Friday, April 29, 2011

Step By Step: The Baby Blocks Part 2

Thsi is the second posting in a series on creating custom engraved baby blocks. Writing all of the steps down and the time it takes to select and convert the graphics files highlights to me what I value my time at- which is at about $1.50 an hour. Ho-hum. I need to value my time at a higher price but I have to also account for future orders maybe not taking as long becuase I spent my time up front. How do you account for that time and measure it into what you should apply to the current order? It's not as though I want my prices to go down in the future-but up- so this is a very confusing economics and sales question. All I can do is compare to shop's existing prices on similar items. I believe I add more value to mine due to the ability to customize each side- but they are a good reference. I know that if I exceed the competition's prices by too much, the added value I provide will diminsh rapidly for a less costly option.

On to the point of today's post. We have now finished sanding and applying a finish to the hardwood baby blocks. I've been working today on getting the files ready and prepped for engraving. I had a several conversations via e-mail with the client to select some ideas of what they wanted each blocks ide to say. Since this will be speling out the baby's first name, we are dealing with 6 blocks. That's 36 individual engravings! Besides the first name, we are including the birth date, weight, and time of birth. In addition, this small angel was born prematurly so she has two celebration dates: date of birth, and the date she finally got to come home! After that we focus on maybe initials or nursery themes. For this one we have a mixutre of good southern imagery like the iron star mixed with some vintage pieces that I love from the 1800's including some original illustrations that appeared in Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The  nursery is shabby chic and features some fairy tale and nursery rhyme elements so we are going to also feature lambs, bears, and butterflies.

When I first got my engraver, I realized I would have to install and utilize Corel Draw x5. I wasn't very happy about this becuase I'm an Apple girl and I have worked with the Adobe product line for the last... mmmm.... 12 years I guess. So switching over to Corel (which only runs on Windows) made me throw up a little in my mouth. All of my keyboard shortcuts were different, all of the functions had a different use and feel (not to mention outcome) and I was very frustrated. It was like brushing my teeth with my left hand. Gaack! Just leaves you feeling dirty all over. I've gotten cleaner... and better- at using Corel's features in X5. One feature I've come to rely on is the PowerTrace feature. This takes bitmaps and converts them (essentially) to vector graphics or groupings of curves. This reduces the amount of time the engraver will need to run over a piece becuase it simlifies a lot of the noise in an image. It's good in some cases in dealing with vintage engravings if I have a lower quality image. These don't fare so well if they look pixelated. I can fine tune the PowerTrace settings to come up with an image I''m happy with that produces good engraving results. If I have a good resolution image, the only thing I really have found I need to do with is to increase the contrast setting by about 25-50% from the median. This usually automatically cleans up the background noise and provides a more crisp image to the print driver that runs the laser.  Here are some examples to show you what I mean:

This is an engraving or illustration from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The image ont eh left is the orginal (albiet scanned in and digitized) version of the white rabbit. The next image shows another possible engraving just taking the original black and white illustration and lowering the brightness while increasing the contrast. The third image on the far right shows what happens when the PowerTRACE feature of CorelDraw X5 is used. In our next posting we will be starting the application of our engravings on our baby blocks and I will show what the difference is in engraving quality from these three possible images on baby blocks. It should be interesting to see the difference in time in takes to engrave and the final results on the engravings themselves.

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