Perhaps what is so exciting about the new direction our industry is taking toward personalized products are the possibilities—today’s offerings are virtually endless! With the technologies, materials and blank products available to us there’s really no limit to the custom products you can create and sell, and that means there’s great potential for finding new customers.
R&P professionals have been getting creative for a long time. EJ contributing writer Dale Gruver is proof of that. Fabricating an acrylic CD stand, making a coffin-styled nameplate and laser engraving a Mayan-themed ring provide just a hint at some of the unique and interesting projects he’s tackled. One reader engraves Reese’s peanut butter cups to be used as wedding favors and another uses his laser to cut out beauty queen sashes. It’s non-traditional, outside-the-box thinking which is unleashing profit opportunities that did not exist a few years ago.
Perhaps now is the time to put your creativity to work and expand the capabilities of your equipment by exploring new projects. By zeroing in on custom projects that you can create, you will find that you can tap into new markets and find new customers—and that’s always good.
It’s easier than you might think. Here is a collection of potential personalization projects to get you started.
Unique customized ornaments are hot sellers during the holiday season when people are looking for personal gift items. But have you considered that ornaments can also be steady sellers year-round? They make an excellent personalized product for all kinds of events. People purchase them to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, new babies, engagements, weddings, retirements, new homes, new drivers and more. Ornaments are also used to commemorate special events and can even bring in some large quantity orders. For example, organizers of class and family reunions often purchase a quantity of custom ornaments to give out as souvenirs. Likewise, ornaments can be given to (or used as fund raisers for) sports teams, church groups, schools, etc.
There are plenty of markets for personalized ornaments and what’s even better is that they are easy to make with your laser using several different materials. One good choice is laser-cutable thin wood sheet stock which is available in several species, including cherry, maple, birch, cedar, walnut and wood with a white or black semi-gloss laminate on both sides. All of these materials are sold in various thicknesses and sizes.
Acrylic materials also work well for cutting and engraving ornaments. Today, there is a variety to choose from, including clear, colored (transparent and solid) and mirrored. Flexible engraving plastic formulated for laser engraving is available in a host of colors, woodgrains and metallic surfaces and can also be used to make colorful ornaments.
If you have a laser, making ornaments is easy. Start the process by creating simple vector art to cut the ornament shape. All graphics programs have clip art and symbols that you can easily modify to create a vector outline for a hanging ornament. Stars, sports items, religious themes, holiday themes and interesting shapes can all be used depending on the application. Laser-ready clip art collections are also available. LaserBits, for example, offers a CD with over 100 CorelDRAW-compatible templates for ornaments, including holiday themes and various shapes.
If you are working with generic clip art, you can add a round ring with a hole to the artwork to hold the ribbon used to hang the ornament. Then simply customize the ornament with engraved text and graphics.
You can also add special finishing touches to dress up an ornament, such as colored laser foil prior to engraving, or paint filling the engraved text after engraving. Color filling the engraved letters on a clear acrylic ornament, for example, can produce a beautiful, colorful ornament that can also be used as a sun catcher if you attach a suction cup.
As you gain some experience, you can also make more detailed and elaborate ornaments. For example, the thin wood sheets are perfect for cutting out extremely fine details, and you can combine materials, such as two different colors of wood or acrylic, for a more elaborate (and higher priced) ornament.
Here’s an easy and salable project you can make with a strip heater and plastic—“tent” signs. Tent signs are characterized by an “A” shaped one-piece construction that many buyers find attractive and functional. The sign is compact so it easily fits on a desktop or countertop (where oftentimes there are other items occupying space), and it doesn’t require a separate holder, such as a frame or a base. Because of this, tent signs (and freestanding signs in general) are generally a less expensive option than other types of signs, yet they still offer distinction that many buyers find appealing. Tent signs are frequently used in restaurants and by just about any business or organization with a reception desk or countertop, including banks, hospitals, hotels, stores, offices, etc.
Creating a tent sign involves using a strip heater to bend a piece of plastic into the desired “A” shape. Strip heating machines consist of a work table with a long, straight heating element mounted on it, and are available from industry suppliers such as Johnson Plastics. A bending fixture is a helpful accessory for thermobending signs which you can easily fabricate yourself, e.g. using a couple of strips of acrylic clamped to a workbench.
As far as the material, in general any material that can soften to a bendable state under approximately
300º F-450º F will work. This includes all types of flexible plastic engraving stocks and acrylics.
Most people prefer to engrave or print the sign prior to bending to avoid any holding or leveling issues. The process then involves heating the plastic in the strip heater in the area of the bend, placing it in your bending apparatus and allowing the sign to cool. Voila! With a little time and a piece of plastic, you have a simple product that has a solid place in the signage market.
ID Plates for Pictures
ID plates for framed pictures and artwork is an often-overlooked market, and one that is pretty big. Every picture framer in the country needs those little brass (or plastic) plates that attach to the frame or are mounted behind the glass of a hanging. Think, too, about the art galleries and museums around the country that need ID plates for pictures and artwork. Actually, any business, organization or place that displays pictures or artwork is a potential customer in this niche market.
The late Mort Tuller, founder of Tucson’s Tuller Trophy Factory, became famous years ago during a visit to the White House by pointing out the poor state of a brass nameplate under a portrait of President John F. Kennedy. His comments led to an order on the spot, which subsequently led to repeat business making presidential portrait tags for the White House. Mort secured a similar order from a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Brass plates are the tradition for this application because of their classy, upscale look. You can fabricate them yourself or purchase custom decorative plates from a source such as Identification Plates Inc. Ultra-thin plastic (1/32") such as Rowmark’s FlexiBrass is another option for applications where the engraved plate will be mounted under the glass. FlexiBrass is easy to read, looks exactly like brass and can be laser engraved and cut to any size.
Lasers are capable of intricate, detailed engraving for projects such as ornaments. Photo courtesy of Epilog Laser.
Sublimated Tile Murals
Murals are big business and they are good business. Combining the highly salable personalization aspect of a custom photo with a highly salable décor item, murals offer a double whammy that appeals to many different customers. These colorful works of art can be used in homes, eateries, businesses, museums, public buildings, parks and many other places to create interesting, vibrant and eye-catching displays. There are literally thousands of applications for murals. Many businesses, for example, use murals to create ambiance in the entranceway, waiting areas, showrooms or restrooms. Owners of grocery stores and meat, fish and fruit markets love ceramic tile murals because they display their products vividly and artfully.
Although murals can be made using different processes and materials, sublimating tile is a very popular option that can produce stunning results. All you need to get started is a drawing or photograph and a graphics program such as CorelDRAW to prepare the artwork. You can choose from a variety of tiles depending on the look you want to achieve. For instance, gloss ceramic tiles have a very shiny surface and are often a good choice for photographs and graphics where bright, vivid colors are needed. Tumbled stone tiles, on the other hand, provide an “old world” look that might be appropriate in a pub. Other options include matte tiles, glass tiles, and metal and hardboard tiles designed specifically for sublimation.
Once the tiles are sublimated, you can use several different techniques to mount them. For instance, you can create a changeable mural by fitting the tiles with a magnetic mounting or you can mount them to a wall using 3M Command Strips, silicone adhesive or some other mounting method depending on the weight and size of the mural. You can also mount the tiles in a picture frame and hang the mural like a picture.
Pet products are a multi-billion dollar business in the United States and it’s an area that only continues to grow. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners in the U.S. spent $60.28 billion on pets in 2015, a figure that is projected to grow this year. If you want to get your share of this lucrative market, then pet tags are a great place to start. Every dog and many cat owners need tags for their pets and although there are already some sources for these, you can easily step in to be one of them.
Why not visit your local pet stores, veterinarians, rescue centers and animal control shelters—anywhere that sells or gives away pets. Put a small rack on their counter displaying flyers offering your services. People can either come to your shop or order by phone, by mail or from your website. However you do it, it is a product line that is inexpensive to get into and lucrative to boot.
These tags can be engraved using either a rotary or a laser machine. If you have a laser, consider offering custom tags made of anodized aluminum which laser engraves very well and very quickly. Average engraving time is probably about one minute per side. For stainless steel tags, use a rotary engraving machine or a laser markable coating to engrave them with your CO2 laser and the tags will sell for five times what an aluminum tag does. Sublimatable tags are also available. Chewbarka is one company that has a wide selection of pet tags available.
Don’t forget about horses either. Most horse owners mount a special stainless steel or brass tag on the halter of their animals. These tags can easily sell for $25 or more and take only a few minutes to engrave.
Another easy-to-make and easy-to-sell product is personalized bookmarks. You can use your laser to cut and engrave bookmarks out of thin wood veneer and let your creativity flow. For example, cut parts of the design all the way through the material, then glue a second piece of wood in a different color to the back of the bookmark for a dimensional, two-toned effect. Attach a premade tassel (www.trimandtassels.com) and you have a salable product that will appeal to several different markets.
Unisub and its distributors offer sublimatable bookmarks that can be personalized with full-color images and photos. These will appeal to many different markets. For example, a bookmark sublimated with a photo of her children makes an excellent gift for mom on Mother’s Day or her birthday.
Interestingly, in this day and age of high-tech electronics and e-readers, in-person book clubs continue to be created every day and everywhere. Find out where they are and send a personalized sample, flyer, email, etc. Many book clubs are listed online and you can also ask around your local community. You’d be surprised at how many book clubs there are whether it’s in a neighborhood or at the local yoga studio.
To find other customers, try setting up a display at local bookstores, gift stores and souvenir shops. Send a sample to businesses customized with the company’s name and promote them as promotional products. And, of course, show some samples in your showroom. Personalized bookmarks are affordable personalized gift items that will sell well around holidays.
Custom rubber stamps are another product that you can easily make with a laser. Why rubber stamps? Consider that most typical businesses and organizations (who are very likely your core customers) use stamps in nearly every department, every day. Even small businesses have a drawer full of these useful marking devices, such as address stamps, bank endorsement stamps and a variety of identifying stamps such as “PAID,” “CONFIDENTIAL,” “RECEIVED,” “SHIPPED,” etc. Businesses also commonly use dater stamps and signature stamps on a daily basis.
There’s also a big market among individual consumers who buy name and address stamps for personal at-home use. They might even have an entire selection of address stamps, including one for the family, one for the holidays and one for each member of the family.
Art stamps are another market area that you could easily tap into. These stamps contain decorative or artistic designs and are used for craft projects, including decorating greeting cards, wrapping paper and stationery, and scrapbooking.
There are many market avenues for stamps that you can tap into. And like the other projects included in this article, rubber stamps are not a seasonal product—they are year-round sellers that can bring in steady profits.
Most CO2 lasers come with software capable of making rubber stamps. The process involves lasering away the rubber to create a rubber stamp die with raised, reverse-reading letters. This means the only things needed are the rubber stamp material 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 can provide all the materials you need.
The items we have mentioned here are barely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the endless array of products you can create. And the beauty of many of these personalized products is they make great “impulse” purchases. In other words, a prospective customer doesn’t necessarily go out shopping for a highly customized ornament, but when they see a really outstanding one, the seed is planted for either a future or an immediate purchase.
Keep in mind that you can showcase an endless stream of photos of these neat things on your social media pages and your website too. Take plenty of pictures and launch them continually both as personalized gifts and as traffic builders.
These are just a few personalization project ideas that could be potential money makers for your business. Think about the skills and equipment you have and start brainstorming. There are hundreds of thousands of potential projects and plenty of customers to buy them. When you come up with that unique and interesting project, be sure to let us know! We’d love to feature our readers’ ideas in a future issue.