Full Version: Ya Gotta Start Somewhere

From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#1]
 4 Jul 2004

Recently, I read advice, given by Roy Brewer, that people interested in engraving should bypass the older (used) computerized engraving systems in favor of state-of-the-art equipment.

That's certainly sound advice, though, not everyone has the $9,000 - $20,000+ it takes to buy such equipment. Furthermore, who knows they'll have the aptitude or business sense to enter the engraving business?

I say, "Ya Gotta Start Somewhere" and that place could be as basic as buying a manual pantograph.

While it would be unwise to attract a lot of wordy plaque orders for a manual machine, there are some applications that make sense. Initials or monograms on jewelry, business card cases, cigarette lighters, flatware and money clips are a few suggestions.

In the way of computerized systems, the old equipment may not share the state-of-the-art features of newer machinery, however, they're far from useless.

Basic applications, such as namebadges, nameplates, signs, and trophy plates can generate a steady income. That income can then be used (if necessary) to upgrade your equipment.

Wringing your hands over not being able to justify (or afford) state-of-the-art equipment, won't get you where you want to go.

Taking the crucial step to get involved, at any level, will.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA

From: Engravin' Dave (DATAKES) [#2]
 4 Jul 2004
To: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#1] 5 Jul 2004


Individuals all over this world work for their comfortable and predictable paychecks that arrive every two weeks. I have heard my share of those individuals who say they are one day going to start their own business. Of course, most of them are never able to take that first step.

I know people who have the resources to do the full business start-up, but lack the intestinal fortitude to make the first move. Your comments address a perfect example of how one could take that first step in this industry. As you said, "Ya Gotta Start Somewhere."

For most of my working life I never held positions where I received a predictable paycheck. That made it much easier for me to take that first step. I also saved for years to one day own my own business. I was mentally and financially prepared to make my first venture a success. The route that I took was the one that included the state-of-the-art equipment that Roy references. Had I not had an organized long-range plan, I would have definitely taken the used equipment route and started my business out of my basement.

There are so many different ways to get established in this industry. Two completely differing approaches can and have fostered similar success stories.

EDITED: 12 Feb 2011 by DATAKES

From: Michael [#3]
 5 Jul 2004
To: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#1] 5 Jul 2004

Hi, David,

Since I'm still wringining my hands, David, please let me pose a hypothetical question; If you were starting today, which would you choose, a mechanical or laser engraver?

Keep smilin,

From: Harvey only (HARVEY-ONLY) [#4]
 5 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#3] 6 Jul 2004

I do not know what David's answer will be, but mine is mechanical.

Most engraving is done on a mechanical. Laser can do wonders in many ways but cannot do plain brass plates, which is a biggie. Also the setup for most gift items is a bear on a onesie basis, much easier on a mechanical.


From: Engravin' Dave (DATAKES) [#5]
 5 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#3] 6 Jul 2004


I would second Harvey's response. In fact, when I opened my shop I started with a mechanical engraver and sandcarving equipment. I followed that up 4 months later with a 30-watt laser, then sublimation equipment.

If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would still do the same sequence. One reason is because I've had so much success with etched glass items. Many individuals would probably choose sublimation second because of its inexpensive cost of entry.

The biggest factor is always your business plan. What market or markets are you supposed to be focused on. That will help steer you into the equipment purchase that would be wisest for you.

EDITED: 12 Feb 2011 by DATAKES

From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#6]
 5 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#3] 6 Jul 2004


If I were just getting started today, I would have the same question.

Fortunately, having a couple decades of experience under my belt, (before going solo), didn't so much tell me what I wanted to do, but rather, helped me decide what I "didn't" want to do.

Even though most of my career was spent in the awards business, I didn't have a passion for that type of work. I found myself drawn to the types of jobs that people couldn't get done, no matter where they looked.

Those jobs, besides being more intriguing, spelled "Job Security". Those jobs, also relied on a manual pantograph, a computerized mechanical engraving system or a combination of the two.

These days, I see a lot of awards shops using a laser as their primary piece of equipment. It makes sense - The equipment is extremely versatile.

For that reason, because laser machines are becoming so prevalent, I would take the contrarian approach and choose a versatile computerized engraving system.

As much as new materials are continually being developed for laser, there will always be areas in which only a mechanical engraver will do the job.

Two of those areas are "Route & Color-Fill" used in the engraving of communications equipment (walkie-talkies), avionics panels, and Mont Blanc pens, to name a few applications and "Diamond Drag" of metal items, such as flatware, card cases, Cross pens/pencils, cigarette lighters, silverplate trays and pewter tankards, to name just a very few.

Ultimately, you want to own both a laser and mechanical system. Until then, especially if money is an issue, you'll be able to get into a mechanical engraving system for much less than a laser, and over time, I suspect those with mechanical capability, will become harder to find, leaving the door wide open to develop a niche and charge what the market will bear to fill that niche.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA

From: Cindy (CINDYM) [#7]
 6 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#3] 6 Jul 2004

I, too, would go for the mechanical engraver. In fact, I have a problem with people in our industry who have begun and continued to call the lasers "laser engravers". I believe that does an dis-service to the people getting into the industry who might believe both machines can do equal work. This is a place where, before you buy, you really need to know either what your market is, or what your market will be.

Lasers and mechanical engravers are two completely different pieces of equipment. There are those who lasers for much of their "engraving" work on plastic and metals, and those who use laser only for wood. There are those who own mechanical engravers who engrave on wood, along with plastic and metal. But you can't "engrave" on gold brass with a laser, and you can get good results with some laser projects on a mechanical engraver.

It is a matter of matching the project to the appropriate piece of equipment. I stretch my Xenetech engraver's capabilities to the max, and job out those laser jobs right now. When I can build a room with venting so I am not affected by the fumes, I will put a laser in my shop. That isn't going to happen in the building I am in right now.

Maybe you can find someone with a laser to trade services with if you buy an engraver or someone with an engraver if you decide to purchase a laser.

Good luck with whatever choice you decide on.


From: Michael [#8]
 6 Jul 2004
To: Cindy (CINDYM) [#7] 6 Jul 2004

Thanks to all of you for your input!

Cindy, have you looked into one of the self contained hepa filter units designed for laser engravers?

Keep smilin,

From: Sei (SEIMA) [#9]
 6 Jul 2004
To: Cindy (CINDYM) [#7] 6 Jul 2004

Possibly because I am a member of the younger generation of engravers I would start out for a laser. However, this depends on starting finances. If I had $50,000 I would get a 50 watt laser with a large bed size and the add-on options. From there I would add a smaller mechanical engraver, after which sandblasting, sublimation, or a vinyl plotter, and eventually a large scale mechanical engraver.

Laser starts the business, after a while engraver expands, one or two of those other processes expands further, and the large scale engraver would be a big-run sign machine.

If I had $20,000 to start, on the other hand, I would probably buy the most versatile mechanical engraver available for my funds and worry about a laser once I'm established.


From: Cindy (CINDYM) [#10]
 6 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#8] 7 Jul 2004

Hi Mike -
I was poisoned by styrene fumes about 10 years ago, quite severely, and from that point on I am extremely sensitive to even being in a building with certain odors. Lasers make me just really sick. Engravers, no problem. Sandblasting, no problem. I can't just get away with a filter, I will have to have a whole room designed for a laser with excellent venting and air control to the rest of the building, and have another person running the machine to get away with having a laser on the premises.

From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#11]
 6 Jul 2004
To: Sei (SEIMA) [#9] 7 Jul 2004


You're making my point. It's all about stepping stones. If money isn't an object, obviously, we'd have all the toys.

My message was meant for people seeking to break away from a dead-end job. Even the lowly manual pantograph, with a set of script and block fonts, would eventually put a person in position to upgrade equipment and build a decent business.

There's nothing more exciting, than, when in a short amount of time, a few engraved items generates enough money to eclipse what could have been made in an 8-hour day job.

I must quickly add that I was an extremely reluctant entreprenuer. If I could have made a healthy living as an employee, I would still be working as one.

I couldn't, so I had to do what I didn't want to do - Become a businessman.

Terrified, isn't too strong a word to describe my first few weeks in business.

I know there are people reading these messages, who are wearing those exact shoes. To those people, I say, "Make a move!" The worst that could happen, is that you'll have to revert to exactly where you are at the present.

"Take no chances, make no advances."

It's as simple as that.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA

EDITED: 6 Jul 2004 by DGL

From: UCONN Dave & Lynn too (DANDL48) [#12]
 7 Jul 2004
To: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#1] 7 Jul 2004


Unless the person who is selling you the used equipment will be available for training, I disagree with you. The training part was very important to us when we bought the laser since we had no background in the engraving business except for sandblasting. Now, since we have had the laser for 2 years, I wouldn't hesitate in considering a used laser, but for the first purchase of a piece of equipment I have never used, the training is very important.


From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#13]
 7 Jul 2004
To: UCONN Dave & Lynn too (DANDL48) [#12] 7 Jul 2004


That's a valid point.

Of the people I know, who have bought used equipment, the previous owners offered training. Surely, not enough for advanced applications, but enough to get started.

When I worked as an employee, our first system was a Dahlgren System 1. We received no training and learned how to operate the machine by reading the manual. The shop later bought a Newing-Hall TLC 300. We learned from the manual.

When I went on my own, I bought a New Hermes Vanguard 3000. Training was offered, but I declined. The manual was all I needed.

The machines I mentioned, compared to the newer equipment, didn't have as many features, so learning from the manual wasn't too difficult.

Obviously, some manuals are better than others, and a person's mechanical ability and reading comprehension come into play.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA

From: JHayes55 [#14]
 7 Jul 2004
To: Michael [#8] 9 Jul 2004

Everyone has given you some very sound advice and their personal opinions. I could not disagree with anyone who has responded to you no matter what there preferences and reason are.
What I would point out is a topic that has been touched on by several of our forum members. That is - "What is your market"?
Depending on the type of jobs you have you can make a much more informed decision.
In our case we do mainly awards (plaques- both wood and metal plated, acrylics), engraved signage, name tags and lots trophy plates.
Beside that we have steady industrial engraving business related to tags for industrial machines and metal engraving (or metal marking which ever term you prefer).
Mainly stainless steel and aluminum parts. We started with a mechanical engraver and laser sublimation. Since Jan. 2002 or gross sales have more than tripled. In Jan. 2002 our laser engraver was delivered.
We worked hard to develop a market so that laser would not only pay for itself but pay us a nice premium for running it. Quite frankly the mechanical engraver gets little use anymore. Basically it is too slow for our needs anymore. But it paved the way for where we wanted to go.
Please do not take that to mean that you should start with a laser or a mechanical engrave that decision should depend on you market needs.
My point being know your market - do you want to specialize in "walk in products" that no one else wants to engrave - like David has developed so successfully.
Are you mainly going to do trophy tags? Are you going for the business awards market? Industrial engraving (and what type?) Engraved signage?
Or have you developed some other type market for you services? Once you have identified your market, your decision on what type of engraver should be much easier. The answer could be either one, both or maybe even none.
Best of luck in you business.


EDITED: 8 Jul 2004 by JHAYES55

From: gt350ed [#15]
 8 Jul 2004
To: JHayes55 [#14] 9 Jul 2004

To Michael and ALL: A lot of my feelings and thoughts have been articulated by Joe.

I guess, Michael, that we are a living example of at least one way to go.

Next month will be our first anniversary as a for-real brick and mortar retail trophy and awards shop. We started in dye-sublimation about 5 years ago and that lead us from being home-based to an expanded product line which necessitated a showroom which, in turn, drove us out of our home business into a store. Along the way, we purchased a sandblaster (Rayzist) new (about $2500 with supplies, etc.).

Immediately prior to opening our store a year ago, we researched and scouted around for a used laser. Our research, conducted in part on this very forum, had us weighing the merits between a mechanical engraver or laser. Ultimately, we decided to go the laser route and have not been sorry at all.

Ironically, we were hooked up with Roy and Jeanette Brewer via this forum and they lead us to some folks in Texas who were looking to sell a 2 year old Universal 35w laser "engraver" (sorry Cindy) for less than half of the cost "new".

This is the ONLY "engraver" that we have. Although it is correct that we cannot "engrave" bare metals other than by Cermark, we consider that to be a relatively small loss in revenue opportunities when compared to what the laser has actually done for us. The bottomline for us has been that the laser paid for itself in 120 days and our gross revenues for our first year will approach $75,000--ALMOST ENTIRELY attributable to our laser "engraver". And....no pun intended....we are confident that we have only scratched the surface of additional money making opportunities.

Having said this, we DO plan on purchasing a computerized rotary/mechanical engraver for one reason. We want to capture ALL the business that comes our way.

On another front, although we received NO training from the previous owner (not their fault), we DID receive and pay for basic training from a factory rep in our area ( 1 day in combination with a set-up/check-out of the machine). Also, the manufacturer has been a tremendous resource as needed.

And, BTW, although we have many years of business experience and education in the corporate sector, we (husband & wife) are self taught in the four disciplines integrated into our business model: lasering, sandblasting, dye-sub and graphics/graphic arts.

So far, so good.

And, finally, as has been stated in previous posts, "Ya gotta start sometime, somewhere".....why not now? MAKE YOUR MOVE....and never, never, ever give up.

Good luck! I hope this free stuff from forum members has been helpful to you. I know it has helped us...and continues to help us.

From: Harvey only (HARVEY-ONLY) [#16]
 9 Jul 2004
To: gt350ed [#15] 10 Jul 2004


Another proof of 'identify your market'.

You started in sublimation, an imaging field. The laser was a natural extension of imaging that a rotary machine could not do well. Now you have become more familiar with text burning and have developed more of a market for it, you are thinking of a rotary engraver. Makes a lot of sense.

I do not have a problem with calling a laser an engraver. It is a method of removing material to produce the resultant lettering/image. Unless I am wrong, that is the basic definition of engraving.


From: Michael [#17]
 9 Jul 2004


All this stupendous advice from so many of you! There's a lot cogitate on. "Thank you" doesn't come close to how I feel about your responses, but it's all I have right now, so,

Thank you, all!

From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#18]
 10 Jul 2004
To: Harvey only (HARVEY-ONLY) [#16] 10 Jul 2004


I think identifying a market (especially, for someone with no engraving experience) is easier said than done. A huge factor (for me) is operating in areas of enjoyment. Afterall, once you attract customers, you'll be working that beat for a long, long time.

As an employee, I had no control over which areas to work. Whatever came through the door, became my project. It didn't matter if I liked the work or not.

When I went on my own, with experience in several areas, including light industrial, signage, giftware, awards, jewelry and hot stamping, I was able to accept or deny work as I saw fit. Of course, initially, with a limited customer base, I wasn't turning down any work. Survival, took precedence over my likes and dislikes and ANY money, was better than no money at all. So, I thought.

As I became established, I began to weed out the losers. I set a minimum hourly labor rate and if a project didn't hit that mark, it went bye bye. Bottom line.

These days, I continue to enforce my minimum labor rate, but choose to work in areas that exceed that mark.

Communications equipment (walkie-talkies) has been particularly lucrative. Why? Most engravers are scared to death to engrave an item that costs hundreds of dollars. Add to that, the fact that paint-filling is required (many people hate paint-filling, some don't even know how) and you have the perfect storm.

An area of EXTREMELY limited competition.

Essentially, it's impossible to identify an area of desire, until you've sampled them all.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA


EDITED: 10 Jul 2004 by DGL

From: aallen [#19]
 10 Jul 2004
To: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#18] 10 Jul 2004

As being newer to this (started last year), I am still amazed at the things some of you engrave and have people paying for that!

I do understand what you mean about wanting to do what you like to do, but in the beginning doing what it takes to pay the bills. That is so true. I too hope to be able to at some point do only what I wanted to do when I started this. But that time is not here yet. :)

I do appreciate all the time and explanation most of you spend on this board. I might not comment much, as I am new enough I don't have the answers, but please know I appreciate it and am interested in what everyone is doing. So many things!

Thanks again,


From: Stunt Engraver (DGL) [#20]
 17 Jul 2004
To: aallen [#19] 17 Jul 2004


You say you started engraving last year. At least you've taken the first crucial step.

I read, in another thread, where you said you live in a rural area and are wondering what opportunities exist there.

Tell us alittle more about your business. What type of equipment? What type of work/service are you currently providing? Full time? Part time?

We may be able to offer some suggestions.

David "The Stunt Engraver" Lavaneri
DGL Engraving
Port Hueneme, CA

EDITED: 17 Jul 2004 by DGL

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