Note: This article appears in the December 2016 edition of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!
Wall plaques are a standard in our industry. They may just be the most frequent product ordered by customers. They are a go-to solution for both customers and award shops when time is short. With a large variety of plaques and plates available, it’s relatively easy to find a plaque that fits any occasion and any budget. A pressed wood body with a plastic laminated cover is a great budget choice and can be offered as small as 4 by 6 inches. A simple engraved plate as small as 3 by 5 inches rounds out a plaque for a modest budget. We use them for a number of car dealers with a monthly awards program for sales, technicians and office personnel.
On the other end of the price spectrum is piano-finished plaques with elegantly finished brass plates. In between are solid wood plaques, which are great for direct engraving and a variety of veneers. As the plate is what is mostly visible, combining a beautifully finished plate with a veneer surface plaque can provide a high-end looking plaque for a smaller price.
Our industry suppliers keep coming up with new, economically sensitive products that allow us to maintain a quality look at a smaller price. Many are simple to lay out, yet there are often more complex challenges.
Beyond the standard layout for a plaque are the many methods of custom building a plaque. The purpose for customizing may be for a client that wants a truly unique look to match a theme, or to mount one or more unusual items. The custom plaque category includes off-the-shelf plaques and plates combined with unique uses and complex layouts—perhaps mounting multiple plates and several photos or mounting unusual non-flat items.
Some projects may require custom-designed and built plaques that are over-size or an odd shape. We have had a number of projects that included applied wood appliqués. Made from finished or unfinished industry-provided wood sheets, the appliqués are typically both engraved and cut into shapes. They may include a logo, government seal, team mascot or a special quote. Shapes may be a circle, square, oval, or an animal or flower shape. Vector shape outlines are easy to create using the CorelDraw boundary tool. Appliqués can also be made from acrylic sheet goods and even with sublimation and UV print.
Another popular item I am asked to mount are coins. Coins are created for units of the military, police, fire and other organizations. I recently mounted a number of “Year of the Monkey” coins from Australia for a company on plaques recognizing participation in a special program. I have mounted coins both on the surface of a plaque and inset the coin flush or slightly proud (above the surface).
Lasering engraving the inset is possible; however, the number of passes required and the chance of burning around the edges makes this impractical. The fastest and cleanest way to create an inset is with a drill press (table size drill press works well) and Forstner or spade drill bits. I prefer Forstner bits to control depth better and they stay sharp for a long time. I use a two-part epoxy on the coins as it holds them well.
When completing a custom plaque project, besides adding up the cost of all the parts and
perhaps making the plaque, your other staff time is likely to be a significant factor. Your time is
easy to undervalue and underestimate. Make sure you consider the following when pricing:
- Added sales time
- Layout design time
- Designing and making templates
- Cutting of plates and photos to size
- Physical layout and attachment time
The most frequent challenge when creating custom plaques involves lead time. Although plaques can be quicker to complete than most other awards, they still take time. Rush orders produce stress, errors and production mistakes such as putting the plate on upside down or missing an entire sentence.
Another issue comes with “rush orders” and the rush the customer is in. They, too, are likely to make mistakes, change their minds about the text, forget to include a date, etc. There is nothing worse than completing a layout of text and graphics and having the customer call you with changes just before or even after you engrave it. We make sure that a customer knows that once an order is placed with the text and graphics provided and approved, we may complete the job at any time, and that includes immediately.
When does the clock start ticking on what is considered a rush order? Is it when the order is placed? I consider it a rush order when the information and graphics are received within so many hours (or days) of when the order needs to be completed. It is not unusual to receive an order a week or two before the due date, but not getting the text or the proof approved until the day it’s due. Managing the receipt of text and graphics and the approved proof is a challenge that requires a system, even if it’s simple.
All of our orders are placed in large plastic folders that are color-coded by the process required to complete them. Where the file is placed on our order shelf is based on the status of the order, and that includes waiting for customer information and the approval of a proof.
Spelling of names has become a major challenge over the years. There is no normal or correct way to spell a name. We spend more time today checking spelling with customers, especially when we receive a list by e-mail. Do you correct grammar and writing errors? We do make corrections; however, we ask a customer first. We have some customers that want incorrect grammar and poor verbiage included.
These challenges highlight how important it is to know your customers and talk to them about challenges, even if it is uncomfortable. When estimating how long it takes to lay out a plate, remember to consider the time making corrections, checking spelling, and communicating back and forth with your customer.
Overly wordy text and too many graphics creates a number of challenges. Text that is overly wordy is a challenge to layout and is often poorly written. Too much text can also contain incongruent messages. Related messages need to be placed near each other. Unrelated or loosely related information requires separation. I often use separators or ornaments to separate unrelated text, or I will use them to highlight important information when a plaque is overly wordy. You don’t want the main or most important message to be lost among the less-important data. I also use bold and italics to highlight or differentiate important thoughts.
Adding color to important graphics using sublimation, UV print, screen printing or other
methods also makes important graphics stand out. In a future article, I will cover design and layout in our time-crunched world in greater detail.