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Should You Be in UV?

Thinking of adding a UV printer to your lineup, but unsure of what to expect?

We asked four Awards and Personalization Association member retailers to tell us all about their first experiences with UV printers, from researching the purchase and learning how to operate it to how they’re marketing their new capabilities.

Should You Be in UV?

Retailers with Direct-To-Substrate Printers Tell All—The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Thinking of adding a UV printer to your lineup, but unsure of what to expect?

We asked four Awards and Personalization Association member retailers to tell us all about their first experiences with UV printers, from researching the purchase and learning how to operate it to how they’re marketing their new capabilities.

Amanda Gianotti, CRS
Allogram, Inc., Timonium and Odenton, MD


With a UV printer, Allogram transforms laser-cut acrylic into a custom award that a recipient would be proud to display. | PHOTO COURTESY OF AMANDA GIANOTTI, CRS

When did you purchase your UV printer?

(The model used in our Timonium location) was purchased in August 2014. (The model used in our Odenton location was purchased) in February 2015. I had admired their work for years not knowing how it was done. Then, when I first learned of the printer, the cost was too high. I waited about 4 years before purchasing.

What research did you do before buying?
I spoke to people running the equipment and the vendors on the show floor (at the International Awards & Personalization Expo).

How did you think the UV printer would change the way you do business?
I knew adding full color to acrylic and glass would be a game changer for us. Color really adds excitement to even the most mundane item.

What did your UV printer actually change?
The UV printers have significantly reduced the amount we run our thermal printer. It also added a great way for us to upsell and get additional money for the same award.

How did you educate customers about the addition?
We were already selling thermally printed clear vinyl (that was) cut and applied to products. The UV print quality is so much nicer that educating customers was as easy as showing them the output from the printer.

What was the most challenging part of incorporating your new printer into your workflow?
UV prints full color so beautifully, our biggest challenge was creating the art. As engravers, we often thought in simplistic terms, and now we had to learn to create with color and texture without limitations.

What were the hardest and easiest aspects of using the new UV printer?
We were concerned about maintenance, but it turned out not to be so hard at all. It is daily on the (Timonium equipment) and simpler on the (Odenton equipment), but it is just a routine to develop and follow. Prior to the UV printers, our maintenance schedules were only monthly, quarterly, or yearly. With these printers, maintenance is daily, but not difficult.

What do you wish you’d known before you purchased your UV printer—good or bad?
The most important thing to know before purchasing a UV printer is knowing what you intend to print on. There are different printers for garments versus hard goods and different printers are better at different substrates. Once you know what you want to print on, selecting the right machine is easier.

What is the best thing about having this equipment available in your shop?
The versatility of printing in full color has allowed us to offer a higher caliber of customized awards to our clients.

What advice would you give to other retailers looking to add UV printers to their shops?
Figure out how you intend to use the printer and then, as NIKE says, “Just do it”!

Karl Scheife
Competitor Awards & Engraving, Inc., Hartland, WI



Competitor Awards & Engraving transforms photos into awards using a UV printer. Subtle text and graphics make these awards a natural fit on a shelf or desk, and the imagery is something the recipient would be happy to see every day. | PHOTOS COURTESY OF KARL SCHEIFE

When did you purchase your UV printer?
November 2015

How long did you consider adding this to your shop before you made your purchase?
2 years

What research did you do before your purchase?
Looked at all available printers at the International Awards & Personalization Expo and on demos.

How did adding the UV printer change the way you do business?
It added new abilities for awards. We brought work in-house that we had been sending out. Although we can now offer color on items we had not done in-house, we offered it before and either printed using alternate methods or jobbed out the printing.

What was the most challenging part of incorporating your new UV printer into your workflow?
Software and maintenance issues

What parts of using the UV printer were hardest at first? What parts were easiest?
It is a high-maintenance machine; for the first several months there were many issues. We ended up climate controlling the room to regulate temperature and humidity.

What is the best thing about having this equipment in your shop?
The availability to offer color on many items we could not have before without sending out (the job).

What advice would you give other retailers considering adding UV printers to their shops?
Make sure the vendor will be a partner, not just a reseller. You’re not going to be an expert in 6 months.

John Stangle, CRM
Creative Awards & Screen Printing, Wichita, KS


John Stangle, CRM, uses his UV printer to add color to otherwise traditional awards and to decor items, such as this colorful rose printed on canvas-covered hardboard purchased from a local craft store. | PHOTOS COURTESY OF CREATIVE AWARDS & SCREEN PRINTING

When did you purchase your UV printer?
I bought it in March of 2017 after a year with another machine that did not work out.

How long did you consider adding this to your shop before you made your purchase?
I had been outsourcing the services to a couple other companies for ongoing jobs for 3-4 years.

What research did you do before purchasing your UV printer?
I went to trade shows and read all of the information I could find on each machine. I would ask many questions and also stand back and listen to Q&As with other customers—that was a valuable tool!

I was really blown away when the manufacturers started showing their 3-D effects, and that was a tipping point to really look to purchase one.

How did you imagine the printer would change your business?
Of course, my main thought was to bring in all of the jobs I had been outsourcing and to have better control of those jobs. I also thought about adding color to the everyday jobs I was already producing. I also wanted to produce name badges on this machine.

I have been successful on the onesie-twosie jobs as well as the large-quantity jobs. Pricing is a major factor; you do have to be competitive, but also know how much time and materials it will take to get each job done. That is only done by “on the job training”—or as I call it “the school of hard knocks.”

How did adding the printer actually change the way you do business?
UV printing adds a more upscale look to the finished product than sublimation does. Some items that you would like to sublimate cannot take the heat or fit in a heat press; as long as the object is flat and will fit inside of the machine, you generally can UV print on it. I have 6 in. of vertical clearance on this machine; my heat press will not open that wide.

A relatively common substrate—such as shaped acrylic (above) or a plaque (above right and below inset)—becomes noteworthy when the right graphics are printed directly onto it. In the case of the plaque, no additional pieces, engraving, or screws are needed for personalization, making this an efficient and effective process. | PHOTOS COURTESY OF CREATIVE AWARDS & SCREEN PRINTING

How did you educate customers about this new addition?
By putting samples in the showroom and suggesting it to clients when they came in looking for something different. It is true—color does sell!

What was the most challenging part of incorporating your new printer into your workflow?
The software was a big learning curve for me, and I am still not sure how some jobs will turn out until I actually make a sample, which takes time and sometimes product waste.

Another challenge is to match PMS colors—still working on that one.

What parts of using the printer were hardest at first?
Learning the software is the hardest; there was just a few hours of training by the tech after installing the machine, and when the tech left, it seemed like ALL the knowledge I thought I had learned went out the door with him.

What do you wish you’d known before you purchased your printer—good or bad?
(I wish I’d known) that so many T-shirt orders would come my way without me advertising.

What is the best thing about having the printer?
Control: Being able to control the job and not wait on an outside company’s timetable to get it done in time for my customer’s event or it getting lost in shipping.

Since I bought (this model), I use a little different formula of inks, which allows me to print onto many different substrates including fabric. I thought I would be printing a few onesie-twosie T-shirts here and there, but almost immediately, I had a customer come in wanting a few full-color photo T-shirts for a funeral in just a couple of days.

Because I have screen printed on shirts for more than 22 years, I knew I could not do full-color using that equipment. So I quickly learned how to UV print on the shirts before I printed on anything else. White shirts, dark shirts, even black shirts—all come out great!

In fact, I currently have two different shirt orders waiting for me to print right now, one order with 35 shirts and another with 60 shirts. Because of the complexity of the colors in the designs, I would have had to have someone else do both orders. Win-win for me!

What advice would you give other retailers who are considering adding UV printers to their shops?

  • Make sure you have a market built up before buying a machine, because not every job can be put in the machine nor would you want to do that process on some products.
  • Make sure you can price the products correctly to make a profit.
  • Allow time for yourself and staff to master the learning curve of a different technology.
  • Showcase the products to your customers—they will really fall in love with the color options.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment on different items.
  • Use your laser to make jigs to hold large quantities of an item in one pass.

Brice Gustin
Joan’s Trophy & Plaque Co., Peoria, IL


When did you purchase your UV printer?
We purchased our first UV printer in 2010, and our current printer is a large flatbed printer that was purchased in 2014.

How long did you consider adding this to your shop before you made your purchase?
1 to 2 years

What research did you do in advance of the purchase?
We had manufacturers do test printing on a variety of different materials to check the adhesion. There were only one or two manufacturers that made desktop machines at the time. The quick parts and service and quality name in the print industry were the main reasons we went with (the model we did) at the time.

How did you imagine the UV-LED printer would change the way you do business?
We have always tried to stay ahead of the curve on technology ever since we started back in the early ’70s. Being able to print white is the key that fueled the change to UV printing. Without the white, the colors are really dull on clear or dark items.

How did you educate customers about the addition?
The key is to have sample UV-printed products on our website (and in our) showroom so the customer can see the added value of having their logo in color on an item—at an additional cost. Also, creating new layouts of awards that have new designs focusing on the color.

What parts of using the printer were hardest at first?
The hardest thing is getting your employees or yourself to do all the daily/weekly/monthly maintenance.

What do you wish you’d known before you purchased your UV printer?
Doing the proper maintenance is necessary. Make sure to run the machine at least every day to help prevent clogs.

What is the best thing about having this equipment available in your shop?
Being able to turn around large color-printed jobs very quickly, and being able to break into the sign industry.

What advice would you give other retailers looking to add UV-LED printers to their shops?
I truly believe UV printers are slowly changing the awards industry, just like laser engravers have. If you plan on getting one, make sure to push product/services to get your money’s worth out of it.

Awards and Personalization Association

The Awards and Personalization Association is the organization for retailers and suppliers of personalized and customized items. By providing education, meetings, and access to a vibrant network of professionals, the Awards and Personalization Association is the one place to ensure the growth of your talent, your business, and your professional community.

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