August '21

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A W A R D S & C U S T O M I Z AT I O N 7 0 G R A P H I C S P R O A U G U S T 2 0 2 1 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M Y O U R L A S E R A T W O R K | B O B H A G E L L asers today offer more technological features than just a few years ago, including combining two types of lasers in the same machine and perhaps operating at the same time, to camera and registration technology allowing easy placement of products to be engraved. I focus on table size in this article; how- ever, other desired features may impact the machine you choose. There is also a vast price range today when it comes to lasers for a small graphics shop. Choices can be daunting, even for an experienced laser operator or long-time shop owner. Con- sider price differences as an additional in- vestment and look at the expected return you will receive over the next 10 years. OPPORTUNITIES If you are new to laser engraving or are just starting your business, you may not know the customer base you will acquire. Having a business plan helps establish a target market to focus on. Business oppor- tunities will come along that you may not expect, and regardless of your business de- sign, most opportunities will be tempting. When you don't have a full plate of busi- ness or are not making enough to pay all the bills, opportunities you were not in- terested in become more appetizing. Table size is often one of the first limitations that presented opportunities bump up against. There will always be jobs you have to turn away due to limitations of your tech- nology. There will also be job opportunities you should turn away even if your equip- ment can accommodate them. Some jobs require skills that are too far above those you presently have. A job may not offer the opportunity to make a profit or may be so large you cannot complete other promised jobs with good ongoing customers. SIZE DOES MATTER Many new shops start out with a 24" X 12" table size. Other common table sizes are 24" X 24", 36" X 24", 48" X 24", and 48" X 36". Many common needs requiring a larger table size beyond 24" X 12" are for additional width for items like baseball bats, paddles such as those used for decor in the military, large landscape photo frames, shadow boxes, and tool handles (shovels for groundbreaking ceremonies). Other uses for bigger tables are for tool marking and processing large orders of dozens or hundreds of the same product. Signage products utilize large cutout letters and graphics from sheet stock. There may be situations where you need additional Y (front to back) distance. However, most often a product can be reoriented along the width of the laser to accomplish the personalization. When this doesn't work is when the object exceeds both the width and depth (front to back) of the table. Let's consider a few examples of com- mon table size decisions. Your shop is a typical personalization business with small business customers — sports leagues, non- profits, and some government customers. You are considering a standard 24" X 12" table size. The vast majority of products fit on this size table, and you can readily purchase acrylic, wood, and leatherette sheets in this size. Let's say a customer brings in sev- eral baseball bats to be engraved. The bats are 32" long. One way to engrave them is if your laser has pass-through capability. This refers to the ability to open the left and right doors to place the product inside to be lasered. You cannot laser the whole length of the bat and are still limited to 24" of its width. Your setup will be a little more complex; however, this solution is a good one for most products a business like this is presented with. Your other solution is to purchase a laser with a 36" table width. Which is the better solution? If you only oc- casionally have products longer than 24" and within the 12" depth range, buying a laser with pass-through ca- DO I NEED A LARGE-FORMAT LASER? Both the throwing axe and the back of the display seen here had to fit into the laser. (Image courtesy Bob Hagel)

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