Advanced Engraving Techniques: Thin-Gauge Materials
To be and remain competitive, you must offer more products and services than the shop down the street. Recently, there have been additions to the range of materials available that after investigation open up several new opportunities. Thin-gauge materials allow you to broaden your product offering due to their extreme versatility. What makes them different is the fact that they are thinner than traditional engraving stock, have very thin cap layers, and are multi-purpose. That is, most can be cut by rotary engravers and lasers. In fact, the cap layer is so thin that these materials can be cut by either a carbide cutter or burnished using traditional methods. That's a lot of flexibility for shops that do not want to keep an excessive amount of inventory on hand but need the option of switching between marking processes.
These thin-gauge materials are attractive, flexible, and easy to manage. If you're a shop doing trophies or plaques using coated brass, you will know some of the pitfalls to poor handling. Brass is easily scratched, may tarnish over time, weighs a considerable amount, and most of all, takes a set if you bend it. This problem often occurs when you mount the brass to the engraving table using tape and try to lift the brass off when the engraving is completed. Oftentimes the brass gets a bend that, despite your best efforts to remove it, will show when mounted. It's worth noting that you can be more easily injured handling metal material, and the cost of shipping large quantities is expensive given the significant weight of the brass.
Thin-gauge materials come in the standard black over gold (brass), in either a matte or gloss finish and could easily replace traditional brass. There's also a broad range of interesting colors and the new looks can spice up a trophy or plaque as well.
Let your imagination wander when it comes to finding applications for these materials. Applications include everything from bookmarks, bottle labels, bookplates, business cards, trophies, signs, name tags, and more. There is an added bonus with most of these materials. They can also be embossed, screen printed, hot stamped, pad printed and even sand blasted.
To engrave these materials it is recommend that you try burnishing first since depth control of rotary engraving may be more critical. Burnishing is faster in many cases and can allow larger letter heights than some deep cutting with a carbide tool. There's also less clean up when burnishing and no chip removal system is necessary. After you become more confident with the material, you can switch to rotary cutting. Any standard FLX rotary tool will do the job. Nothing special is required when rotary cutting; however, it's recommended that a vacuum system be used.
If you plan to rotary cut, you need to realize that since the material is thinner than you may have worked with before, a nosecone and proper depth control is important. First, zero the cutter. Then follow the material manufacturer's instruction on cutting depth. Usually .001"- .003" deep will do the job. If you ever have the need to cut a very intricate logo with lots of detail, you will appreciate the fact that a fine line can be achieved on this material.
There is a material that's ultra-thin - only .004". When working with material of this thickness, you not only will need to use a nosecone but setting up accurate cutter depth is absolutely critical. Your maximum depth of cut can only be .001"- .002". This material is so thin that using tape underneath the material to secure it to the engraver will not work. Any variation in depth will probably cause you to go through the material. But, don't worry - it can be cut.
Start with a flat engraving area or put down a sacrificial surface using a piece of scrap engraving stock, and then tape your material down from the top. It may take a few tries to get the feel but when you're done, you'll love the look and appreciate that it already has an adhesive backing for mounting.
Almost anything that's done with regular engraving stock can be done with these lightweight, flexible materials. Take the time to get a sample from one of the many manufacturers and do a little experimentation. Given the ease of use, you may consider offering both thin-gauge materials as well as metal. This is also an opportunity to create a pricing structure that promotes one over the other.