Creating a business is often one of the reasons people invest in technology like laser cutters and 3D printers, but there are so many uses for them, that it can be tricky to know how to pick one idea. Creating a business that offers bespoke, customised trophies with laser engraving allows you to offer your services to businesses all over the country – and even internationally, if it makes sense with shipping costs. In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the types of trophies that are in demand for businesses and organisations, how much you will need to invest, and things to consider when setting up such a business.
What types of businesses and organisations want trophies?
Unless you’re actively involved with an organisation that is the recipient of industry awards, you’re hardworking enough to win them yourself, or you’re involved with an organisation that issues awards, then you might be forgiven for thinking that demand for trophies has died off now in favour of NFTs and website logos. But you’d be wrong – and there are plenty of businesses and organisations that are looking to source mementos for competitions, annual awards, and more. For businesses providing engraved and bespoke trophies, customers might include:
- Schools, colleges, and universities
Companies running industry awards
Businesses running internal awards
Youth groups such as Guiding and Scouts
Tabletop gaming and card game groups
Pubs running quizzes and game competitions
What types of trophies can I make with a laser cutter?
With a laser cutter, there are all kinds of different designs you can create, depending on the type of material you’re working with, and the shape of the trophy that you want to create. There is a huge amount of scope for creating different shapes, sizes, and styles though, as you’ll already be aware if you’ve been working with your laser cutter for a while.
You’ll almost certainly be using your laser cutter to personalise the trophies with logos, award information, and the name of the recipient, so the engraving on the trophy is where much of the design work will be centred.
What materials can I use to create a trophy with my laser cutter?
There are plenty of materials that can be used with a laser cutter when you’re creating trophies – as long as you only use the materials that are safe to be used in the type of laser cutter that you own. Just to recap:
CO2 lasers can be used to cut and engrave on wood, paper, acrylic, plastics, leather, fabrics, and glass
Fibre lasers can be used to cut metals, alloys, non-metals, glass, wood, and plastics
Crystal lasers can be used to cut metals, non-metals, and some types of ceramics
Amongst the simplest of trophies to create are from simple blocks of polished acrylic. They’re low cost to source, and they are popular to create award plaques because they can be cut to different shapes to create a unique look, and because the surfaces are flat, they are easy to engrave upon with your laser cutter.
Laser cutters can also be used to create wooden trophies – and these are a great alternative for companies that have an environmental focus and that are looking to reduce the amount of plastic or acrylic they use. Many wooden winners trophies have a similar overall style to polished acrylic awards tombstones, but with different techniques, it is possible to create a really striking trophy that shows the recipient’s name much more clearly than on acrylic.
If you’re going to want to engrave on some metals, either for on an award plaque, or on a medal, then the Beamo is a good option. It won’t cut through metals, but it can engrave on stainless steel, anode metals, wood, bamboo, and stone.
While we’re talking about the materials that can be cut with a laser cutter, it is worth mentioning that we’ve discussed extensively in different posts the types of materials that should never be cut with laser cutters. Unless you’re on a mission to completely ruin your laser cutter, it is well worth your while checking that list before you get started, and to double check the guidance from the manufacturer of your laser cutter.
Which type of laser cutter is right for a trophy-making business?
As with many things in business, it depends on what you want the outcome to be! The type of laser cutter that is right for a trophy making business very much depends on what material you want to work with, and engrave on. If you’re starting out as a small business, maybe starting the business from home, you’re likely to either have, or be considering, a CO2 laser cutter.
Our range of budget lasers are perfect for laser cutting smaller award mementos, and engraving on trophies and award tombstones. For many businesses, they are relatively affordable, and are designed to be a great starter machine for businesses and home users that want a small laser cutter, but don’t want to compromise on the features that they would be able to get with a bigger laser cutter. Some businesses are tempted by the cheap laser cutters that can be found on eBay, but in our opinion, they’re a false economy, particularly for businesses that rely on their laser cutter to provide part of their income. Buying a Hobarts budget laser cutter is likely to be a much better investment than many of the laser cutters from China that can be found on eBay, because if something goes wrong, we can advise you, and provide technical assistance by phone or in person.
If you’re likely to be expanding the business to create other products, or provide other services in the future, with many more orders to be expected, then a desktop laser, or a platform laser might be the right investment. For small businesses, this might not seem like a viable option, but a refurbished second hand, or ex-demonstration model may be an option. Just like with an ex-demonstrator car, a used laser cutter allows you to get the functionality you need from a larger machine, without the brand-new price tag.
Where investing in a laser cutter by paying up front isn’t an option, then a finance package, or a rental scheme may be an option to get the equipment needed, without the cash outlay. If this could be an option for your business, then get in touch – all our rental and finance arrangements include warranty, installation, training, maintenance, full technical support, and servicing, as well as flexible payment terms.
How is laser engraving used for trophies?
For the majority of trophies and award mementos, organisations want them to be personalised – whether that is simply with the name and logo of the company, or to include the name of the recipient as well. This is where laser engraving techniques come in. Since the types of engraving that you’re going to want to do will differ from trophy to trophy, it is well worth your while trying out different techniques before the projects come in.
Getting to grips with how different laser engraving techniques look on different materials will mean that you can create the effect your customers want much more quickly. Knowing, for example, that engraving on the back of an acrylic block will give you a look-through effect, and to mirror the image before sending it to the laser will help you to keep mistakes minimised, and costs down.
Playing around with these techniques will help you to be prepared when your customers approach you for a certain effect on their trophies, and that you’ll be able to create the design files more quickly.
Photo engraving has grown in popularity over the past few years, and in some cases, adding a photo to a trophy may be desirable. If the design that the customer requires engraving on their is a photograph, this is made incredibly simple by using laser photo software – and if you’re likely to be engraving other products with photographs, then it is a wise investment to make.
What types of trophies can I make with a 3D printer?
The sky really is the limit when it comes to the types of trophy or award you can create with a 3D printer – if you can design it in your 3D design package, you can print it.
If you’re going to create bespoke trophies with your 3D printer though, your design skills need to be great, and you might need to practice working collaboratively, because many customers will have a specific vision for their award. But if design is your thing, you can keep designing, and because you’re going to be printing trophies on demand as orders are placed, you can fill your website with your designs – and it doesn’t matter if some styles never sell.
Many of the types of trophies that you might be making with your 3D printer are likely to be similar to those that you might use your laser cutter to engrave on – but since you’re creating them yourself, you can put your own unique twist on them.
Of course, these aren’t the only types of award mementos that you can create, especially if you have an interest in a particular niche. It might be, for example, that you create trophies for Warhammer competitions, or other types of tabletop wargaming – which opens up the scope for a huge amount of additional design work that you, the competition organiser, and the winner will get a real kick out of.
What personalised items do businesses want?
We’re not sure even where to begin answering this question, there are so many opportunities! Whether you have a laser cutter or a 3D printer or both, you only have to do a quick search online to start collecting ideas to make more sales for your business. A few ideas to consider:
Thinking about items that go alongside award winner trophies, medals are often purchased to give to those in second and third place, and these will also require personalisation – the organisation’s name or logo, the date, the name of the awards.
Where awards are planned to be given annually, the company may decide to create a number of plaques that can be updated each year with the names of the recipients, with a separate trophy given to each winner.
If the company or organisation is holding a special awards event to mark the occasion, they may want laser cut or engraved place cards, or other branded table decorations that they can bring out for each event. You might decide to offer engraving services for bespoke items that will be retirement gifts such as watches, to increase the potential lifetime customer value.
After that, the opportunities really are endless – so look at what you’re interested in creating, and what your target customer might want to buy, and go from there!
How to start selling trophies
Once you’ve got a few designs perfected, then you’re ready to start selling your trophies. Since you’re going to be personalising the styles that you’re going to be making, it isn’t quite as simple as creating a few items to keep in stock, and listing them for sale on your website – although that will be part of it, of course.
Source your materials
You’re not going to get very far making trophies if you don’t have any materials to make them with. With that in mind, you’ll need to decide the designs that you’re going to offer, and how quickly you need to be able to dispatch.
Keeping a small amount of stock means that you can offer your clients a faster service – maybe even with next day delivery, if minimal design work is required – at a higher cost. But that means you’re going to need some cash to be able to buy the products you need to create those trophies. That might not be an option for you if you’re starting a business from scratch and you don’t have a huge amount of money to invest.
Luckily, the type of customer that you’re going to be targeting is likely to be planning ahead, and so you might not need a huge stock of materials to hand immediately. You may be able to offer a lower rate to customers that don’t need their trophy tomorrow by ordering the materials you need when the customer has placed their order and paid for it.
To establish the lead time, you’ll need to work out:
How quickly you can get materials from a supplier into your workshop (either by buying in person, or online)
How much time you need to do any design work and liaise with the customer
How much time is required to complete work on the trophy
How quickly can you ship the completed trophy to the customer
How much contingency time you need to add in case something goes wrong
If you can offer your customers a lower cost by ordering materials as you need them, this will help you to manage your cashflow, and to minimise the amount of products that you need to store ahead of orders being placed.
There are a number of open source, and free 3D design packages that you can use with your laser cutter and your 3D printer, so it may be the case that you don’t need to spend anything at all on your design software. LaserWeb4, Inkscape, SolveSpace, and Solid Edge 2D Drafting are great options for laser cutters, while Tinkercad, MatterControl, SketchUp, and FreeCAD are perfect for beginners with 3D printers.
But while it might be the case that your design software is free, it isn’t strictly true that your designs are free – you’ll need a PC (which you may have already) to run the software, electricity to power your PC, and you’ll need to pay yourself for your time.
In addition to that, in the beginning at least, you’ll need to create your designs to make sure that they are going to look as you expect, and if you’re planning to use photographs of the trophies on your website, to allow you to take those images. So you’ll need to factor in the cost of those prototype, and test trophies, otherwise you’ll find yourself out of pocket.
On top of your design costs for your products, you’ll also need to look at the costs that you’ll have for the design work for your marketing. It might well be the case that you can make use of free tools such as Canva to create graphics for your social media, your website, and so on, but you’ll still need to budget for your time.
Once you’ve invested in your laser cutter and 3D printer, you have found the right source for the materials you need, and you have some to hand, then the next costs will be marketing your business. Although social media means that some of your marketing costs are super low, setting up a website, and the offline marketing activity that you’re likely to want to do will cost you. As you scale your business, you might decide other costs are necessary to help you to manage your marketing activity, but when you’re setting up, these are the ones you’ll want to focus on.
Setting up a website is easier than it has ever been, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t daunting if you’ve never done it before. That’s why ecommerce website builders such as Shopify and BigCommerce have become so popular with businesses. They make it incredibly easy to set up your website, get a custom web address with email account, and so on.
If you want to get your website set up quickly, or you have little interest in web design, both Shopify and BigCommerce offer plenty of templates that you can change the colours and fonts on to create the look you want quickly and easily. And even if you can’t find a template that suits the design you have in mind, if you understand how to drag and drop, you’ll be able to build it quickly – with absolutely no coding knowledge required.
Of course, Shopify and BigCommerce aren’t the only ecommerce website builders – there are hundreds of others that may suit the needs of your business, so be certain to do your research, and make use of free trial periods before you commit to the right one for you.
Your own website is an essential asset for your business, and likely to be where a lot of your sales are made, but you may be able reach further customers by listing on certain online marketplaces. Amazon and eBay have some potential, but they do charge fees to list your products – and since you’re not guaranteed to make sales on those marketplaces (especially if you’re up against sellers in China) you might find yourself out of pocket. In addition to those listing fees, you might also have to pay a commission on each sale, as well as a seller subscription, so be sure to read the terms and conditions really carefully before you decide to start selling on those marketplaces.
Rather than heading for marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, you might find greater success on marketplaces such as Etsy. Since the Etsy marketplace is set up for handmade and customisable products to a much greater extent than the mainstream marketplaces, you’re likely to find it a much easier process to list and sell – though there are still fees to consider.
Social media costs
Love it or hate it for your personal life, social media is going to be an essential part of marketing your trophy business. You don’t have to be active on every single social media there is – but setting up social media accounts on the channels that your customers are likely to be is going to be a wise use of your time.
Although all the social media channels allow you to create image posts, and eye-catching videos, posting on the image-focused social media where customers might be scrolling are going to be the right place to start. That means Instagram and Pinterest – and it is well worth noting that with Pinterest, pins can be returned in search results indefinitely with the right use of hashtags, so your marketing efforts on there are much longer lasting than with other social media.
There’s also potential for creating YouTube and TikTok videos too, although creating video content – whether short or long – is a very different beast to taking great still photos. If you’ve yet to get your video editing skills going, then look at how you can use informal videos to market your business. Story posts on social media platforms are great for showing off different stages of the creation process – and you can use them much less formally than you might a feed post. Creating a video where you are chatting directly to the camera, highlighting design work, the machine creating the design, and even during packing and shipping doesn’t need to be as polished as you might want for YouTube.
For many of your social media posts, you won’t need to worry about having a professional camera, although if you do that’s a huge help. A relatively up to date smartphone will do the job for taking photos, and we’ve already mentioned Canva as a resource for creating great graphics, but there are other design tools that are low cost, and easy to use, such as Adobe Creative Cloud Express.
For the most part, selling your products is likely to be mostly online. But depending on your local area, and the type of businesses and organisations that you’re hoping to target, it may well be worth doing some offline marketing too. Advertising in local newspapers, both free and paid is a great place to start, and can be relatively inexpensive. Creating flyers and leaflets, and distributing them to strategic locations can bring some customers to you too. This can work especially well if you can partner with another small business that may have similar customers, (such as a suit rental company) and work out a way to help promote each other, both online and offline.
How much does it cost to set up a trophy making business?
This is a difficult question to answer, because it will differ significantly depending on different factors, and what you might already have available. You’ll need your laser cutter, and 3D printer – or perhaps you start out with just one, and make sales before you invest in the other.
In addition to the machines and your space, you’ll need:
A PC to create your designs on
An internet connection to create and manage your website
Digital storage for your designs
A way to manage your orders
Supplies for creating trophies
Packing and shipping supplies
On top of that, you’ll need to factor in the cost of your time, as well as storage – so if you don’t have a space that can hold your initial designs, your laser cutter and/or 3D printer, and your supplies, then you may need to find a workspace, which will almost certainly add extra costs to your business.
How to price trophies
Well, this can be a tough decision to make – and especially if you’re looking at costs from other businesses. Be wary of comparing what you’re offering with other companies, particularly those that are based overseas, because they are likely not to be offering a similar standard of service as you are. However, a rough way to establish the cost of a trophy is:
Cost of materials + time creating the design + marketing costs + shipping costs + your profit = the total cost
However, you may decide to play around with your costs, depending on what materials you’re working with, whether you charge for shipping separately, and the profit margin that you want to achieve. You’ll also need to think about what the best rate is that you can offer if a customer wants multiple trophies – for many competitions, both in business and in sport, there are more than one category, and so organisers may be looking for a bulk rate.
What else do you need for a trophy making business?
As with all things that are personalised, you’re going to be facing the possibility that customers won’t be happy with the finished products. That can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you consider that you’re going to be left with the items and potentially out of pocket if they’re rejected by customers. Getting your satisfaction guarantee right, and your returns policies in place is an essential step if you’re not going to find yourself out of pocket.
Another essential to get in place is your service and support. When your business depends upon your machinery being in great working order, you need any malfunctions fixed as quickly as possible – so it is well worth having a service plan with a dependable provider to keep your laser cutter, and your 3D printer in great working order year round.
Setting up a trophy making business might be the first step in your business with your laser cutter and 3D printers, but that’s OK – it is a great basis for creating other designs, and even ranges of products. Your trophy making may eventually be eclipsed by other products that you decide to create, and that’s absolutely brilliant too. The opportunities that laser cutters and 3D printers provide a business with are absolutely incredible, and it is great to continue to expand, or to change direction as you see fit. As long as you store your design files effectively, you’ll be able to provide replacements, or new versions of old trophies in years to come.
When you’re looking for your supplier of materials for laser cutting and 3D printing, be sure to bookmark our website – our shipping is fast, and collection can be arranged from our location in Kent.