Stock vs. Custom Acrylic Awards

Copyright © 2009 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in July 2009, Volume 35, No. 1 of The Engravers Journal

    Award dealers have a lot of options when it comes to offering products to their customers. A youth sports league might choose a traditional trophy with a figure and a base, while a high-profile corporate client might be more likely to select a crystal art sculpture for its top achievers. There is one type of award, however, that can fill both of those needs and everything in between: acrylic awards.
    Acrylic awards have become an industry mainstay and suppliers and retailers say their popularity seems only to be growing. Acrylic, as a material, is easy to fabricate, allowing manufacturers to create everything from stock stand-alone plaques to custom high-end works of art. New technologies have led to many new products and, in fact, we continue to see more every year. Today, there are new colors, base materials and color printing technologies that make the range of acrylic product possibilities nearly limitless.
    As an award dealer offering acrylic awards, you have many options. For example, there’s a huge selection of beautiful stock pieces to choose from—just take a look at some supplier websites (see sidebar on page 14). Even better, you also have the option of offering your customers semi-custom or custom awards designed specifically for their applications while staying within their budgets (see sidebar on page 12).
    This article will take you on a tour into the world of acrylic awards, first by offering a glimpse of what’s available, from the most basic stock designs on up to acrylic awards that are truly custom-made especially for a particular customer. We will also discuss the steps involved in providing custom and semi-custom awards to customers as well as answer some frequently asked questions that dealers may have when it comes to making or selling acrylic awards.
Stock Acrylic Awards
    What are their benefits? Among the chief benefits of stock awards are time, cost and variety. From an award dealer’s perspective, stock acrylic awards are an ideal option, especially when time is an issue. How many times has one of your customers said, “Oh by the way, I need that order in two days.” In most cases, stock awards are immediately available from manufacturers when time is tight. “Same-day or next-day shipments are required from manufacturers in this industry so dealers don’t have to carry deep stock,” says Jim O’Neill, Vice President of Pacesetter Awards, Chicago, IL.
    In today’s rocky economic climate, the words on the tip of everyone’s tongue are, “How much does it cost?” Stock acrylic awards are available in a variety of price points and are typically less expensive than custom pieces. Many manufacturers such as JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, publish quantity discounts and will provide further discounts for very large quantities, so it pays to ask for a special quote when placing a large order. Keep in mind, too, that getting a good price doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice variety. Suppliers offer many different designs and sizes of stock awards, and many stock designs also have the option of being semi-customized at a reasonable cost.
    “There really are no drawbacks to selling stock acrylic awards. You can impress your customers with quick turnaround times and beautiful awards at an affordable price,” says Mike May, Marketing Director, JDS Industries.

  Custom shaped acrylic award from Acrylic Idea Factory.  

    What’s new in stock acrylics?
    Manufacturers regularly update their selection of stock products by adding new sizes, designs, colors and graphics on a regular basis. Pacesetter Awards, for example, continually adds more versions of its Star Lucite Awards, an identity line for the company featuring star shapes and/or graphics that are suitable for a wide variety of applications. The company’s latest addition is the “Vapor” acrylics line. These awards feature a textured, colored background that creates a “glowing” effect when laser engraved.
    JDS Industries also has introduced several new lines of acrylic awards this year including the Luminary Star Acrylic, a star-shaped piece that features contoured bevels and is available in different color combinations, including black/gold, black/clear, black/blue, clear/blue and clear/gold. Also new for 2009 is Impress Acrylic, a 1" thick acrylic plaque with a mirrored base. The base features a recessed area that allows you to attach the blank straight and square with clear adhesive. JDS also introduced Roman Column awards which feature “Roman Column” style resin bases, and Marquis Acrylic, a stand-alone plaque available in three different colors.
    Acrylic Idea Factory, Norcross, GA, has recently introduced a (patent pending) product known as EasySTIQ. According to the company, EasySTIQ acrylic awards do not require glue, solvents, snap mechanisms or magnets to assemble. Instead, you simply “peel and stick” to create a strong bond between the plaque and the base.
    What’s popular in stock acrylic awards? Color remains a hot trend in acrylic awards today, particularly blues and blacks. The new Magna-crylic awards from R.S. Owens & Company, Chicago, IL, are available in brilliant cobalt blue and ebony black and feature acrylic front panels with multiple imprint areas and magnetic attachments. The company’s cobalt acrylic plaques have scalloped, bright blue framing with a solid black center which creates crisp, white lettering when laser engraved. Larry Maloney, Vice President of Marketing & Sales for R.S. Owens, says that the company has also lowered prices for these acrylics, which make them attractive to many different customers.
    Combining acrylic with other materials is another popular trend today. Maloney says that some of the most popular stock acrylic awards for R.S. Owens are those with satin-finish metal bases. The metal adds weight to the award, which most customers associate with high value. The metal base also is available in different finishes including gold, silver and bronze, which can be used to represent different tiers of award levels such as first, second and third place.
    What are the major markets for stock acrylic awards? In addition to the huge selection of stock acrylic awards available, there also are enormous sales opportunities for these products. They can be used for simple, one-time awards such as retirements or other special occasions, and because there are so many different sizes and designs available they fit equally well into multi-tier award programs.
    The wide selection makes stock awards well-suited for many different end user markets including academics, sports, financial services, telecommunications, real estate, nonprofit organizations and hotels. They’re also very popular among corporate clients.
    “You would think that acrylic awards would mostly appeal to low-end markets, but the wide variety of acrylic awards at different sizes and price points make this a widely used product for corporate award sales,” says Maloney.
Custom Acrylic Awards
    What are the benefits of custom acrylic awards? As we just mentioned, stock awards are suitable for many different types of customers and applications, but there are times when a customer may want something a little different or more unique. That’s when custom or semi-custom acrylic awards may be a better choice.
    From an award dealer’s perspective, selling custom acrylic awards has some huge benefits. Custom awards can be an effective method for differentiating yourself from other award dealers, which oftentimes leads to repeat business.
    “The award dealer now has a relationship with the client based on collaboration. The next year or period for this award, the order will be coming to YOU,” says Pacesetter’s O’Neill. Custom awards also get you noticed as a creative solutions provider. You will get more business because you have proven that you can get beyond the ordinary.”


Stock acrylic awards are widely used by corporate clients due to the wide variety of sizes and price points available. Photo courtesy of Pacesetter Awards Company, Chicago, IL.   Color, especially blue, continues to be a hot trend in acrylic awards in 2009. Photos courtesy of Marco Awards, Group, South Windsor, CT.

    Maloney concurs. “We compare custom awards to an annuity because they are business that repeats year after year. Usually custom awards are designed to include something very personal and unique to the end user, perhaps a cut-to-shape corporate logo or color. They are very special to the recipients, perhaps annually awarded and placed side by side, year after year. A customer ordering a stock plaque may switch to a figure the next year and an acrylic desk award the year after that, but a custom award is almost sure to be repeated.”
    Maloney said they had a situation recently where an automotive purchaser wanted to cancel an annual custom award program. However, the auto dealerships reacted so negatively that the program was reinstated. “How’s that for the power of custom awards?”
    Custom awards can help lock in a customer since the actual award design is so unique to them. Plus, in many cases, a dealer can realize higher
profit margins on custom awards.
    What’s available in custom and semi-custom acrylic awards? All of the major acrylic award suppliers are well-versed in dealing with custom and semi-custom awards on a daily basis. Custom awards are one-of-a-kind designs created completely to the customer’s specifications. A semi-custom award is customized by changing or combining aspects of existing award designs such as different colors and bases.
    The ease of working with acrylic and new color printing technologies makes creating custom or semi-custom acrylic awards a straightforward process. For example, earlier this year R.S. Owens introduced Acrylicolor, a new technology that prints full-color images edge to edge on the back of a stock or custom acrylic shape.
    “This has been hugely popular for customers with corporate accounts, in part because by definition each piece is custom as the artwork defines the product,” explains Maloney. “We also have frequent requests for custom shaped Acrylicolor awards. For example, we met a customer at a show who was looking for a custom award for KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and we created a virtual showing a custom shape of the KFC bucket with full-color logos and copy.”



Custom shaped acrylic awards are very popular with corporate clients. Photos courtesy of R.S. Owens, Chicago, IL.  

    Many acrylic awards can also be semi-customized by substituting bases or colors on a stock acrylic award. R.S. Owens frequently creates semi-customized awards by using the same piece of stock acrylic with metal bases in different finishes. “This enables the dealer who wants to do his or her own imprinting to buy customized bases from us, say the same base finished in gold, silver and bronze, and do their own imprinting and assembly,” says Maloney.
    Pacesetter Awards also creates semi-customized awards by combining different colors and materials, such as aluminum, glass and brass, to create a unique variation. “An extremely popular service is our ability to make most of our stand-alone acrylic awards in additional colors to our stock ones. For example, corporate logo colors can be incorporated into the acrylic,” explains O’Neill. “We also offer Digi-Print and screen printed versions of our acrylic awards so that full corporate colors may add to the vibrancy of the award.”
    What is the first step in creating a custom award? The first step in creating a custom or semi-custom award is to define the details of the award program, including budget, theme, time frame and quantity of awards. “We always ask these questions up front because there is nothing more frustrating than coming up with a custom design for a retailer who then presents it to an end user only to find out afterwards that the end product is too expensive or cannot be secured in time,” says R.S. Owens’ Maloney.
    Do manufacturers offer artwork design services? All of the major acrylic award suppliers do have artwork/design departments that will work with you based on the concept and budget considerations you and your customer are looking for. For truly custom award designs, suppliers generally prefer that you work with their in-house design departments because of their experience in working with the material and knowledge of the various costs involved.
    Pacesetter’s O’Neill points out that sometimes a business or organization will have their creative department design their own awards, but this isn’t always the best course of action. “This sometimes ends in somebody being disappointed because they had little idea of the cost of some substrates or the limitations involved in fabricating Lucite,” he says.
    Costs for artwork services can vary depending on the complexity of the project. In some cases, there may be no charge for initial design and artwork. Most manufacturers, however, do charge for artwork services once a concept has been decided upon. Fees for these services are typically based on an hourly rate and the resulting design is then subject to the customer’s approval.
    R.S. Owens, for instance, charges $100 per hour for its creative services fee which includes a virtual rendition of the design. “We find that including a virtual helps close a sale in nine out of ten instances, and charging a creative fee helps us separate requests that are serious from more casual inquiries,” explains Maloney. “When a customer cannot fund a creative services fee up front, we usually identify a stock award that meets their need.”
    Some suppliers will also provide a sample of a custom award for a price based on the setup fee which is refundable once the order is placed. In addition, some manufacturers, such as R.S. Owens, have standard industry overrun policies for custom awards, so frequently there are leftover awards that you can use as an actual sample. “This is useful for programs that are repeating year after year, and it is always a good thing for a dealer to have really cool custom awards on display in a showroom to show off their capabilities,” says Maloney.
    Since semi-custom awards usually involve less complicated, often two-dimensional artwork or adding custom colors or simple variations to existing stock designs, there are often little or no artwork requirements and samples are not usually needed.


Stock award from Acrylic Idea Factory.  

    Who engraves a custom acrylic award? Retailers have a choice when it comes to personalization. Some manufacturers encourage dealers to use their engraving services, particularly if the award is a unique shape or contour. In addition, if the manufacturer does the engraving, the award can be packaged in a presentation box without any retailer involvement. However, some retailers will prefer to do the engraving in-house, especially when it comes to semi-custom awards.
    How is the price of custom acrylic awards determined? Prices for custom awards will depend on a variety of factors, including the award type and the production method. The per-piece price might include screen charges, die charges, mold fees and/or setup fees.
    Costs will also depend on the quantity ordered. As with other types of custom products, the “first piece” rule applies to acrylic awards as well. At a certain quantity, the costs all converge so while it may cost $50 to produce the first piece, it may only cost $10 per piece after that. A designer at R.S. Owens compares manufacturing custom awards to baking cookies; it can be a challenge to produce just one award (or cookie) just right, but once you are up-and-running the batch usually comes out being consistent.
    What is the standard production time for custom acrylic awards? Most manufacturers prefer a turnaround time of about two weeks for custom orders, but many will also try to accommodate rush orders, sometimes with an added fee. “Rush services are available and at times necessary,” says Maloney. “That’s one of the great things about working with acrylic; because it can be easily formed, cut, shaped and polished, we usually can accommodate a rush request with a commensurate rush fee.”
    There are some processes that, no matter how much a customer is willing to pay for rush service, cannot be completed within a certain time frame, such as a hand-cast award requiring model development. “There are real-time activities that cannot be rushed,” he says.
    Acrylic awards have much to offer both the retailer making the sale and the customer receiving the end product. If a customer has an idea and there is no stock award that meets the criteria, then custom acrylic awards can be a viable and cost-effective option. On the other hand, if the effort and costs involved are not worth it for all parties, there are alternatives in stock and semi-custom awards. Take a look at what’s available in acrylic awards today and start educating your customers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.