A Well-Equipped Shop in 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in October 2014, Volume 40, No. 4 of The Engravers Journal
Rotary engraving is popular for many different types of applications, including engraving metal and small gift items. The M40 Gift computerized engraving machine is available from Gravograph, Duluth, GA.

This heavy-duty beveling machine is available from
Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN.


   Way back in 2007, I wrote an article entitled “A Well-Equipped Shop” because I was constantly being asked by EJ readers about what type of equipment they needed to start or to expand an awards/engraving/personalization type of business. As this month’s feature is EJ’s Equipment Advisory, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to update the topic. Much has changed since then, especially in the world of printed personalized products. Some of what you will read here you might already have in your shop, but our industry has changed greatly over the years and it continues to evolve. Those who don’t keep up just might be left behind!
   When I entered the engraving world in late 1989, a trophy shop was just that—a place to buy trophies. An engraving shop was a place to have things engraved. Computerized engraving was new and the ability to actually digitize logos for engraving was limited to only a few shops across the country. Occasionally, one might find a trophy shop that did screen printing on sports apparel, but that was about as far as the diversification bug had migrated.
   Today, you can still find some shops that sell only trophies and awards, but most of these operate out of someone’s garage or basement. The big boys have learned where the big bucks are and it isn’t in trophies alone—it’s in diversification.
   Today’s well-equipped shop can’t possibly offer every service on the diversification tree, but they can pick and choose from a long list and offer those that seem right for their particular set of customers. As in 2007, I am still asked about what a well-equipped shop should look like, and here is the best answer I know.
FOR ENGRAVING
   Today’s well-equipped shop is going to focus around a laser engraving machine and probably a rotary engraver as well. Although rotary engraving faded from view for a while, it is making a strong comeback since there are still so many applications where this technology has undeniable advantages. While rotary engraving machines have taken a back seat to lasers and will continue to do so, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in a well-equipped shop. Shops that are buying rotary machines and that know how to use them are buying them for specific types of work, such as engraving on gold satin brass, deep engraving in metal for police and firefighter name badges, industrial work, engraving phenolic, ADA signage, engravable gifts and countless other applications.
   Rotary engravers, for those who might be interested, range in cost from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 or more, usually depending on the size of the machine. Rotary engraving machines are available from Gravograph, Duluth, GA; Newing-Hall, Inc., Haskins, OH; Roland DGA, Irvine, CA; U-MARQ USA Corp., New Milford, CT; Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, Phoenix, AZ; and Xenetech Global LLC, Baton Rouge, LA. For more information about rotary engraving equipment, be sure to check out EJ’s detailed “Rotary Engraving Buyer’s Guide” online on EJ’s website at www.engraversjournal.com.


Owning a metal shear like Accucutter’s (Carlisle, PA) Guillotine Shear Model 4001 is a virtual necessity for any work involving metal trophy or engraving plates. “Sticky Mats,” like Rowmark LLC’s (Findlay, OH) Fat-Mat, hold materials securely to the engraving table during the engraving process.

   Laser engraving machines typically range in price from about $8,000 to $25,000 for a CO2 laser like the ones we usually see in our industry. Relatively new to our industry and gaining in popularity are fiber lasers which do well marking uncoated metals (CO2 lasers will not directly mark uncoated metal). Fiber lasers cost around $28,000-$42,000. Major manufacturers of laser engraving machines include Epilog Laser, Golden, CO; GCC, Walnut, CA; Gravograph; Kern Laser Systems, Wadena, MN; Mecco Marking & Traceability, Cranberry Township, PA; Trotec Laser, Canton, MI; Universal Laser Systems, Scottsdale, AZ; and Xenetech Global LLC. Check out the all-new “2014 Laser Engraving Buyer’s Guide” on EJ’s website for more information about the laser engraving equipment available in this industry.
FOR ENGRAVING APPLICATIONS
   Rack Star: ($650-$800) A new gadget designed specifically for lasers is the Rack Star table system from Rowmark LLC, Findlay, OH. Instead of the traditional honeycomb grid cutting tables that we are used to using, this aluminum accessory table is designed to optimize cutting on any type of laser by utilizing a design that elevates the material on cone-shaped pins to almost eliminate the possibility of the laser beam reflecting back on the reverse side of whatever is being cut. The Rack Star is good for both production and shops that just do occasional cutting.
   The Rack Star is also great for use with holding jigs. Whether you make them yourself or buy them from Rowmark, these jigs make holding odd-shaped items such as wine glasses, pens, pencils, medallions, coins or a host of other things fast and easy. No more trials and endless testing to position something correctly.
   Chip Collection System: ($895-$925) There are a couple of variations of vacuum chip collection systems on the market for use with rotary engravers but they all do the same task— they remove the tiny plastic and metal chips generated when you rotary engrave. This protects the surface of the material from scratches and keeps the work area clean. Plastic chips are also a nuisance because they tend to adhere to the plate due to static electricity. I’d regard a chip collection system as a must for anyone who rotary engraves plastic. These are available from most companies that sell rotary engravers and also from a few independent suppliers.
   Sticky Mat: ($69-$239) These mats are made of a special material that is pliable, dimensionally accurate in thickness and is slightly tacky so it adheres to the engraving table and/or to items being engraved. It’s sort of like holding items down on your engraving table using double-faced adhesive tape except that the mat’s specially formulated adhesive coating allows an adhered part to be held down tightly enough to be engraved, but it also allows it to be easily removed. Best of all, unlike double-faced tape, the adhesive coating on the mat can be “rejuvenated” to like-new condition by simply cleaning it using running water, allowing one piece of mat to be last indefinitely. Sticky mats can be used for rotary or laser engraving and are sold under the names “Fat-Mat” (available from Rowmark and its distributors), “Tacky Mat III” (available from Quality One Engravers, Rancho Cucamonga, CA) or “Seklema Multi Mat” (available from distributors such as Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN).


Laser engraving is very popular in personalization shops. Shown here is the FiberMark Fusion fiber laser system from Epilog Laser, Golden, CO. Geo Knight’s (Brockton, MA) DK20S 16" x 20" Digital Swinger is an example of an industrial heat press used for sublimation.

FOR GENERAL FABRICATION
   Metal Shear: ($375-$4,000) For most shops doing any type of work involving metal trophy or engraving plates, a shear is a virtual necessity. If you have a shear you can create replacement plates in minutes for pennies by buying sheets of engravers brass or aluminum and cutting plates to size as you need them. Shears come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and no self-respecting shop should go without one.
   The light-duty shears are designed for cutting typical engraving and trophy aluminum and brass up to about 1/32" thickness and light steel up to .020". Most of these are benchtop models which can make a cut up to 12" wide.
   Personally, I highly recommend a guillotine style shear. Accucutter Company, Carlisle, PA, offers the Model 4001 Guillotine Shear in 7", 13" and 19" sizes that is highly accurate, square and allows a shop owner to meet most cutting needs without spending a fortune. Although these are a lot more expensive than light-duty shears, they can be worth the extra cost by allowing you to cut brass up to 1/16" thick and to achieve both higher production rates and better accuracy in the cut.
   For the high production shop, you might want to look at an industrial-type shear, which is often available as a foot-operated or pneumatic floor model with 36" cutting blades. Accucutter Company offers a 27" benchtop cutter for about $4,000 that is air-
operated and capable of most any cutting requirement. The light-duty shears are widely available from engraving machine and/or material distributors, and from specialty suppliers (see EJ’s R&I Directory for a list of suppliers at www.engraversjournal.com). Industrial-grade shears are available from machine and tool dealers, and a few industry-based suppliers.
   Plastic Shear: ($300-$4,000) Just about every advantage just mentioned about owning a metal cutting shear can be repeated verbatim about a plastic cutting shear. “What’s the difference between shearing metal and shearing plastic?” many newbies ask. If you look in supplier catalogs, the two shears look identical. The difference is in the blades. Cutting plastic with a shear requires special blades that are shaped differently than a metal cutting shear. You can cut plastic with a metal cutting blade, but you will probably get an unacceptably rough cut, whereas a plastic cutting shear will give you a nice smooth edge. You should never try cutting metal on a shear equipped with plastic cutting blades as that can ruin the blades in an instant.
   As with metal-cutting shears, shears for plastic are typically available in light-duty, inexpensive 12" models and larger, heavy-duty benchtop or floor models. Most shops go with a light-duty 12" shear and get by. Since engraving plastic is made in a 24" x 48" sheet size, these shops usually ask their supplier to cut it down to a workable size (12" x 24") and most suppliers will furnish cut-down sheets at no extra charge.
   Keep in mind, though, that shears have their limitations. They are great for cutting 1/16" flexible engraving stock, but they can’t cut thick plastics (1/8") or rigid materials such as acrylic or phenolic. If you want to cut all types and thicknesses of plastic, you should consider a saw.
   Circular Safety Saw: ($2,200-$4,500) A circular “safety” saw is a small benchtop saw that’s intended to cut engraving plastic and acrylic. It uses a circular blade which slides over a cutting bed with a total cutting capacity of about 24". These saws utilize a carbide tooth circular blade that will cut most types of plastic (including phenolic and acrylic) as well as aluminum and FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) up to about 1/4" thick. However, the unique feature of a safety saw is that the blade is completely enclosed, which makes it almost impossible for an operator to be injured while using it. An adjustable stop guide is included to help ensure straight cuts in addition to a vacuum hookup to deal with material chips created by the cutting process.
   You can buy a table saw at Sears for a lot less money and use it to cut all kinds of plastic, but a table saw is VERY DANGEROUS, very noisy and very dirty to operate, not to mention taking up a lot of space. That is what I like about a safety saw—it’s compact, lightweight, clean and safe! Sources include Johnson Plastics and Gravograph.

This MiniCraft drill is one of my favorite tools and I use it almost every day for something.

    Corner Rounders, Notchers & Punches: (prices vary) These are used for rounding the corners of a piece of plastic or metal (usually up to 1/16"), notching out a corner to add a decorative touch or punching holes for screws, nails, etc. There are several models on the market capable of doing this. Most have interchangeable dies that determine the shape or type of cut to be made. One machine called the 3-in-1 does not use a die as such but allows a variety of different combinations of a notched or rounded corner either with or without screw holes. The 3-in-1 Maxi-Press is available from Main Trophy Supply Co., Mt. Prospect, IL, and sells for about $315. The cost of other corner punches runs between $75-$215 for the base machine and about $95 each for the dies.
   Hand Hole Punch: ($117) One task that is common in an engraving shop is to punch or drill through two sheets of metal at the same time. This can be done with a traditional hand punch like those available from Johnson Plastics or mail order tool companies.
   Beveler: ($500-$2,000) A material beveler is what you need to do edge finishing on plastic plates. Edge finishes include (usually) a chamfer and sometimes a bevel or a “border cut.” Some units even contain a corner-rounding accessory. Typically these units utilize a motor and a rotating carbide cutter which produces a bevel or chamfer on the edge as you move the plate past the spinning cutter.
   Strip Heater for Plastic: ($35-$165) Intended for the bending of flexible engraving plastic, these thermal heaters/benders can also be used on acrylic and many other plastics. They are used for making A-frame “tent” signs, free-standing plastic signs and fold-over/slip-on badges. The idea is that you heat the plastic along a narrow line and then, once it has softened, bend it along the line and hold it in the bent position until it cools and re-solidifies.
   Strip heaters come in two configurations. One is an inexpensive roll of flexible electrical “heat tape” which heats up when you plug it into an outlet. The other is a fully self-contained “machine” which has a long, rigid heating element and may also have a gauge for positioning the plastic for proper heat positioning. The inexpensive heat tapes are okay for the home craftsman, but I prefer the professional strip heaters for engraving use, since we engravers are likely to be doing quantity orders where accuracy and repeatability are important.
   Mini Hand Drill: ($60-$125) One tool I have used for over 25 years is a MiniCraft drill. In fact, I am still using the same hand piece I bought 25 years ago! Originally, it was marketed by Black & Decker but when that faded, it became almost impossible to find. So difficult, I actually gained the ability to sell it myself just to ensure I could always get hold of what I needed. I continue to sell it on eBay and Amazon. This little tool is perfect for drilling pilot holes in wood for mounting metal plates. It is strong enough to make short work of drilling dozens or hundreds of holes for perpetual plaques, yet small enough that it doesn’t stress the user and it allows you to get right down close to your work. The tool is made in England and uses a separate power supply. The basic drill just plugs into the wall but a more expensive version allows for multiple devices and includes variable speeds.
FOR PRINTING APPLICATIONS
   Direct or 3D Printing on Hard Surfaces: ($20,000-$60,000) In 2007, I didn’t even mention this category since it was just too new and too far out of our genre, but that has changed in a big way. Direct Color Systems (DCS), Rocky Hill, CT, and other companies, in particular Mimaki USA, Suwannee, GA, have been pushing hard at trade shows and have had incredible success introducing this technology to our industry. Rowmark and IPI, Algonquin, IL, both offer specific lines of plastics made just for these systems. IPI also offers a line of metal for direct print.
   The process allows you to use a digital inkjet printer to print directly on many different materials, including glass, ceramic, wood, metal, plastic, vinyl, etc., without the limitation of requiring a specially-coated material surface. There are many applications for these machines, but one that is particularly exciting is the 3D aspect. Unlike the 3D printers that can make prototypes and guns, this is a 3D effect that is accomplished by laying down multiple passes of ink while drying each with UV light. The result is a raised image suitable for making ADA signage or tactile graphics. These printers also can print on a great many surfaces, such as golf balls, phone covers, promotional products of all kinds, metal for plaques and a wide variety of plastics, foils and films. A full review of one of these printers, the Direct Color Systems UV LED Flatbed printer, was published in the Sept. 2014 issue of EJ. An article about the process in general (“Digital Inkjet Printing: What’s All the Fuss?”) appeared in the July 2014 issue.
   Direct-to-Garment Printing: ($10,000-$20,000) In the January 2007 issue of EJ, I wrote the feature article, which offered an evaluation of the entirely new process referred to as “direct print.” This was also covered in the article in the July 2014 issue just mentioned. This awesome new technology utilizes inkjet printers to directly print full-color high-resolution images in up to eight ink colors plus white ink for use on soft goods such as T-shirts. This is not sublimation or screen printing—you’re printing directly onto the garment using an opaque ink. The artwork is designed on your computer and sent directly to the printer. The advantages of this technology are that it allows full-color application, it is fast, the ink dries almost instantly and it allows imprinting photographs and other types of personalization just as sublimation does, but it can print on many different fabrics, including 100% cotton.

Digital inkjet printing is a relatively new process to this industry that is increasing in popularity. This UV LED flatbed printer is available from Direct Color Systems, Rocky Hill, CT.


    Digital Badge Printers: ($700-$3,000) There are a couple of systems designed specifically to print name badges, luggage tags and other small plates in full-color. These are especially nice for companies that do a lot of badges for hospitals, schools and government agencies. The beauty of these badges is that they can include full-color photographs, logos, bar codes and even a magnetic stripe on the back to contain data much like a credit card. The materials used by these systems are typically referred to as “print receptive” and include plastic and metal. Because these are actually a form of sublimation, the print goes on a white or light colored material such as gold, silver or beige. Full- color backgrounds are actually printed onto a white badge. Some materials printed with these machines can also be engraved at a later date, thus allowing you to print color logos on name badges and engrave the names as needed. Direct Color Systems is one manufacturer of these printers.
   Wide Format Printers: ($3,000-$20,000+) Wide format printers come in a huge array of sizes, styles and price ranges. Wide format is generally considered to be anything 24" or wider, but if you are going to bring one of these printers into your business and build a business around one, “the bigger, the better” rule applies. Printers up to 96" are common but probably the average is about the size of an Epson 9890 which is 44" wide for about $5,000. This size combines good price with a reasonable footprint and the ability to print just about anything a customer might want up to 48" wide by 100' long on paper, vinyl or other flexible materials. Many of these printers can not only print paper but banner material as well, making the use of a vinyl cutter for making banners obsolete. The really, really large flatbed printers cost upwards of $100,000 but they can print on rigid materials as well, some up to 6" thick. A couple of major suppliers such as Ability Plastics, Justice, IL, and Accent Signage, Minneapolis, MN, utilize wide format printers in-house to create custom products for the trade. Manufacturers include Epson, Mimaki and GCC.
   Vinyl Cutting Machines: ($300-$3,000) After reading the previous paragraph, one might think that vinyl cutters are useless and obsolete, but that isn’t true. Although larger companies have switched to full-color printing for banners and magnetic signs, there are still a lot of applications for vinyl cutters. Magnetic car signs are still a viable product and vinyl on wood and metal signs, glass windows, automobiles and a host of other substrates that can’t be fed through a full-color printer continue to make vinyl cutters a necessary tool. I’m told that most people tend to go for 18"-24" wide cutters which range between $1,200 and $2,500.
   There are two basic types of cutters, tractor fed which use rolls of material punched with sprockets to move the vinyl back and forth versus friction-fed machines which use rubber wheels to move the material. People debate which is best and both have advantages, but I prefer the friction-fed since I can utilize pieces of vinyl that don’t have sprocket holes. One very popular feature is the ability for the cutter to find registration marks on its own. Note, too, that today there are hybrid printers available that offer both print and cut capabilities.
FOR SANDBLASTING
   Sandblasting Machines: Blasting cabinets can range from a few hundred dollars for a tabletop model to $5,000 for a professional model. There are two basic types of blasting units, a gravity fed version and one with a “pressure pot.” The pressure pot version is more consistent and considered superior but both will get the job done. A desktop blasting cabinet can cost as little as $500. A self-standing, professional pot system starts at around $2,700.
   Sandblasting (Sandcarving) Photo Stencil Unit: The most common method for making a single-use sandblasting stencil in today’s market requires a UV exposure unit and special film that will end up being the stencil. The exposure units can run as little as $300 for a desktop unit for the occasional user to several thousand for a professional unit. The process requires the user to design the job with computer graphics software and then print it on translucent vellum paper. This can be done using either a laser or inkjet printer. The vellum is then placed over the stencil material and exposed to UV light. The black ink on the vellum blocks out the UV light resulting in an exposed stencil. After a brief wash-out with water the stencil is ready to go.
   The stencil material comes in several thicknesses to accommodate high detail work or heavy, deep blasting such as that typically done on leaded crystal. Note that if you’re getting into sandcarving and you already have a laser engraver, you can use your laser to create stencils using a special laserable film made for that purpose. Companies such as Rayzist Photomask, Vista, CA, and IKONICS Imaging, Duluth, MN, sell both sandblasting equipment and stencil making systems.
   Washout Machine: ($3,000-$16,000) This is something new and although it is probably still reserved for those involved in high production, it is really cool. This machine takes the exposed films used for sandblasting and automatically processes them out for you! By turning the exposed film on a drum while spraying it with water, it can wash out a piece of film in a few minutes while you do something else. Best of all, the water is confined to a very small space (it’s supposed to stay inside the cabinet and most of it does but I wouldn’t set it on carpet or someplace where you couldn’t mop up the overspray). A little pricey for the beginner, this is definitely something any sandcarver will want to add to his production line as soon as possible. Both of the major suppliers of sandblasting equipment in our industry, Rayzist Photomask and IKONICS Imaging, produce this type of device.


This table shear from B.F. Plastics, Inc., North Lawrence, OH, can quickly and cleanly cut either plastic or metal. The Rack Star from Rowmark LLC is a new cutting table system designed for laser engraving.

    Air Compressor: ($200-$1,000) Air compressors can have a myriad of uses in a well-equipped engraving shop, from operating the spindle on some rotary engraving systems to powering the “air assist” on your laser to sandblasting glassware. A fairly large compressor is required to provide the compressed air needed for a high air-volume application such as sandblasting, and the amount of air needed will determine the investment needed. The occasional user can get by with a $300 compressor with a five-gallon reserve tank from Sears or Home Depot. A heavy user will want to do more research and invest in a $1,000 unit with a larger reserve tank. Compressors are usually available locally from hardware, home centers and other retailers.
FOR RUBBER STAMPS
    Rubber stamps can be made in two basic ways: With a laser engraver or with a stand-alone machine.
    Stamps with a Laser Engraver: Most CO2 lasers come with software capable of making rubber stamps. The laser method involves lasering away the rubber so as to create a rubber stamp die with raised, reverse-reading letters. This means the only things needed are the rubber stamp material (sold in 8" x 10" sheets for about $10 each) and the stamp mounts. Mounts can be traditional knob stamps, self-inkers or pre-inked stamp mounts. A stamp supply company such as Jackson Marking Products, Mt. Vernon, IL, who caters to stamp makers can provide all the materials you need.
    Stand-Alone Stamp Making System: There are several different types of stand-alone systems. The most advanced are units utilizing “flash” technology, which create a die from a special light-sensitive material that is “flashed” with a split second burst of UV light. Just put a positive image made with your computer and basic printer along with a stamp blank into the exposure unit and press a button. Attach the exposed rubber pad to a stamp mount and add a couple drops of ink and you have a finished stamp. Exposure units start at about $1,000 and finished stamps cost about $3.00 each to make.
    One of the neatest units on the market, at least for the low volume stamp maker, is a product called the Brother Stampcreator PRO, which is available from suppliers such as Jackson Marking Products. This compact unit sits on a desktop and is fully self-contained. You create the stamp die layout on your computer, press the button and in five minutes or less, you have a completed pre-inked die ready for mounting and delivery to the customer. The unit costs less than $1,000.
FOR SUBLIMATION
    Since you already have a computer and graphics software, all you need for doing sublimation is a printer, ink and a heat press. It is an inexpensive personalization profit center for both a new business and an existing one.
    Sublimation Printer: Sublimation demands a dedicated printer. There are three basic forms of sublimation currently being used in our industry: Single-color laser, full-color laser and inkjet. In my opinion, laser sublimation has very specific applications such as printing on gold or silver metal. Inkjet sublimation is by far the most popular and most versatile, and the method I generally recommend. Current printers I recommend for inkjet sublimation include the Ricoh SG3110DN or the SG7100DN. These printers are almost clog-proof and the SG7100DN can print on paper sizes up to 13" x 19" with an adapter. System prices range from under $600 with ink for the SG3110DN to $2,000 for the SG7100DN with ink and the adapter. For wider format sublimation, common printers include the Epson line of sublimation printers ranging from 24" to 96". These all use SubliJet inks made by Sawgrass Technologies, Mount Pleasant, SC.
    Heat Press: The basic heat press used for sublimation is the flat press. There are several brands and many sizes and styles. The most common styles are the swing-away and the clam shell. Swing-away presses are recommended but they are more expensive and very heavy. A good swing-away press will start at about $1,400 but it will allow the user to print almost anything on the market except cups and hats. Clam shell presses are commonly used for marking only thin items such as fabric, thin metal plates and FR plastic items. Heat presses are available from a variety of sublimation and material supply distributors.


A vacuum chip removal system is essential for keeping the work area clean. Photo courtesy of Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, Phoenix, AZ. This corner shear from B.F. Plastics, Inc. is designed for rounding, scalloping, slotting and piercing corners in metal and plastic engraving materials.

    Cup Heat Presses: Today, many sublimators use mug wraps and an oven to sublimate cups, but cup presses are still popular. These presses are for sublimating cups and steins. These specialized presses start at about $800 and can only print one cup at a time. The process takes 3.5 to 5.5 minutes each. Like flat heat presses, these are available from a variety of sublimation and material supply distributors.
    Mug Wraps: ($20-$40) Mug wrap is a generic name given to a rubber pad that clamps around a cup, mug, stein, dog dish or various glassware to hold the transfer tight against the substrate during printing. The product is then placed in a conventional oven or countertop oven for roughly 20 minutes. The advantages include low cost and the ability to make as many products as the oven will hold at one time.
    Heat gloves: While working on a big sublimation job, I suddenly realized how much I depend on my heat-resistant glove. My favorite style came from True Value hardware and was sold in the grill accessories department. Since then, they have begun offering “Ove” Gloves. They sell for about $24 each and are available for either your left or right hand. I only use one at a time. Another glove that is excellent and available from Amazon is the Gulife glove. Sold in pairs, these gloves protect your hands at temperatures up to 662°F ($21.95) or 932°F ($35.17).
    Digital Pyrometer & Surface Probe Kit: ($90) Determining accurate temperatures for heat presses has been illusive for most of the years I have done sublimation. We had to depend on the accuracy of the heat press and hope the setting didn’t vary over time and use. That is no longer true. Now I use a device called a pyrometer which is essentially a type of thermometer used to measure high temperatures. I don’t know how a serious sublimator can get along without it—especially if you have more than one heat press. Trying to work with multiple presses that don’t hold the same temperature is a nightmare. By checking the temperature of your heat press(es) on a regular basis, you can always be sure the times you use for sublimating various products will remain consistent. If nothing else, it is worth the price just to eliminate the frustration that comes with a heat press not heating properly. The digital device has a probe that you press against the heating platen of the press. This gives a much more accurate reading of the temperature of the press than any other method I know of.
OTHER PROCESSES
    Heat Transfer to Garments: ($2,000-$10,000) Another area not discussed in the 2007 article is heat transfer to garments. This was omitted because I hated the results so much, I swore off of it for years. Things have changed, however, and heat transfer is back in a good way. There are a number of ways to obtain heat transfers for your customers. For one, suppliers are willing to make transfers for you at a very reasonable price. Minimum quantities vary by company but they are generally low. Transfers can be one or multiple colors, are easy to apply and keep the “hand” of the fabric fairly soft. The downside of this is, of course, you must order at least 25 pieces alike or more and there can’t be any personalization, full-color (process color) is usually not available and you have to wait for the company to make the transfers and ship them to you.


The 3-in-1 Maxi-Press from Main Trophy Supply Company, Mt. Prospect, IL, is a one-step punching, notching and rounding press.


    To have the ability to personalize your transfers and make them on-demand, you will need to buy your own printer and special paper. In recent years, Condé Systems, Mobile, AL, has brought several products to the market that I really like. They have a full line of transfer paper, each of which is designed for specific applications. These papers can be used in standard non-oil and/or oil color laser printers and color laser copiers, or desktop inkjet printers. Some of these papers are designed for printing bitmap and photographic images, printing white graphics on dark materials and for printing on different types of fabric. Making heat transfers this way is very inexpensive and you can print “one up,” meaning you can print on demand and personalize them as well. Condé Systems also recently introduced an LED color laser printer specifically built for transfer paper imaging which will accept 11" x 17" paper and costs around $2,000.
    Hot Stamping: ($1,400-$10,000+) All kinds and sizes of hot stamping machines are available for use on all kinds of materials. Basically, it is a process whereby colored foil is pressed onto a substrate using heat and pressure. It is commonly used to print award ribbons and sashes but can also be used to imprint everything from matchbook covers to corporate (logo) name badges to promotional products like key tags and pens. It used to be commonly used for imprinting logos on name badges, and still is, but today sublimation and direct print have become more popular for this application. The question to be considered when thinking about hot stamping is twofold: One, can you obtain blank products at a lower cost than you can farm out the jobs and two, how do you obtain the die needed for imprinting. Some machines are digital so they are computer driven, so there is no die issue but they are expensive. For a small, inexpensive system, check out those available from Jackson Marking Products.
    Pad Printers: ($3,200-$10,000+) Like hot stamping equipment, pad printers come in all sizes and price ranges but they aren’t commonly used as an in-house service in our industry because it is usually more economical to farm out pad printed orders. Still, some really nice pad printers are available for those who have a good market for this process. Commonly used to print everything from pens to coffee cups, these are usually single-color and capable of imprinting items that have some curvature to them, although they cannot print around the circumference of a cylindrical object. They usually use a soft rubber pad that looks like half of a smooth rubber ball. Like hot stamping, the issues are finding reasonably priced sources for products and making the stencils needed.
CONCLUSION
    The problem I had when I was writing this article was not in a shortage of equipment to include, but rather it was the difficult choice about what to include here vs. what to leave out due to limitations of space. My original draft of this article included a number of other items that many shops would find highly useful, including a power miter saw for cutting trophy columns, sports ball printing machines, button badge presses, screen printing equipment and some useful hand tools. Today’s well-equipped shop can have all of these things and more. This 2014 Equipment Advisory contains a sampling of what’s available—be sure to check it out.


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