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How to engrave: the tricks of the trade.

Established in 1971, Alpha Engraving has been in business for more than 35 years, guiding customers toward building their most precious personalized gifts.  We serve customers from all over the world.  Located in mid-town manhattan, we serve TV and film companies and our work is often displayed "on camera" and requires perfection.

How to engrave what?

Everything can be engraved, which is not to say that you will be happy with the results.  Different methods will yield different results and the most expensive methods may not be the ones you will be most happy with.  Be aware of salespeople recommending the most costly methods, this may simply be because they do not have access to more sophisticated tools.

What material are you engraving?

Leather, wood and titanium can only be engraved by a laser (see below).  The results of engraving glass will vary depending on the method of engraving but limitations apply depending on the material being engraved and the shape of the object.  Gold, silver and sterling silver can be engraved by hand or by machine, cannot be engraved by a laser.

Can we hold it?

This will be the first question of the engraver when looking at a consumer's piece: if it can't fit in the holder, then it can't be engraved.  Different machines allow for the engraving of differently shaped objects.  Most objects can be engraved, one way or another.

Hand Engraving

Contrary to the common belief that hand engraving is done completely by hand, it requires a basic, simple machine that holds the item being engraved and guides the engraver through the fonts using strong and sturdy metal guides.  Experts at hand engraving will built their own custom guides over years and years of satisfying customer needs. 

Pros and Cons:
These archaic looking machines allow for imperfections.  As the engraver applies pressure (unevenly) on his machine and spaces the letters and words approximately, the quality of the engraving varies with the experience, talent and sometimes fatique of the master.  This is a labor intensive tool and its outcome is often flawed by human errors and mistakes (although not always visible to the unaware eye).  This is a preferred tool of engraving for companies that look to charge more to its customers since it is more labor intensive.  It is also recommended when machine engraving is difficult because of the shape of the object (most engraving machines can only hold flat objects.  But it gives a feel of antiquity and authentic engraving.  Some say that it allows for deeper engraving and that it will last longer, but that is legend since engraving machines are more powerful and often apply more pressure and do so more evenly than humans.

Machine Engraving

This is the prefered tool for flat pieces and logos (no hand engraver will built a logo guide for just one piece!).  Most engraving machines are limited to engraving flat pieces.  Recent to the market are a few new machines which compete with hand engraving in that it offers a better quality of engraving and is less labor intensive, therefore less expensive and more even than hand engraving.  However, most engraving machines do not handle circular or uneven objects.

Laser Engraving

The precise power of a laser beam is most prized but is not available for everything.  This is the preferred method of engraving logos, because the vectorizing of logos required by engraving machines is not necessary (in most cases) and formats like jpeg or gif can be used as is.  The speed of the laser makes it attractive to engrave bulk orders.  It's a good method of engraving all kinds of materials from brass to titanium, leather, wood, acrylic and glass.  Being connected to a computer, it offers a wide variety of fonts.  Most machines are limited.  Limitations include engraving silver and sterling silver objects as well as crystals and stones. 


Etching is the term used to describe laser engraving:  since the laser beam burns the surface on the object very quickly, it does not often indent the item.  When passing a finger of the object after it has been engraved, one can barely feel the engraving.

Hand Engraving Machines, computer connected

This is the best of both worlds.  An engraver can do pretty much anything on those, except engraving on titanium, wood and leather (see laser engraving).
This is the preferred method of engraving jewelry and precious pieces that can not be replaced.  Leaving little room for human error, these machines are precise but slow.  Connected to a computer, they offer a wide variety of fonts.  
Logos can be engraved by a computer connected hand engraving machine, but most request a vector line format (no jpeg or gif).   Not for bulk orders.


Vector line format

You need a professional vector graphics program to open the vector file.
We recommend that you save the file first, then open it with the appropriate vector program (Adobe Illustrator CS2 for example).   
Double clicking on the file may prompt your computer to open the file with another program thereby changing the file's initial format.  
Instead, open the program first, then open the file. 
Opening the file with a "raster" program like Photoshop will "rasterize" the image and the file will be of no use to anyone requiring vector line art. 
Opening the file with a PDF reader may change your eps file to a pdf file
instead. If the vector file was requested by a third party and you do not have vector graphics program, simply forward the attached file or save the file to disc.  
EPS is the preferred file format for most engraving machines.
Simply embedding a photo (jpeg for example) into a file and saving it with an .eps extension will not turn your image into a vector line graphic.


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