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By J. Stephen Spence

A New Day Is Dawning
                               HERE IS A SONG WITH THE LYRICS OF,         their samples, I would come home and give it all another

                    T          “There is a new day dawning,” and
                               nothing could illustrate more clearly
                       the revolution that is taking place in the world
                                                                          try. I never did get my work to even come close to some
                                                                          I saw at the shows and gave up in disgust.
                                                                              Granted, I would occasionally run across other
                       of plaque design.                                  engravers who claimed their sublimated plaques were of
                           I remember well the days when there was        excellent quality, but when I saw them for myself, I found
                       little or nothing more than diamond drag           considerable reassurance in the fact that I wasn’t alone after
                       on a sheet of gold aluminum. Although it           all. It wasn’t me that lacked in quality or skill; it was the
SPENCE                 was nearly impossible to read and forget           sublimation process in general.
         graphics or multi-stroke letters, it was all but an art              In November, 1997, I tried yet another sublimation
         form just to transfer the letters. Each letter was carefully     “miracle”. After all, I had tried all the other techniques,
         traced from the tray of a pantograph, one or two lines           some with marginal success, why not this one?
         at a time, moving the engraving plate and changing the               The system I tried was ink-jet sublimation, and with
         stencils as you went.                                            it a whole new world opened up. I will never forget the
              Then came the computer engraver. Still, graphics            first plaque I made with the new system. I was acting as
         were nearly unheard of, but multi-stroke letters were pos-       a consultant to the owners of a local trophy shop who
         sible, as was a wider variety of engraving materials. As         had purchased a system but needed someone to show
         the computer engraver matured, more and more fonts,
         graphics and even logos became possible. With this
         came the need to learn how to digitize and scan images
         to create logos, art and special effects. Then came another
         revolution—the laser.
              Lasers were never expected to catch on like they did.
         One laser representative told me the original expectation
         was for the laser market to be saturated by the time
         they sold their 600th machine. Well, that was a bit off—
         with thousands of machines and a half dozen manu-
         facturers struggling to meet the demand!
              With the laser came another genre of plaques. First
         there were solid-walnut plaques, then foil-covered
         plaques followed by acrylic plaques and laserable coated
         brass and steel plates for plaques, and even glass plaques.
         Literally, a whole new world opened up to the engraver
         in respect to the variety of plaques and awards he could
         offer his customers.
              Now, there is a newcomer to the plaque industry, and
         it, too, will revolutionize the plaque-making industry.
         It is called full-color sublimation, and although subli-
         mation has been around since the 1970’s, it has never
         been anything like this!
              For years, it has been popular to sublimate black
         text and graphics onto gold or silver metal, and that will
         continue to be popular. But what about photographs?
         Black on gold looked pretty sometimes, but most of the
         time, the images really aren’t all that great—they have
         just been the best the technology of the day could offer.        This layout of the waterfall is similar to the very first
              I well remember how much I hated to work with sub-          plaque I ever made with ink-jet sublimation. We made it
                                                                          on an 8'' x 10'' sheet of white metal and mounted it to an
         limation because of the poor quality, the lack of defini-        imitation cherry plaque board, hung it in the showroom
         tion and the always-present backgrounding. I never under-        and sold five in two days with only text changes. The
                                                                          waterfall is from the “Borders” folder, and the hot air
         stood why some people’s work looked so much better than          balloon is from the “Aviation” folder in CorelDraw 7.
         mine, and each time I would attend a tradeshow and see           The EPA logo is also from CorelDraw.

16                                                                                                                     February 1999 • A&E MAGAZINE
them how to use it. To be honest, I tried         boards and filled with lines of text. Ideas      express their individuality and creativity by
everything I could think of to get them to        for new designs are coming fast. In fact,        having green skies if they wanted to.
invest in some other technology, but they         here is a new idea for you. What about               This is exactly what we need to do. We
were persistent, and so we made our first         allowing the customer to design his or her       need to learn to color outside the lines.
full-color plaque.                                own plaque at home? Sound like a night-          Those of us who design and make plaques
    My objective was to show them how to          mare in the making? Maybe, but in today’s        need to step outside the boundaries of
design a plaque using CorelDraw!, so we           high-tech world of computers, it isn’t           current traditions to experiment with the
imported a couple of graphics, added some         unusual to find secretaries and executives       millions upon millions of possibilities
fictitious text and printed the transfer.         alike with considerable expertise in the         made available to us through this new,
Amazed by the quality of the image I saw          use of desktop publishing programs like          full-color pallet. We must not limit our-
come from the printer, I mounted it on a          PrintShop, CorelDraw or Adobe, only to           selves to the two-dimensional world of
cherry plaque board and hung it on the dis-       mention a few. Why should the engraver           gold and black.
play wall. To my amazement, the very next         struggle with a plaque layout when the               Granted, some of the things we will
customer to walk in the door ordered one!         customer can create their own—just the           try will be terrible, hideous things that no
What’s more, when I went by to check on           way they want it—and all the engraver has        one should ever have to hang on their
things a day or two later, they had sold four     to do is print it?                               wall, but by the same token, some of these
more—at $50 each! That was $250 in sales              What about selling plaques through           creations will push the envelope of design
in just a couple of days from a single            the Internet? If the customer can create         into an exciting new generation of plaque
sample. No one even wanted to change the          his own plaque, why not allow him or her         graphics. We must not limit ourselves to
design—just the text. Needless to say, I          to select a basic design or size from a Web      white boards with lots of color either. Why
was more than a little bewildered.                site, e-mail the file and credit card for pay-   not use traditional frames by exchanging
    Since those early days, much has              ment, only to receive the finished product       the engraving plate with a sublimated
changed in the world of full-color subli-         by UPS in a couple of days?                      plate. I did this with a memorial plaque
mation. The printers are better and faster, the       Outrageous, you say? Impossible? Too         recently, and it turned out great.
color correction software is better, and there    far out? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we
are any number of new products that can be        will see some enterprising entrepreneur          PIONEERING
sublimated with either ink-jet, digital, laser    with a Web site doing just this very thing          Few people ever have the opportunity
or wax-transfer technologies.                     before the new millenium. No, it isn’t           to be pioneers—but we do. Like the pio-
    As for plaques, we are only beginning to      me, and I have no idea who it will be,           neers of computer and laser engraving,
see the vast variety of designs made possible     but the combination of the Internet and          we face the challenge of doing things dif-
by the new sublimation technologies. No           sublimated products is a natural. Someone        ferently and may well blaze the way for
longer will a savvy customer be satisfied         is going to make a lot of money from it.         countless generations to follow in the
with a grainy black photograph on gold                But what about us old-fashioned guys         awards industry.
metal when he can have a vivid full-color         with shops who aren’t so savvy to the cyber-        Do you remember when it took two
photograph that rivals the original for about     world? What do we have to do to remain on        weeks to get a roll of film developed? First,
the same price. Nor is it necessary to restrict   the cutting edge? I am reminded of one of        you had to take it to a camera store so
the number of colors in their logo or the         those serendipitous moments from my col-         they could ship it off to a lab where the
color of the background. With only a few          lege days. I really did go to college, and       film was processed and returned to the
exceptions, the customer can have as many         although it rarely shows, I actually did stay    store so you could make another trip to
colors as they want.                              awake through some of the lectures.              pick it up. How is it done today? Chances
                                                      Anyway, I was in an early-childhood-         are, you drop off your film at a discount
PREDICTIONS                                       education class listening to a hot debate as     store or a store in the mall while you do
   How is this going to change the plaque         to whether a grade school teacher should         your shopping, only to pick it up as you
industry? Let me whip out my crystal ball         ever tell a child to “color within the lines”    check-out an hour or so later.
and make a prediction or two. First, it is        or whether the teacher should encourage             A business that was once dominated by
going to mean a lot more photographs              a child to color things the “right” color. You   white-coated photographic gurus is now
and color logos on plaques. Second, it is         know, trees are green, not purple; the sky       managed by an army of customer service
going to open plaques up to a world of            is blue, not green. The concern was that by      custodians. Could this ever happen to the
new graphic designs.                              telling a child he had to stay in the lines,     plaque industry? I would hate to see it
   No longer will customers be happy              we were limiting his or her creativity. The      myself, but I think it could—and will.
with square plates screwed onto wooden            professor wanted children to be able to             I think people will, when given the oppor-

A&E MAGAZINE • February 1999                                                                                                                 17

                                               tunity, purchase plaques for their business, if    items. Each one of us has the opportunity to
                                               not for every other reason under the sun,          be a pioneer in wherever the plaque business
                                               by a means other than visiting an engraving        is going, and to be a significant part of it. For
                                               shop. This may include the Internet but may        if we fail to be pioneers, we may well look
                                               also include a kiosk in the local mall or in       back ten years from now and wonder where
                                               ways no one has yet imagined.                      we missed the boat.
                                                   This much is sure. With the advent of              Sublimated plaques are not a threat
                                               a simple, fast, affordable, high-quality,          but yet another challenge to offer the
                                               full-color imprinting process that can be          public a whole new line of products that
                                               applied to dozens of products, nothing is          can expand our businesses and open a
                                               going to stop the natural progression of the       wide variety of possibilities for us as entre-
This layout illustrates how easy it is to      marketplace.                                       preneurs. Full-color plaques are fun, easy
create unique and complex graphic                  Today’s marketplace is (and has been)          and best of all, very profitable. Why not
designs. This border comes already
prepared in the CorelDraw clipart. All I did   dominated by a voracious appetite for the          give them a try?
was add the text and scan a signature.         “fast food” or “instant gratification” con-
There are a wide variety of graphics
programs available offering similar
                                               cept of buying anything. To date, the
possibilities.                                 awards industry has managed to avoid this          J. Stephen Spence is the owner of Awards by
                                               problem, but those days may be short-              Recognition Concepts in Ceredo, W.Va. In
                                               lived now that quality, full-color awards can      addition, Stephen offers a variety of services to
                                               be produced so quickly.                            assist those interested in starting their own
                                                   The moral to this story? Look to the future.   company, or to help established businesses to
                                               The awards business is in transition. It is        grow. He can be contacted by e-mail at
                                               time to learn about graphics programs and, by phone at (304) 453-
                                               to get ready for the onslaught of a whole          1800, or by fax at (304) 453-1900.            A&E

                                               new way of making plaques and other award

18                                                                                                                    February 1999 • A&E MAGAZINE

Bobbi McMullen Bobbi McMullen Product Marketing