Custom gifts

3 Easy Ways to Customize Great Gifts: A decorating how-to

Brenna Walsh is the Communications Specialist at JDS Industries in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She specializes in public relations and has extensive knowledge of products along with substantial background in writing.

There are a multitude of ways to personalize gifts for your customers. Between sandcarving, laser engraving, sublimation, rotary engraving, direct-to-substrate and many more, the options to provide your customers exactly what they want are endless. Following are three short how-tos on customizing three great gifts: sublimating a holiday stocking, sandcarving a crystal ornament, and laser engraving a leatherette portfolio.

How To: Sublimate a Holiday Stocking

Step One: Start with the supplies you will need: transfer paper, scratch paper and repositionable spray. You will want the heat press to be 390 F, with a light to medium pressure and a dwell time of 1:00-1:15 minutes (these settings may need adjustments based on your equipment and atmospheric conditions). Also, if you are going to sublimate the top cuff, place a barrier sheet between the cuff and the white area of the stocking to prevent the red from bleeding onto the white. You will want to sublimate the cuff separately from the rest of the stocking.

Step Two: Use a lint roller on the stocking to remove any excess fibers, then turn the cuff up so it is no longer overlapping the stocking. Lightly spray the transfer sheet with your artwork, using repositionable spray, which will help keep the transfer and stocking together. Place a large sheet of scratch paper on the bottom of the press, then place the transfer sheet and stocking on the press with the sheet on the top. (Image 1) (Image 2)

Step Three: Set your press with the correct settings and close. (Image 3) Once the time is up, remove the transfer sheet and stocking from the press immediately (Image 4); use heat-resistant gloves if necessary. If the image in the stocking appears light, increase the pressure or dwell time slightly (10-20 seconds). If it appears yellowed, reduce the dwell time slightly (10-20 seconds). You can also visit the JDS Industries YouTube channel at for a full demonstration. (Image 5)

How To: Sandcarve a Crystal Ornament

Step One: Sandcarving crystal items will give your gift a beautiful, frosted look. When designing your artwork, keep in mind that it will look best if the artwork does not go all the way to the edge. You will also need to determine if you will be sandcarving on the front, or reverse on the back. For this crystal ornament, we used RapidMask Film from IKONICS, a film that requires no washout.

Step Two: Place the film down with the soft side up; place your artwork facedown onto the film and place in your exposure unit for two minutes. (Image 6) It is important to clean your crystal with glass cleaner to remove any oils or residue. After cleaning, cut your artwork from the mask, peel the carrier sheet off of one side and adhere to your crystal. Use a squeegee to remove as many air bubbles as possible, then remove the back of the carrier sheet and use a wire wheel to perforate any remaining trapped air to prevent a blowout. (Image 7) (Image 8) (Image 9) You will want to use tape to cover any exposed crystal around the mask. This will prevent the abrasive from scratching and damaging your item. Once ready, you can head to your sandcarving cabinet.

Step Three: Hold the nozzle at a 90-degree angle to help prevent the abrasive from getting under the mask and lifting it off, and keep the nozzle about 6 inches away from your piece. Spray side to side in a steady rhythm until all of the mask from your artwork has been removed. (Image 10)

You can take the air hose to blow away any remaining abrasive. Once you are finished sandcarving the crystal, soak it in hot water for a few minutes to soften the film and simply rub off. (Image 11)

How To: Laser Engrave a Leatherette Portfolio

Step One: Laser engraving items can give a clean, crisp look with minimal effort. For this leatherette portfolio, we used a 60-watt Epilog. Recommended settings for a 35-watt 600 dpi are 90% speed and 65% power; for a 60-watt 600 dpi, 85% speed with 23% power; and for a 75-watt 600 dpi, 95% speed with 25% power. Settings may depend on brand, watt and model. (Image 12)

Step Two: You can start by masking an outline in your machine to ensure the portfolio is lined up correctly, then place the portfolio on the masking sheet. With an item that can be a bit flexible, it helps to use a level on the area where the artwork will be to make sure the item is lined up with the laser. If an area is a bit higher or lower, the engraving can be uneven and possibly go too deep or not deep enough. You can place something underneath the portfolio, like a small piece of plastic, to ensure even engraving.

Step Three: With this portfolio, there are two places with artwork. We recommend lasering one area first, then leveling the second area to establish consistent engraving throughout your piece. When finished, simply wipe off the portfolio with a mild cleaning agent, and you are ready to present the gift to your customer. (Image 13)