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Sandblasting Essentials Part 1

Do not be intimidated by sandblasting! Most people who are not involved in the awards and recognition industry think of sandblasting as an industrial process.

Sandblasting Essentials Part 1

BY JOHN AND JUDY MCDANIEL | CORELDRAW HELP INC. MOMENTSREMEMBERED.COM

(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Recognition Review.)

Do not be intimidated by sandblasting! Most people who are not involved in the awards and recognition industry think of sandblasting as an industrial process.

They think of cleaning automotive parts (bead-blasting); cleaning parts for powder-coating, an electrostatic painting process; or removing paint from buildings or bridges.

If you do an Internet search on sandblasting, you likely will be referred to companies that do the type of industrial sandblasting processes mentioned above or sell equipment for those types of operations. In our area, about halfway down the list on the first page of results, we were referred to powder-coat painting companies. We didn’t find a decorative sandblasting company until about the 10th page of results.

So, don’t be surprised if you get a quizzical look from people outside the awards industry when you mention that you are considering expanding into sandblasting. When we first started, some people asked what bead-blasting had to do with awards. We would have to explain to them that bead-blasting has nothing to do with decorative sandblasting of awards and gifts. Judy still gets that look that seems to say: “Wow, you sandblast buildings?”

It’s much easier to explain by showing people sandblasted products, especially when those people are clients and potential customers. Showing key customers and clients products you are thinking of producing is an excellent way to explore expansion possibilities. We found it helped guide us in building our business.

In the awards and recognition world, some folks have chosen to describe sandblasting as sandcarving. Although this avoids the confusion with parts cleaning and paint removal, true sandcarving is a somewhat more advanced sandblasting process that is very different than simple surface decoration. Sandcarving is a much more complex form of decorative sandblasting in which different elements of an image are blasted at different times. This process is sometimes referred to as stage carving, since the work is done in stages.

In the awards world, sandblasting refers to decorating an item using sandblasting as the application process. Therefore, for outsiders, we have adopted “decorative sandblasting” as a more precise and descriptive term for the process. that is very different than simple surface decoration.

Sandcarving is a much more complex form of decorative sandblasting in which different elements of an image are blasted at different times. This process is sometimes referred to as stage carving, since the work is done in stages.

In the awards world, sandblasting refers to decorating an item using sandblasting as the application process. Therefore, for outsiders, we have adopted “decorative sandblasting” as a more precise and descriptive term for the process.

DECORATIVE SANDBLASTING

So far, the best definition we’ve heard is that decorative sandblasting is the controlled disruption of a material’s surface, resulting in a visible, recognizable pattern.

Control is accomplished through artistic techniques using a stream of pressurized abrasive media along with resist materials in the form of masks or stencils.

Achieving a visible, recognizable pattern on the surface of any object via sandblasting can be accomplished in various ways, including surface blasting and sandcarving (or stage carving).

SURFACE BLASTING

The most common form of decorative sandblasting is surface blasting. Surface blasting forms a simple silhouette through frosted or etched areas.

A mask or stencil is created and attached to the product before an abrasive air stream is directed at the surface. The abrasive marks the surface of areas that aren’t covered with the mask. Areas that are covered by the mask protect the surface from the etching. Lettering, simple graphics, and most company logos work very well using this technique.

A variation of surface blasting is photo-image sandblasting. A photograph is converted to a black and white halftone image on the computer. From that image, a halftone mask is created and applied to the product. Then, the surface is lightly blasted, producing a halftone surface etch.

Halftone dots in the computer image become open areas in the mask that allow the abrasive through to mark the surface. The resulting image is similar to a black and white photo, instead of the silhouette created by simple surface blasting. The quality of the sandblasted photo depends largely on the halftone mask.

A slightly more advanced variation of surface blasting is shading. The sandblast artist uses the abrasive air stream in a manner similar to painting with an airbrush. They lightly frost areas, fading them into un-etched areas. This technique is often used to create clouds.

SANDCARVING OR STAGE CARVING

Sandblasting can carve—or create cuts of various depths in—many materials to create stunning results. Sandcarving or stage carving is a very advanced technique often used to create one-of-a-kind art objects.

In surface blasting, the image is created from the presence and absence of frost or etch. It’s a silhouette image. Adjacent image elements must either be frosted or clear, they will be lost if they are merged. With sandcarving, adjacent areas may be defined by varying depths. This means that adjacent areas may be frosted without merging into one. Definition is created by depth of cut, or carve. One graphic element is carved deeper than another, providing shape and distinction.

To produce a carved image with elements at different depths, adjacent elements must be blasted or carved at different times. This requires that the mask be removed in segments or stages, leading to the alternate term stage carving or multistage carving.

It takes much longer to sandcarve an item than to sandblast it and it’s very difficult to duplicate looks exactly. Creating identical sandcarved awards is nearly impossible. They will be very close in appearance, but not identical.

For these reasons, carving is not often used for awards or gifts that need to be identical. For such items, we would mostly use surface blasting; possibly making a few elements deeper to provide a custom look and add depth to the image. That said, for most awards, gifts, promotional products, and other production runs, simple surface blasting is used.

 

This photograph was sandblasted onto glass using a surface blasting and a halftone mask. Photo-image sandblasting creates a look similar to a black and white photo in a newspaper.

WHY DECORATIVE SANDBLASTING?

Why consider adding sandblasted products to your offerings? Items that are sandblasted have a very high perceived value. It’s been our experience that the perceived value of a sandblasted item is higher than the same or similar item produced using other decoration methods. Perceived value is a key element in what a customer is willing to pay for an item. In our opinion, at least part of the reason for that perception is that most sandblasted awards and gifts are crystal or glass. It seems that there is something deep in the human psyche that places a high value on glass and crystal.

Beyond that, sandblasting is one of the least expensive processes you can expand your business into. (We will learn more about the cost of adding sandblasting in Part 3, in December’s Recognition Review.)

LOOKING AHEAD

Going forward, we will use the term “sandblasting” to refer to product decoration in which the image is formed by the presence and absence of disruption, sometimes referred to as frost or etch—images formed using silhouette (black and white) artwork. We’ll use the terms “sandcarving” or “stage carving” to refer to decoration in which different areas of an image are blasted at different times, using depth to differentiate elements.

The eagle’s feathers, stars, stripes, and lettering were all sandcarved for an image with depth. If the image had been surface carved, adjacent sandblasted areas would merge, including all of the parts of the eagle and the stripes that touch the eagle.

Next month, Part 2 will explain the materials you can sandblast and some of the products you can produce. Then in Part 3 in December, you’ll learn about the equipment, investment, and training required to produce decorative sandblasted products.

John and Judy McDaniel own CorelDRAW Help, Inc. and MomentsRemembered.com. John’s background is in computers, Judy’s in art and retail. They started in the personalization business in 1989 with CorelDRAW version 1.0. They use CorelDRAW with mechanical and laser engravers to produce awards, gifts, and industrial products. They’ve also used it with all types of printers and vinyl cutters to create sublimation and other image transfers, sandblast masks, screen-print screens, pad-printing plates, signs and banners, and sales literature and flyers. Now, they are adding website design to their use of CorelDRAW. They have written hundreds of articles and tips, lectured across the country, and taught CorelDRAW since 1991. Attend their hands-on introduction to sandblasting class at the ARA International Awards Market in January.

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