- How To
How To Put Pictures on Jewelry
Below is a simple overview of both the photo engraving process and the color sublimation process. The purpose is to educate entrepreneurs who are considering entering this business.
Photo Engraving/Photo Impact Printing
The term photo engraving or photo impact printing in the jewelry and costume jewelry business refers to the act of etching a halftone image into metal. With very few exceptions, this is done throughout the industry using one of four impact printers manufactured by Roland – the Metaza MPX-50, MPX-60, MPX-70, and MPX-80. Photo engraving results in a monochrome output, meaning the picture will be the same color as the metal it is etched in (usually gold or silver). Photo engraving does not produce any color output (see Color Sublimation below).
The photo engraving process is a pretty straightforward one. The retailer must have a computer, a Metaza unit, a scanner an optionally a digital camera. Just about any Windows-based computer and scanner purchased within the last three years will do fine. The memory capacity of today’s machines is more than capable of handling this procedure. A customer brings in a photo that he or she wants put onto a pendant. The retailer scans the photo into the computer using the scanner. Once captured into the computer, the retailer then imports the image into the Dr. Metaza software (which comes with the Metaza impact printer) and sizes the picture on the screen. After placing a blank pendant inside the Metaza unit, the retailer then prints the image from Dr. Metaza to the blank pendant.
Any individual looking to start photo engraving must be prepared to invest some time learning the ins and outs of the Metaza unit. Usually it takes a week or so to get comfortable using the equipment, although sellable items can be produced in the first day of use.
As far as the machines go, the MPX-50 and MPX-60 (both discontinued) take about 15-18 minutes to engrave a 29x50mm dog tag (the most popular shape). The MPX-70 and MPX-80 can engrave a dog tag in about as 5 ½ minutes.
The color sublimation of pendants allows you to produce full color pictures on charms. This is the same technology widely used for years to produce images on coffee mugs, mouse pads, and so forth. The process is completely different from photo engraving.
Color sublimation ink is a special ink that migrates under heat. The target of the sublimation, in this case a pendant or charm, is coated with a clear polymer. The polymer has pores that open when placed under heat. When a printout using color sublimation ink is placed on top of a polymer coated pendant under a heat press, the ink moves from the paper inside the polymer pores. When the items are taken out of the heat press, the pores close, trapping the ink inside. The ink is not actually on the metal but inside the clear polymer layer. But for all intents and purposes, it appears that the image is on the metal.
Because color sublimation uses polymer coated tags and photo engraving uses bare metal, you must select the correct tag to use for the correct process. Metaza pendants will not work with color sublimation because the ink will not sit on the bare metal. It is a bad idea to try to engrave on color sublimation tags because the Metaza stylus (engraving tip) will usually tear through the polymer coat.
There are several pieces of equipment needed for color sublimation. A computer, a scanner, a digital camera (optional), an ink jet printer, color sublimation ink, color sublimation paper, and a heat press are needed. We suggest an Epson C86 printer, which can be purchased at many computer superstores for about $80. Keep in mind, however, that the ink that comes with this printer is not sublimation ink. You will have to separately purchase sublimation ink, which will migrate under heat (available on our website).
The process begins with a customer bringing in a picture that he or she wants on a pendant. The retailer scans the picture into the computer using a scanner. The retailer brings the image into an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements (which can be purchased from many computer and software supply stores). The retailer prints the image to the inkjet printer. The printout is then placed under the heat press (preheated to 400 degrees) with a color sublimation pendant. The heat press is brought down for 40 seconds and then raised. The image from the paper has been transferred to the pendant.
Although color sublimation requires more equipment, it is usually a little less expensive for all of the equipment when compared to purchasing a photo engraving machine. The process is faster, since the sublimation part of the process only takes forty seconds. The metal does have to cool off of course, before giving the final product to the customer.