I love the holidays. I love to give gifts and especially gifts people don’t expect or gifts that bring tears of joy to their eyes for their sentimental value. Hot on my list (and my customers’ lists) are things that will be kept for generations as family heirlooms. Fortunately, we are in a business that lets us personalize a thousand things to fit that bill.
Among the first products that always come to mind are ornaments. Ornament blanks are available in all shapes in glass, metal or wood and can be lasered, UV printed or sublimated. To keep them from being limited to a Christmas ornament, add a suction cup with a hook and the glass ones can be used as a sun catcher all year round. Add a name and a personal message like “First Christmas,” “First Communion,” “First Christmas Together,” “First Grade,” “Graduate,” etc. Add the year and the piece becomes a perpetual reminder of that holiday season for years to follow.
Keeping the gifts small, let’s continue with a new series of products from Condé Systems, Inc., Mobile, AL. These sublimatable items are made from a polyester material that looks and feels like real linen—classy, elegant and functional. Included are coasters, placemats and tote bags. The placemats, coasters and tote bags are double-sided, so you can print a different image on each side. One might be a Christmas scene and the other something that can be used all year. I know first-hand how popular personalized tote bags are. My wife has one for everything she does—choir, social groups, sewing and piano, only to mention a few. Create one for whatever the recipient is involved in or perhaps one to hold emergency supplies for their car, gardening tools, books, home bills and checking accounts, swim or athletic wear, etc. They are all sure to be used and enjoyed.
Of course, there are many other types of coasters available. This includes other types of sublimatable coasters as well as coasters made from wood, marble, glass, acrylic, leather and cork. These are all extremely popular laserables. People love coasters and it’s something everyone uses both at home and in the office. Although they are usually sold in sets of four, they don’t have to be. Offer one for someone’s coffee cup at work. They make great gifts and stocking stuffers as well. Imprint a picture of the recipient’s pets or grandkids, shots from their last vacation, monograms or quotes from famous people, the Bible or other inspirational writings.
Personalized cutting boards are big this year—especially laser engraved wood cutting boards. Engrave anything that’s special to the person receiving the gift—their name, a slogan, Bible verse, quote from a famous person, etc. Cutting boards are available in plenty of interesting woods such as bamboo, cherry, walnut, maple and others. They are easy to laser or even engrave with a rotary engraver. These are the kinds of things that are not only used throughout a lifetime but handed down to the next generation as well.
Another hot item this year is any kind of wall décor, and we can offer a wide variety of options for people to choose from. For example, Condé Systems offers sublimatable “Shout Boxes.” These wall décor items include a nice wood frame with a piece of sublimatable hardboard that attaches to the front of the frame. They are inexpensive, easy to make and look at lot more expensive than they really are.
Other sublimatable wall décor includes all the Chromaluxe metal products and a wide variety of picture frames, including the wood frames you can stretch sublimatable canvas over. They are usually called “gallery wraps.”
Laser engravable picture frames are also available from most laser suppliers. These wood or metal frames always make a nice gift.
Drinkware is always appreciated—especially travel mugs. These are sometimes called by different names but anything with a lid on it qualifies. A new one on the market for sublimators has a steel interior but a polymer exterior. This new design from Condé Systems can be sublimated completely around the cup—from top to bottom and 360° around. There are currently two sizes available.
JDS Industries (Sioux Falls, SD), Condé, Johnson Plastics Plus (Burnsville, MN), LRi (Skokie, IL), Marco Awards Group and others offer just about any size, color and style of travel mug you could hope for. Even if you only engrave, sublimate or UV print a simple monogram, it will be a gift that is functional, unique and appreciated.
For laser engravers and UV-LED printers, JDS and Johnson Plastics offer a host of leatherette products (leatherette provides the look and feel of real leather but is much less expensive). Binders, business card holders, coasters, wall hangings, drinkware, flasks, gift sets, mousepads and dozens of other items are available in a host of interesting colors. JDS and others also offer a wide variety of gift sets for people who enjoy wine, BBQ or even games like chess and backgammon which can be laser engraved or printed with a UV printer. Some can even be sublimated.
Golfers are especially easy to accommodate if you have a UV-LED printer. Personalized golf balls are always a big hit. Let people supply their own golf balls or you can provide them. Either way, they make a great gift item with plenty of profit, plus there are few places where people can have it done. JDS offers a wooden golf ball box if you want to personalize the box rather than the golf balls (or you could do both!). There are also divot tools that can be engraved and for sublimators, there are golf towels and water bottles.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but one super-hot item every holiday season is socks (stockings). People, young and old, seem to go crazy over socks as gift items. I have watched my wife and others buy dozens of pairs of socks with images of medical, pet, sport and other designs woven into them at prices that take my breath away. Both Condé and Vapor Apparel (North Charleston, SC) offer lines of sublimatable socks that you can put anything the customer wants on and sell them for half what the shops in the airports charge and still make great money! The hard part with socks is helping the customer understand what you can do. “Yes, I can print the themes of any sport, profession, activity or anything else you want on a pair of high-quality socks or slippers.”
Keepsake boxes come in all sizes and several types of wood, and make great gifts that are functional, too. Some of these have sublimatable tiles in the top while others can be laser engraved. The Gavel Company (Lincoln-
wood, IL) has some beautiful boxes for lasering as do JDS and Johnson Plastics Plus. Sublimators can check out any of the sublimation suppliers as most carry sublimatable versions.
Oh, and Uncle Bill who always gets a new necktie? Why not give him one he will keep forever? Sublimate one with pictures of his kids, a special event, hobby or text that is special to him. It may be a necktie, but you will never hear him say, “It’s just an ordinary tie.”
A gift item I have sold a number of times that surprised me somewhat is sublimated pillowcases. Just a simple polyester pillowcase with several family photos on it makes for a big hit. Of course, you could also go sentimental and print sweet sayings and pictures of a true love so he or she is always close to their sweetheart, but whatever you put on them, they make interesting gifts.
Laser engraved ink pens, especially in wood cases, make wonderful gifts. I gave my wife one a few years ago that I had custom made from purpleheart wood which everyone asks about. Although I don’t know where you can buy purpleheart pens, there are lots of maple, walnut, bamboo, rosewood, metal and even leather covered pens readily available.
Flashlights are another easy-to-laser product that everyone can use. Even the kids love to play with them. Engrave a name on the side and an ordinary flashlight becomes something really special. There are lots of sources for these. Johnson Plastics Plus offers discounted Maglites in nice presentation cases for under $15. JDS offers a variety of flashlights that laser well and sell for under $2. Everyone should have one in their car, next to their bed, in their tool box, purse or pocket. These make great stocking stuffers for anyone in the family.
Most of what I engrave comes from our industry suppliers but sometimes, there are great products available elsewhere. Amazon.com is a treasure trove of ideas and products. Likewise, there are some neat products at your local Dollar Store (Dollar General, Dollar Tree, etc.). One is a huge glass beer stein that can be laser engraved or sandcarved. Another is a glass made like a football with an area on each side for engraving or sandcarving. Another item is a small glass canister set with cork stoppers. These can be personalized and used for all sorts of things and none cost more than $2. These items sometimes change from one week to another so stop by and check out what they have this week.
Don’t forget the pets. Around our house, they get gifts too and I’m sure that’s the case just about anywhere. A new food bowl sublimated with their name makes a gift even a pet will appreciate. A mat to go under food and water bowls helps mom and, of course, a new pet tag is always in order. Very recently, Epilog Laser’s (Golden, CO) online Sample Club released some new ideas that include lasering leather leashes (you can also purchase sublimatable ones), pet tags and fleece fabric to make pet coats and blankets—and just in time for winter. Epilog has even provided some nice graphics, all free of charge.
Finally, there is the traditional coffee cup. JDS offers several ceramic coffee cups that can be laser engraved and color filled, if desired. But probably more common in our industry, especially if you want full color, are sublimatable cups. Although once available in only one color and style, the range of designs has increased exponentially. What grandparent (or parent for that matter) wouldn’t treasure a coffee cup with pictures of their kids or grandkids on it? And the best part of this gift is the kids grow and change every year. I have clients who have a collection of cups with grandkids’ pictures from birth through their current ages. “Best Grandpa” or “Best Grandma” and a couple of pictures gives you a top seller.
The bottom line is just about anything in the suppliers’ catalogs are easy to personalize and make into a gift item. If you like to think outside the box, here are a couple more ideas you might think about:
The first is the 9-panel throw. It’s offered by several of the major sublimation suppliers. (I wrote an article about how to sublimate them which was published in the March 2018 issue.) These are great for a super special gift for a grandparent. Just obtain some pictures of their grandchildren and you have a winner. Throws sublimated with sentimental photos of loved ones who have passed make beautiful memorial gifts as well and will turn into an instant keepsake.
Here’s an “out there” idea that I borrowed from someone else. Consider hosting a “sublimation party” for adults, young adults or even children. Let everyone make a gift for their teacher if they are children, or a family member, sweetheart or friend. Here’s how it works:
Assemble a group of people—perhaps ten or more. It might be a church group, neighborhood kids, a class at school, a Sunday school class, a sports team, a class reunion or even a recovery group like AA. The possibilities are endless.
Once you have your group, distribute sublimation markers and a sheet of sublimation transfer paper to everyone. Using a pencil, trace a template of a glass or acrylic sublimatable product onto the paper. Now, let each participant draw and color whatever they want within the template. We use glass and acrylic because it doesn’t require a mirror image which, although possible, presents some logistical problems when drawing directly on the transfer paper.
When people have finished, use a heat press, perhaps a lightweight Geo Knight (Brockton, MA) JP14 which can easily be carried around and doesn’t draw too much current for the average home electrical system. Not only has the person made their own design but he or she can also actually print the product that was chosen—an ornament, key chain, bag tag, etc.
Charge whatever the market will bear for the experience and perhaps split the profit with a worthy cause or non-profit organization. The sublimation markers run about $35 per set of 10 and are available from multiple sources, including Condé, Johnson Plastics Plus and others. The markers can be used many, many times provided they are kept tightly closed when not being used.
When targeting the personalized holiday gift market, first and foremost get out of the mindset that holiday products are supposed to depict a Christmas or other holiday scene on them. Although Santa Claus and starry nights are fine if that is what people want, most will be looking for something that the recipient can use all year round and something they will really appreciate as being special, unique or even one-of-a-kind to them.
Most important of all, have fun with your customers in dreaming up all the creative things you can make for the special people in their lives. To make this easier, be sure to take pictures of all the different products you make and share them on a computer monitor, digital picture frame or photo album in your showroom.
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