good seamstress and has made many doll clothes as well as real clothes over the years. We considered the idea of sewing the front and back pieces together, but that idea was quickly abandoned. It was time to put the “Art” hat on again.

Figure 9: Hawaiian shirts sublimated onto and cut from Soft L’ink tee. Figure 10: First side of shirt being cut out after taping. Figure 11: Applying the front side to the back side using a light table.

   The shirt and sun dress images were identical front and back except for being mirror imaged. We decided to use two-faced tape to secure the front and back pieces together. I was initially concerned that the tape would make the clothes too stiff, but this proved to be unfounded as it provided just the right flimsiness to simulate clothes blowing in the breeze.
   When we tried to clothespin the prototype to the line, it was apparent that the top edge of the shirt and dress were prone to fraying. “Krafty” had once used a product called “Fray-check” (Dritz brand) and suggested we give it a try. Problem solved. We pressed 14 more sets of shirts and sun dresses onto the T-shirt, applied the two-faced tape to one side of each design and then cut them out using scissors (Fig. 10). We taped the other piece of each corresponding shirt or dress to a light table, which made it much easier to align the two pieces together (Fig. 11), before making our final cut. We used five different color combinations for the clothes using CorelDRAW’s “Color Replace” command.
   The final piece of the puzzle for this project was deciding how to attach the clothes to the line. We needed a miniature clothespin, so we sketched a quick design and laser cut it out using 1/8" Plexiglas. We refined the shape to make it look more realistic and made another cut, only to find the design was faulty for two reasons. Sharp corners caused stress points and the Plexiglas was too brittle, causing the prototypes to break easily. Switching gears, we tried using 1/8" clear reverse Rowmark sheet stock, which is stronger and much more flexible. The only drawback was the stickiness caused while laser cutting this material. That was easily solved, however, by washing the miniature clothespins in denatured alcohol after cutting them out of the sheet stock (Fig. 12).

Figure 12: Miniature clothespin. Figure 13: The finished centerpiece.

   All the puzzle pieces were now complete and ready to be assembled into the final product. The sand was taped to the water, the palm trees were pressed into the base and the line was strung between the trunks. The clothes were pinned to the line, the palm branches placed on top of the trunks and the “Gone Honeymooning” sign was secured to the base, completing the centerpiece item (Fig. 13).
   While this order was not as profitable as most of our production jobs, it was a fun “ART” project that served as a welcomed diversion from our day-to-day orders. The time schedule and patience of our customer, Terry, allowed us to work on this project when we could find time between our regularly scheduled tasks. As this progressed, it provided an opportunity to share our capabilities with other customers and, to our surprise, it sparked quite an interest in how the final products would appear. At times it seemed as though we were an “engraving shop turned into wedding favors” reality show, similar to Orange County Chopper or Extreme Home Makeover. As people came in and out of the shop throughout the winter months, they would see the various concepts unfolding and get caught up in this mini-drama series, including Alex the UPS man.
   If you’re like me, you likely get a great deal of satisfaction by helping fulfill your customers’ needs. Jobs like this one, however, that help a couple like Terry and Kevin launch their lives together, are especially fun and satisfying.