If you are like me, you are always looking for that super special idea that will make you a lot of money with your laser. This article is about ideas—ideas about products that you can create with your laser engraving system and add to your bottom line. Nothing complicated, nothing too detailed, just lots of good ideas for making money.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a thief. That’s right, I’m a thief. Milton Berle, known as “Mr. Television” in the 1950s, was reported to have said that he would steal a joke from anyone and he lived by that motto. Well, I’ll steal (borrow is a kinder word) a good idea from anyone if it might make me some extra money with my engraving equipment.
Most of us probably do the majority of our work in traditional markets that involve engraving products like awards, signs, badges, nameplates, desk accessories, gifts, etc. But the beauty of laser engraving is its versatility and the nearly endless possibilities of items you can customize and/or make. I’ve heard of lasers being used for everything from creating architectural models to engraving logos on soap to cutting out gingerbread cookies. By delving into some of these unique projects, you could add a customer here and there or, even better, tap into an entirely new niche market! And wouldn’t that be nice for your bottom line?
This article is a compilation of projects I have created, found, borrowed or stolen that might spur some ideas and help make all of us a few extra bucks using our laser engraving equipment. I make no apologies for “borrowing” the ideas and fall back on the old adage about using someone else’s idea as the “highest form of a compliment.”
Although I have attempted to organize these projects into some kind of order, I found it to be something like herding cats. Some fall into multiple categories and some in no category, so for the most part, this is just a list of ideas that might work in your business. As for sources, I don’t know where many of these came from. Some came from laser manufacturer websites. Some I found myself and some I really don’t know where they came from so if I have borrowed something you think is your idea, I give you all the credit and thank you for sharing it with the industry.
Architects can use laser engraved models to help clients visualize a building. Photo courtesy of Xenetech Global, Baton Rouge, LA.
Cabinet Doors: Many people would love to have the center or edge panels of their cabinet doors (bedroom furniture, entertainment center, kitchen cabinets, china cabinets, etc.) lasered with interesting artwork, a family initial, a family crest or some other design. This works best on solid wood items such as oak, cherry, maple, etc., but you can also laser engrave laminate doors covered with most Formica-like materials. The big limitation here might be the size of the door vs. the size of your laser, although many of today’s lasers have a “pass-through” feature that allows you to open the doors on the machine to accommodate oversized items.
Also consider doing inlay work on wood which adds a ton of value to the item and isn’t as difficult as you might think. You can use it on cabinet doors as well as a variety of other products. Use shell, mother-of-pearl or plastic to create a family heirloom.
Engraving paper with your laser opens up all kinds of creative possibilities. Photo courtesy of Trotec Laser, Ypsilanti, MI.
Wooden Boxes: The world is full of wooden boxes and chests that provide the perfect surface for laser embellishments. A few popular items include jewelry chests, humidors (tobacco boxes) and many types of keepsake boxes. Especially attractive to young girls, this option can also be very attractive to adults for a wide variety of applications. Women (and girls) love keepsake boxes for storing jewelry, love letters, mementos from special occasions and the like. They can also be used to keep baby keepsakes, military insignia, scouting patches or a host of other special items. Engraving a person’s name or initials along with a heart, praying hands, etc., make these a hot item. The boxes are available from a variety of sources. Some are designed to have a ceramic tile placed in the top. The tile can be laser engraved or replaced with a piece of wood (check Colorado Hardwood or LaserBits for the wood panels).
Wooden Photo Albums: Like the boxes, these are great for graduation, weddings, new babies—any major event in a person’s life. These can be obtained from a variety of sources, including discount retailers such as Target or Colorado Heirloom.
Wooden Letters: Epilog Laser’s website has a photo of a door hanging with a large family name initial and lots of wood leaves. It looks complicated at first but is really very simple since they provide the CorelDRAW files for everything you need. You could also use your laser to cut wood letters for a variety of other applications, including signs, wall hangings for kids’ bedrooms that spell out their name, a sport or some meaningful phrase and decorations for crafts, such as a wreath. Wood letters are also used for home décor. For example, a popular decorating trend is to display a family initial or monogram on a wall or cabinet.
Wooden Keepsakes: P. Graham Dunn, an Ohio artist who creates inspirational art and wall hangings, offers several inexpensive keepsakes such as a cross with the scripture on it or a tablet-like shape with the Ten Commandments. These can be easily altered to your own customer’s likes and needs or to suit another faith. A magnet on the back makes them a refrigerator magnet with a very nice profit margin.
Wooden Name Badges: What says “class” more than a name badge made from solid cherry or walnut? You can use your laser to cut badges in virtually any shape imaginable and add decorative graphics. For example, how about an apple shape for a teacher or state-shaped badges for a travel group? Wood has a higher perceived value than plastic, which means you can charge a premium price.
It’s amazing the interesting products you can create with acrylic and a laser. This example is from Trotec Laser.
Drumsticks, Chopsticks and Pool Cues: These are ideal for personalizing with your laser and make unique gifts and promotional products. Drumsticks are typically made of hickory or maple and may involve several passes, but they are easy to engrave. Quality chopsticks can be made from a variety of woods or composites while pool cues are very often coated with a heavy lacquer or composite and will likely require several passes. They may also need to be filled with paint or Rub-n-Buff to provide contrast.
Wooden Rulers: Using 1/8" wood veneer, you can engrave and cut wood rulers for use as promotional products and thank-you gifts for any business. Epilog Laser has CorelDRAW files on its website for quickly and easily creating these.
Wooden Picture Frames: Most people like picture frames—especially parents and grandparents. They love to put pictures of their loved ones out for people to see. You can customize frames with any message or graphics that the customer desires. You could also add cut-out letters and graphics, or inlay another material to make a high-end gift. The fact that the frame is as special as the photograph only adds to the excitement.
Here is a quick reminder about acrylic: If you want to engrave acrylic, you need to use cast acrylic. If you are only going to cut a shape out of acrylic, you can use either cast or extruded acrylic. Acrylic can be engraved on either the front or the back, or for a really interesting effect, on both sides.
Holiday Ornaments: Custom ornaments are very popular during the holiday season, but I make them all year round. The only difference is I include a suction cup in non-holiday season months and call them sun-catchers!
Acrylic Letters: Remember the wood letters and door hanger mentioned earlier? You can do exactly the same thing with colored acrylic. B.F. Plastics has a new line of colored transparent acrylics that reportedly works well for this application as well as for ornaments.
License Plates: Personalized acrylic license plates are easy to make with your laser. Blanks are available from Sign Warehouse or LaserBits. Start with a mirror acrylic blank and then overlay it with cutouts made from other mirror acrylic sheets (or license plate blanks). You can personalize license plates with names, initials, high school mascots, unlicensed college logos, trade schools and sports art such as scuba diving, football, etc.
Jewelry: Acrylic can be cut into a wide variety of shapes to make earrings and necklaces. Cast acrylic can be engraved to add even more meaning. For example: Take the shape of a dolphin and engrave “Bayside Dolphins” on it to make high school mascot pins. This can also be done with reverse engravable plastic. Jewelry findings can be purchased at any craft store or from engraving material suppliers.
Laser-cut stencils will appeal to a variety of customers, from students to those involved in crafts. Sample courtesy of LaserBits.
Stencils: In the next category, you will read about making paper stencils which work well for people who want to use them with spray paint or a stencil brush, but what about people who want to trace letters onto poster board or other materials and need sharp, crisp letter guides? You can custom make these for customers out of thin acrylic. Although they are more expensive than paper, stencils cut out of 1/32" acrylic will last for thousands of applications and are inexpensive to make.
Photo Cut-Outs: Photos can be attached to acrylic (wood and cardboard work too) and then cut out to form self-standing images either for advertising or personal use. Photo statues are especially popular for children’s sports pictures such as dance, gymnastics, softball, football, etc. Instead of using a band saw to cut out a custom shape, simply import the image into CorelDRAW and trace it. Then use your laser to quickly, easily and accurately vector cut the shape. You can also use this idea to create other photo cut-out products like key chains, ornaments, wall mounts, cake toppers and magnets. These all make great, highly personalized gifts.
Rulers: Remember the rulers mentioned in the wood section? They work great with acrylic too!
Stencils: Stencils are used for all kinds of applications. I always think of the stencils men use to paint DOT information on the sides of trucks or owner information on the sides of heavy equipment. Much of this has been replaced by vinyl but certainly not all. You can use stencil paper and laser any kind of stencil you want using your “stencil” font and a heavy paper or special stencil paper. You can also cut stencils for general use, such as crafts, school projects and scrapbooking.
Letters: How many teachers across the country spend hours cutting out letters from construction paper for bulletin boards? True, some schools have dies that are used to cut them out but many schools don’t, especially Sunday schools and small schools. Yet these teachers still have lots of bulletin boards to decorate. And what about all those kids who enter science fairs every year? They cut millions of construction paper letters for their projects.
Invitations & Letterhead: Although it takes a bit of time, the market is rich for laser cut invitations and letterhead. Commercial printing can be very expensive and almost always involves a long delivery time. You can do the same thing for your customers by using your laser to create personalized wedding announcements and invitations to various events such as graduations, new births, house warmings and the like. A great source for wholesale papers and envelopes in small quantities (250 sheets) is Double-U-Paper.
Special Packaging: You can create some very unique packages and boxes using your laser engraver and cardboard. It takes some thought and perhaps some experimentation, but you can package your products in boxes that are as unique as your products or create custom packaging for businesses. You can also create boxes out of wood.
Check out these two videos on YouTube for inspiration:
Scrapbooking: Scrapbooking is a big industry and one that continues to grow. You could tap into this by creating custom scrapbooking kits and pages for your customers. You can use a variety of papers including construction paper, specialty papers, foils, films, plastics and more to create theme pages for custom scrapbooks that really stand out. Epilog’s website shows how to make three different scrapbook pages.
There are a variety of fabrics that react very well to a laser beam, including denim, cotton and synthetic materials such as polyester and micro-suede. There are countless projects that you can make using fabric and your laser which opens up a great opportunity for extra profits. Shirts, jeans, purses, jackets, vests, etc., are all great candidates for lasering. There are several more suggestions available on the Epilog website, including felt placemats and coasters, denim beach bags, microfiber pillows, aprons, velvet tote bags, felt appliques and twill appliques.
Stemware & Steins: Wine glasses for weddings, anniversaries or personalized glassware for everyday gifts represent another great opportunity to make money with your laser. Although some people may want fancy stemware, most will be happy with basic Libby or similar quality glassware. These engrave easily, especially if you have a cylindrical engraving fixture, but they can also be engraved without one. The rule of thumb is, the cheaper the glass, the better it engraves and the glassware sold at Target does just fine with many of the glasses selling for under $1.00 each. Several sizes of beer steins are sold at stores like the dollar store type that can also be lasered.
Glass Plates & Cups: Again, Target sells a lot of glass plates and cups. These laser very nicely and can be used for awards, special events or monogrammed for formal use. Plates should be engraved on the backside.
Glass Jars: Jars from the Dollar Store are great for storage and can be engraved with text that describes what’s being stored, such as Sugar, Salt, Flour, Tea, etc. Many have cork lids which can also be laser engraved.
Wine Bottles: Giving wine is fine but what happens to the bottle after the wine is gone? If it is given as a commercial gift, you want the bottle to hang around as long as possible. What better way to accomplish that than to engrave the bottle with the person’s name and message? For those who don’t drink spirits, non-alcoholic sparkling juice bottles can also be engraved. Remember, in many states, you cannot sell or resell spirits. The customer must buy it and bring it to you.
Custom laser engraved ornaments, such as these from LaserBits, are popular during the holiday season but you can also make money with them all year-round.
Automotive Gaskets: Making gaskets for automobiles, motorcycles, lawn mowers or most anything is easy with a laser. People who work on classic cars or tractors, for example, often need gaskets that they can’t find commercially. These are easy to make with cork or gasket material which is available at any auto parts store.
Cork Coasters & Table Protectors: Anything made of cork can be laser engraved. Check out discount stores for inexpensive items or for something different, try this for cork coffee cuffs.
Soap: How about personalized soap? Why not? It can make a unique gift, promotional item or souvenir. Pick up designer soaps on closeouts at discount stores or boutiques, engrave several different scents and make a small basket or box for them. A few dollars is suddenly an expensive gift item. What about a local bed-and-breakfast? What a nice touch for their guests or even for your own guest bath.
Candy: One EJ reader uses his laser to engrave Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for wedding favors (read “Getting Creative With a Laser,” Jun. 12)! I’ve tried lasering chocolate but didn’t have much success. Apparently, however, someone has figured it out. What do you have to lose? Whatever you mess up, you get to eat!
Puzzles: Cardboard puzzles are easy to do. Just paste a digital printout to a sheet of poster board and laser. These can also be made with wood or acrylic for an even more substantial puzzle.
Foam: Foam can be cut or engraved to make all kinds of items. For example, one application is to laser cut-outs to hold wrenches, sockets and other tools in metal tool cabinets.
Italian Charms: Companies like Johnson Plastics offer stainless steel Italian charms you can laser mark using a laser-markable chemical coating. These are popular among women, especially personalized charms that they can’t buy anywhere else. Note, too, that if you have a YAG or fiber laser, you can create a nice black mark on these and other metal items without using a laser-markable coating.
Property ID Tags: There are several companies that sell pre-cut property ID tags including Horizons, Johnson Plastics, LaserBits and Identification Plates, Inc. Plus, you can always make your own with engraving plastic or laserable metal. Schools, hospitals and many other facilities have a policy to label everything they own with their name, a code or a barcode. This can become a very lucrative market.
Architectural Models: This could be a section all by itself because it is so diverse. These models are sometimes made from heavy poster board, wood or acrylic. The material has to be thick enough so that the edges can be glued to other pieces, so 1/8" seems ideal but when building scale models, much thinner materials are often used. Architects use these models to help potential clients visualize a building and the models can range from very simple to incredibly complex. In fact, some architectural firms own their own lasers, (some of the biggest laser beds in the country) and hire CAD engineers to do nothing but create these masterpieces. The other end of the spectrum includes people like the guy in West Virginia who designs model railroad buildings and then cuts out the hundreds or thousands of parts on his laser and sells the kits for several hundred dollars each.
Agate Slices: This idea came from Epilog: Use agate slices as place cards. The agate is available on Amazon. At about a buck each, these make beautiful place settings with a name lasered on them.
“YOU BRING IT, WE ENGRAVE IT”
Don’t forget to play up your services for engraving items that customers bring to you. Not only is it a great way to make extra money with your laser, but you very well may discover another niche for your business. Here’s a sampling.
Medical Equipment: Medical equipment is very expensive. Surgical tools, for example, are often made out of stainless steel or titanium. These can be marked with a fiber or YAG laser, or a CO2 laser using a laser-markable coating. Some customers will want barcodes or sequential numbering on medical instruments.
Tools: Tools are usually made of steel and are sometimes chrome plated. These too can be marked with a CO2 laser and a laser-markable coating. Like medical equipment, some customers will want barcodes or sequential numbering engraved on the tools.
Guns, Gun Stocks and Knives: Using a laser-markable coating, it is possible to laser engrave gun metal and knives with a CO2 laser. Wood stocks and hand grips can also be lasered. Be sure you are insured properly before accepting guns and that you meet any and all local and state laws.
Guitars and Pick Guards: Inlay work on musical instruments such as guitars, banjos and bass guitars can be both beautiful and very profitable. Many pick guards are made of acrylic which can be engraved and paint filled.
iPhones, iPads, Laptops, etc.: The backs of most, if not all, of these electronic devices can be laser engraved. Engrave them with a name, address, artwork, logo or inspirational message.
Jewelry: Some jewelry can be laser engraved using a laser-markable coating. This can be tricky, however, since it may have a rounded surface or a coating that the chemical won’t work with. Still, the stainless steel back of most watches, ID bracelets and medical safety alert bracelets or necklaces can be engraved and can add to your bottom line.
Skateboards: Skateboards are usually made of wood or a composite plastic material. I haven’t tried the composite material, but the wood boards engrave great. Kids love to pick “really rad” artwork to laser on the bottoms of their boards.
Wow! What a list and I am sure there are just as many that I have left out! Some of these ideas you might not be interested in, others you might like but you won’t have the customer base for them. But some of these could surely be money makers for you and your laser. Maybe you have never thought about them or maybe you did, but then forgot. Whatever the case may be, this reminder should ignite some excitement in your mind and put some dollars in your till, and that is the whole purpose of this list. My thanks to the websites and individuals these ideas came from. May we all use them in the hopes of a great 2013 and for many years beyond. Happy New Year!