Build Your Business:

Laser Focus

Here's how to use a laser to exponentially grow your decorating business this year.

By Ed Levy, Contributing Writer

A laser makes it possible to offer apparel with reverse appliqué, where two or more fabric pieces are layered and the top layer is removed with the laser to reveal what’s underneath. Image provided by Hirsch Solutions.

April 2, 2019

Many decorators and customers think of lasers for the traditional applications of teamwear numbers, names and mascots. However, it’s time to think beyond athletics to see how you can use this technology on many different media to create finished products that target more industries — and more buyers — than you’ve probably considered.

Laser Appliqué
If you want to offer traditional or reverse appliqué and etching on apparel, a laser makes it possible. Many shops offering these retail-infused decorating methods have invested in a singlehead laser that attaches to an embroidery machine. That way, they easily can execute intricate appliqué with multiple colors and fabric layers, along with laser-etched designs that add tactile and visual interest to apparel and accessories.

Traditional Appliqué: Most decorators rely on appliqué to create a layered and textured effect on lots of fabrics. This enables selling a wider variety of decorating options to a wider variety of clients. Laser-cut traditional appliqué is even more precise than other fabric-cutting methods, and it eliminates unwanted frayed edges, since the raw edges are turned under and sewn to the bottom fabric layer. If you prefer frayed edges for the distressed or reverse appliqué look, a laser creates them artfully.

Reverse Appliqué: Quick crash course: With reverse appliqué, two or more fabric pieces are layered and the top layer is removed with the laser to reveal what’s underneath. Popular at retail, this type of appliqué adds flashes of color and textures to designs.

Laser Etching/Engraving: A laser can engrave logos, artwork, images or personalized elements onto the fabric. It creates high heat that vaporizes part of the fabric, exposing “cavities” or “debossed areas” in the finished image. When your laser etches, the beam’s heat melts the substrate and expands the material by creating raised areas in your final design.

Laser engraving can be done on a variety of materials, including metal, plastic, wood, leather and glass — so you can diversify the types of custom products (like awards and jewelry) that you offer.

Selling Tips: Many decorators create unique apparel designs by combining laser appliqué and etching with digital printing and embroidery. For example, you can use one or more layers of digitally printed appliqué to add visual interest, as well as reduce stitch counts in large designs and elements. You can add small areas of puff embroidery, whether words or petals on one flower, for even more of a “wow” factor. At retail and on the runways, there has been a recent comeback of patchwork, novel appliqué and embroidery with 3-D fabric patches and etched stitching. Think edgy and casual designs on denim, jackets, dresses, headwear and bags.

You can offer even more refined and unique patches when you pair laser appliqué and embroidery for uniforms, athletic apparel, fashion decorations on hoodies or other apparel, and more. Laser-cut patches can be cut into any shape a client desires, allowing you to offer totally customizable designs. You even can create individual leather patches for custom logos or designs.

Here’s how it works: After you embroider a patch, draw out the exact shape of the patch and transfer that file into the laser-cut machine, which cuts out the patch shape. Use your laser system to produce highly customized logos for startup companies or even sports memorabilia for a local team. Expand business opportunities by personalizing patches with unique text or names to add value to your designs.

Selling Tips: There are lots of ways to use (and sell) custom patches. Nametag patches always are in vogue, and you can add details, like a logo or icon (a coffee cup for a coffee shop, for example). If your client doesn’t want to go the nametag route, suggest custom patches that include the business name, logo, or even employee certification or role (like a bank teller or mechanic).

These patches don’t just need to be placed on the traditional left chest, either. Recommend sleeve or back placements on a uniform shirt. If a business provides bags or carryalls for employees or customers, patches add a great branded touch. If a client’s company has a softball team, competitive events or does charity walks, uniforms with identifying patches are another great upsell. For educational institutions, patches are ideal for school crests, Greek organizations or team logos.

Sought-After Awards
If you haven’t considered pitching recognition programs for corporations, organizations and educational institutions, now’s the time. In fact, more than 80% of companies report having an employee-recognition program in place, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

With a laser system, you can fulfill corporate awards, employee-recognition pieces, student trophies and more. Plus, you can laser etch glass, crystal, acrylic and wood awards to appeal to all buyers’ and recipients’ tastes. While you’re at it, consider pitching other items like desk and door nameplates, and plaques for staffers and VIPs.

Selling Tips: Nearly every company, organization, school or athletic team needs — and uses — pre-made trophies that must be personalized; custom acrylic awards; and nameplates to be added to a perpetual plaque. For corporations, you can pitch awards to recognize sales achievements, years of service, retirement and participation — along with nameplates for staff. For schools, in addition to nameplates, you can pitch teacher and student-achievement awards, and memorial plaques.

What About Wood?
Wood will open a whole new world for your decorating business. A laser offers unmatched capabilities for all types of branded and personalized wood products. Lots of our decorator customers etch and engrave all types of wood items that people need, use and love: cutting boards, serving trays, coasters, picture frames, keychains, kitchen utensils (think wooden spoons and knife handles), and even cabinetry and boxes.

Plus, whether you’re working with hardwood, veneers, plywood, walnut or cherry wood, you’ll be amazed at how intricately a logo or design can be etched on them. During the holiday season, savvy decorators even personalize wood ornaments and other tree-sourced winter decorations.

Selling Tips: Corporate, retail and direct buyers all are great candidates for engraved wood products. For example, you can etch a company’s logo on a storage or shipping box, or you can monogram a cutting board or set of coasters for a retail store or passer-by at a street fair.

The good news is that you can branch out even further. Have you considered laser etching phone cases (made of polycarbonate) or even basketballs (made of leather, rubber or a synthetic composite)?

If you’ve been thinking about investing in a laser system to expand your repertoire, now is the time. It will allow you to offer a range of services on the corporate, retail and direct fronts that your competitors can’t match.

Ed Levy has more than 25 years of apparel-decorating experience. He is director of software technologies for Hirsch Solutions, an in-demand speaker at trade shows and regular contributor to industry magazines. For more information or to comment on this article, email Ed at