Why sandcarving is a good option and how it’s changed over the years.

Today’s Sandcarving Market

While there are many types of engraving options, sandcarving is a popular option for the awards market, and it has come a long way over the past few years. In little time, award makers can manufacture a product that boasts high detail on a variety of substrates. Unique colors and shapes have entered the sandcarving market, and creativity is flowing. As more award makers learn about the changing industry, industry experts expect sandcarving to grow.

One of the main benefits of sandcarving is its acceptance of many substrates, says Lori Mitchell, president of Glastar, Chatsworth, California.

“The number of materials you can work with is definitely one of the biggest pluses,” Mitchell says. “Sandcarving can be done in granite, stone, tile, wood and metals. You name it, and sandcarving can do it.”

Optic crystal, in particular, is a popular substrate among award makers, especially for high-end products, says Liz Haas, sales associate of Rayzist Photomask, Vista, California. In the past, optic crystal was an expensive substrate, but it has become available overseas at an inexpensive price.

“People are buying a large quantity of optic crystal, I think, because people are starting to realize their clients want a higher-end award, and optic crystal is really difficult for lasers, so when you sandcarve optic crystal it looks really nice,” Haas says.

Additionally, aluminum is a compatible substrate for sandcarving, which may come as a surprise to many people, says Craig Kubasta, sales manager of Ikonics Imaging, Duluth, Minnesota.

“Most people don’t realize they can etch anodized aluminum and painted aluminum plaques,” Kubasta says. “Sandcarving will remove the anodized coating to create letters or designs, and it creates a very attractive award or plaque that can be hung on a wall. You are open to many different colors when you sandcarve anodized or painted metals.”

Sandcarving is also appealing because it allows award makers to diversify their product offerings, Haas notes. For instance, wedding memorabilia, memorial markers and signs can all be engraved by sandcarving systems and offered by many award shops. Sandcarving systems are also an affordable application, Haas says, and with so many product offerings, the initial cost is quickly recuperated.

“Sandcarving is very inexpensive to get into,” Haas says. “With a sandcarving system, you’re going to have it for at least 15 years. Once you have a few good jobs, it will pay for the system. The rest is profit, and your profit margin is great with sandcarving. Your options are pretty unlimited at what you can sandcarve.”

For award makers looking for high-detail products, sandcarving is a suitable option because of its photo-resist capabilities and improvements, Haas says. Today’s photo-resist films are durable, expose quickly and etch deeply for a high-detailed look.

“You’d have pretty good detail before, but over the last four years, you’ve been able to have extremely high detail in photo resist,” Haas explains. “You can do photos or a half-tone image that’s very detailed. If your customer requires fine lines or very small text, you can do that with photo resist now.”

Lately in the sandcarving industry, a wider variety of colors have become available because of the emergence of art glass in the awards market, Mitchell says, which is appealing to your clients. When your clients are exposed to the same look—day in and day out—the awards lose that distinctive appeal, but the variety of art glass colors offers a new creative look that is attractive to the eye.

“You need to keep new things before the consumer, or they get bored or not interested,” Mitchell says. “Something new takes your eyes; you go there.”

Over the past year, Haas has noticed black optic crystal is becoming an especially popular color option. Initially, black optic crystal was slow to take off, but as its availability has increased, many are starting to buy it, particularly for large accounts because of its sophisticated look.

Sandcarving also allows award makers to experiment with unique shapes, Haas says. Traditionally, sandcarved awards were fabricated from flat glass, which is still commonly used, but many award makers are tapping into their artistic creativity for a more attention-grabbing product. By using a sandcarving system for unique shapes, you also have many substrate options and save on expenses, Kubasta adds.

“Sandcarving is the most versatile process that will allow you capabilities to image a variety of products,” Kubasta says. “ It’s really the only process that can be used to image curved, flat, round or compound curves without additional expenses for fittings or jigs.”

For many awards, it is common to make the piece using multiple substrates for a unique appearance, Kubasta says.

“Products, such as marble, granite, wood and others, can be used alone or in conjunction with glass, crystal or other substrates to create one-of-a-kind products,” Kubasta says.

In these cases, UV bonding is becoming a popular method to adhere two substrates together, Mitchell states. Rather than a traditional epoxy, UV bonding cures the adhesion with a UV light. The method is cleaner, produces no bubbles, and takes less than a minute to bond, Mitchell says, because it is a low-viscosity process. Crystal awards are especially responsive to UV bonding because light can quickly pass through the substrate, she adds.

“With epoxy, it’s difficult to get a thin coat and get bubbles out, which show up through the glass,” Mitchell says. “You have to mix chemicals together and hold it for several minutes until it’s dry. It really helps streamline the process. If there’s any seepage, UV bonding can be cleaned with a paper towel, where with epoxy, you have to get a straight-edged razor blade and hope you don’t scratch the surface.”

As sandcarving has seen many technological improvements, many awards makers are beginning to become more interested in the process, Haas says. Haas finds many trade show attendees are not familiar with sandcarving, but they’re curious and have followed up with her for further education. With a piquing interest, Haas expects sandcarving to gain ground.

“Sandcarving is becoming more and more popular,” Haas says. “It’s taken its time, but it’s really starting to get noticed. I do think it’s something people are not familiar with but are becoming more familiar as time goes on.”

And with more creative applications available, Mitchell expects to see the sandcarving market grow in its artistic abilities. Art glass and unique shapes are influencing the awards market, and as the products have become more available and come down in price, award makers have unlimited potential in what they can achieve with inventive designs.

“I look forward to seeing more creativity in the sandcarving industry,” Mitchell says. “The only thing that holds you back is your imagination.”