By Melissa Donovan
There’s a continued interest in one-off, custom items—whether for an event like a wedding or a special way to honor a loved one. While manual engraving practices are ideal for mass-produced product, laser engraving is having a moment thanks to the increased desire for one-of-a-kind designs.
Above: Derive Home, run by Ellie Harward, focuses on one-of-a-kind items for its clientele. Thanks to engraving capabilities from its AP Lazer SN2816 and SN1812LR laser machines, anything from mirrors with music lyrics to custom light switch covers are achieved.
Derive Home began in early 2021 out of Pittsburgh, PA. Ellie Harward, proprietor, Derive Home, leveraged her background in retail management with what she calls an “artistic awakening” and engaged with local businesses to offer custom laser engraving design. The focus of the business is taking something basic and worn, like a mirror, and providing a custom laser engraved design used at for example a wedding. Afterwards, the married couple can take that mirror and place it in a living space of their choice.
“I design almost everything one of a kind with the idea of capturing memory and emotion in time. The consumer market is oversaturated with items that can be found in any chain store with generic messages. I want to give a voice to my clients and create their message on a background they choose,” explains Harward.
Other examples of her work include engraving objects with song lyrics that hold a special meaning or handwriting from a loved one that has passed on. “I find these thoughts warm, very rewarding, and special,” she shares.
In addition to mementos, Harward creates what she refers to as “usable business cards” to make a statement. For a hairstylist, a comb was engraved with business information and a veterinarian a pop-up animal.
Harward promotes on Etsy to expand her geographic reach.
Currently, Harward is the sole employee of Derive Home, but one could argue that her AP Lazer engraving devices are her second and third.
Prior to investing in the laser engravers, Harward followed laser technology for about ten years. Almost a starting founder of Glow Forge, the manufacturer was top of mind when she decided to purchase a laser engraver, but her “love of design and passion for how AP Lazer can make something intricate and cool” as well as the company’s solid reviews swayed her to reach out to AP Lazer’s sales department.
Specially, Harward spoke with Mandi Smallwood. “I was grateful to have a conversation with an educated sales member that wasn’t rushing to make a sale. She was patient and answered all my questions and provided much-needed insight and support. I was sold by the end of the conversation due to the laser’s open architecture and easy accessibility, which opened the prospect of engraving any object.”
Harward knew at the onset that she didn’t want to engrave mugs or ornaments, but instead sizable household items—like engraving family crests into entryways—so ease of accessibility and open architecture were essential. Also, the ability to engrave on as many materials as possible was important.
With these goals in mind and guidance from Smallwood, Harward purchased models SN2816 and SN1812 Low Rider (LR) from AP Lazer. The SN2816 laser cutter is an entry-level machine featuring a 28×16-inch work area, removable laser top, EZ-Leveling System, and a high-power 80 watt laser tube. The portable device offers a material processing area of 448 square inches.
Loaded with an electric, adjustable z axis, the SN1812LR allows users to drop the laser beam to the floor and anywhere in between to streamline engraving and create products with ease. It offers a workspace of 20×13 inches and a material processing area of 260 square inches.
At Derive Home, the machines are able to engrave mirrors over five feet and create seamless patterns for wall stencils, vent covers, and light switch outlet décor. Materials frequently used include leather, acrylic, granite, stone, and tile.
“I like to take salvaged items and put a new spin on them that gives them new life in ways that maybe they weren’t appreciated before. When you add emotion to a piece, it really becomes timeless versus trendy. I could not have done anything that I do without my laser because of the precision and detail you can achieve,” admits Harward.
The amount of time for an engraving project depends on the size of the item and order quantity. The turnaround from order to submission is based on design time, whether it is a repeat order for an existing customer or the size of the order coupled with the customer’s deadline.
Part of a Community
Harward can’t say enough about the AP Lazer community. The turnkey package—everything you need to get started from the hardware to the software—was ideal for a novice. “Suddenly, I have a massive machine and little understanding of it. But every step of the way the support was a lifeline. I had four technicians in my house and phone calls returned at 2:00 a.m. You will not find that with another laser company. AP Lazer stands behind its product and its customers.”
While the learning curve continues it’s good to know just how user friendly the AP Lazer devices are. Harward admits that during the first year of ownership, she called the tech department every few days, but a few years in to the investment she now goes weeks or even a month without an inquiry. Of note, she’s replaced a laser tube, aligned a machine, and tackled a ton of troubleshooting all on her own.
Derive Home’s market and clientele are evolving as Harward continues to push the limits of AP Lazer devices. Noting that laser engraving has given her the “freedom to explore and create.”
From her work at Derive Home to helping her mother—a celebrated potter—by making stencils for her to use with her art, Harward is constantly taking ideas and transforming them into reality.
“For anyone thinking about purchasing a laser for artistry and design, think about the lack of limitations and how much you can expand on what they do,” she advises. Laser engraving offers endless possibilities.
Mar2023, Industrial Print Magazine