Industry Terms

Abrasive: A sand-like material used in the sandcarving process to etch or engrave many different surfaces. The abrasive can be super-fine or coarse in texture.

Acrylic: A thermoplastic material for engraving. The molecular structure of acrylic provides increased protection from the sunlight’s UV rays.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): Federal civil rights legislation addressing the needs of people with disabilities. Sections dealing with signage include Title II and Title III. Check out for more information.

Air assist: Protects the optics and improves cutting results in engraving machines. Also prevents combustion of flammable materials and helps direct debris and fumes towards the exhaust and vents.

All-over print: A sublimation image printed all over a pre-sewn shirt. Typically covers from sleeve to sleeve.

Aluminum: A soft, silver-colored metal used as an engraving material.

Anodized: Metal (usually aluminum) with oxide-film coating, put on by electric charge. Film can be removed by the engraving processes to reveal color of original metal substrate.

Arc: For engraving, tool path that deflects by a certain amount of degrees to create a curve.

Ball holder: A trophy component designed with prong-like fingers to hold a football, baseball or similar item on a trophy.

Base, trophy: A trophy component that is the foundation of the trophy; can be made of wood, plastic, metal, marble, etc.

Beveler: Tool bit with cutter angle to create deep incised cutting for a sloped look. Used with badges, signs, etc.

Beveling: Engraving/cutting that removes material to leave wide, V-shaped troughs with sharply angled bottoms and ends.

Bitmap image: A page consists of a grid of solid color squares. If all the squares were colored white, the page would appear blank. However each square can be assigned any one of millions of colors. The object is for the squares to be so small that the human eye, unaided, would be unable to detect the square. Instead it sees a full color rendering of whatever is intended.

Bitmap software: Corel Photopaint and Adobe Photoshop are probably the most widely used software products for working in a bitmap environment.

Braille: Tactile-symbol system enabling visually- impaired and unsighted people to read and write. Named after Louis Braille.

Brass: A metal alloy made up of copper and zinc generally intended for diamond engraving.

Carbide: An extremely hard material manufactured primarily from tungsten and carbon used in the manufacture of cutting tools.

Carrier sheet: A sheet of paper used to contain self-adhesive products such as sign vinyl.

Cast acrylic: Acrylic that has been made by pressing the liquid plastic between pieces of a mold to produce single sheets. See Acrylic and Extruded acrylic.

CerMark: CO2 laser systems cannot directly mark bare metal components without first being treated with a metal marking agent. CerMark is a metal marking agent used extensively in the laser engraving industry and allows CO2 lasers to mark metal objects. Users spray a layer of CerMark on the substrate, let it dry and then perform the engraving.

Clamshell: A heat press in various sizes that is hinged in the back and closes like a clam. See Heat press.

Clip art: Ready-made, royalty-free pieces of printed or computerized graphic art.

CMYK: Stands for the three primary printing colors of cyan, magenta, and yellow plus black (K).

CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled): Communications language used in some robotics and larger machine cutting devices such as industrial mills and lathes.

CO2 laser: Beam generated by exciting the CO2 gas held within the laser tube. Produces infrared light with a wavelength of 9.4 to 10.6 micrometers. There are currently three types of CO2 laser sources: glass, metal and ceramic.

Collet: Device used to hold engraving tools at the bottom of the spindle.

Color-filling: The process of filling laser and rotary engraved or etched grooves and characters with paint to add color. Also known as “paint-filling”.

Column, trophy: A generic term used to describe the central vertical component of a trophy.

Column width: The length of a line of words before breaking to continue below. Depending on letter size and style, an optimum column width allows for ease of reading and comprehension of the ideas being expressed.

Computer graphics: Since the mid-1980s, personal computers became the tool of choice for the majority of graphic design work that had formally been done by hand and with cameras. There are two basic ways to render artwork on the computer—bitmap images and vector artwork. See Vector image and Bitmap image.

Cover paper: A treated non-stick paper material that protects processed photomask from gathering debris or dust particles prior to sandcarving.

Cut and sew: An image printed on fabric with templates that is cut out and sewn together, creating a product with no seam lines or creases.

Depth nose: Cone on the bottom end of a spindle to regulate the extent of engraving depth. It can also be a protective cone to prevent the marking of a substrate by a spindle.

Desktop printer: In the sublimation industry, these are printers as large as 24” wide.

Diamond engraving: Action of using a nonrotating cone-shaped tool dragged with pressure through metal. Tool includes a diamond tip. Sometimes referred to as “diamond drag” or “scratch” engraving.

Diamond graver: A non-rotating diamond tool consisting of a steel shank with an embedded diamond chip.

Die: A specialized tool used to cut, shape and form a wide variety of products and components.

Dithering: Defines how the dot patterns will be engraved in raster images that contain grayscales, blends or color.

Document space: The carefully-designed quantity of space surrounding on all sides, a column(s) of type (letterforms).

DPI (Dots Per Inch): A measure of resolution used for printed text or images. The higher the resolution, the higher the DPI. Also can be referred to as LPI (Lines Per Inch) when determining settings on a laser system.

Dwell time: Amount of time a product is under the heat press to obtain optimal image transfer.

Dye sublimation: Printing process in which an image printed with specially-formulated inks is transferred from a carrier sheet to a polymer substrate.

Emblem: Patch attached to work uniforms or other clothing showing a person’s name or company logo. Emblems are often produced by sublimation or heat transfer.

Emboss: The process of producing raised letters, particularly those produced by engraving dies or plates.

End mill: Tool with a drill-like end cut into harder metallic materials; also can drill holes directly into a substrate along the Z-axis.

Engraving: The art of cutting, carving or etching material. Common forms include hand engraving, mechanical engraving, and photographic and chemical etching processes.

Engraving power: This is the amount of laser power that is applied to the material surface. At a given speed, higher power will produce deeper cutting or engraving. Adjustable in 1 percent increments, the power can be controlled either from your computer or from the control panel on the engraver.

Engraving speed: The slower the speed of the machine, the deeper the engraving. Speed settings are heavily dependent on the hardness and the thickness of the material being engraved, with harder materials requiring slower speeds for deeper engraving.

Extruded acrylic: Acrylic produced by a process in which liquid plastic is pushed through rollers, which press it into sheets as it cools. See Acrylic and Cast acrylic.

Feed rate: The rate of speed at which the tool bit travels through substrates. Feed rate can affect quality of cuts of different materials.

Fiber laser: Beam generated from optical fiber doped with rare-earth element (Ytterbium) that produces a wavelength of 1.06 micrometers. The beam is typically not absorbed by organic materials, but provides method of etching metal directly.

Film dryer: A cabinet-top unit that dries sheets of photoresist film.

Film print: The material onto which custom artwork is printed in the process of making a photomask for sandcarving. UV vellum, inkjet film and laser film are all film prints.

Flatbed laser: The laser beam is directed across a carriage arm and the laser head at the far end will travel back and forth, similar to an ink jet printer. The X-Y table where the workpiece is placed is stationary. The working area of a flatbed laser is only limited to the machine’s size.

Focal point: The point in which the laser beam is most intense after travelling through the lens. The smaller the point, the more intensity generated, however there will be less focal tolerance. Different size and focal points can be achieved by using different lenses.

Frequency: Hz is a measure of how frequently the laser pulses; it determines the number of laser pulses per second. Frequency is time related, not spatially related: higher frequency = less time between pulses and yields more consistent cutting; lower frequency = more time between pulses and can reduce charring and burning.

FRP (Fiberglass-Reinforced Plastic): A product used in the sublimation industry for a wide variety of items, including name badges, key chains, etc. Consists of a sheet of fiberglass with a special coating designed to provide a smooth surface that is sublimatable.

Galvo steered laser (Galvo): Both the laser and workpiece are stationary, and two mirrors move the laser beam over the workpiece surface. Laser engravers using this technology can work in either raster or vector mode very quickly.

Gassing: The process of sublimation in which the ink turns into a gas and bonds with the poly fibers or coating of a sublimation product.

Ghosting: Usually occurs when a transfer shifts upon opening the heat press. If the transfer is not adhered down with tape or spray adhesive once the press is opened, the suction will move the transfer and since the product is still hot enough, there will be a double image or blurring effect.

Gloss: The shine on a smooth surface, such as paint or vinyl. See Matte.

Graphic design: Two-dimensional design focusing on images and/or letterforms in order to communicate visually. Known also as “visual communication.”

Graphic space: There are many ways of creating the illusion of depth in two-dimensional artwork. Without using traditional railroad tie perspective, graphic designers can create the tangible illusion of depth on a page using twodimensional shapes such as letterforms through various means. The result is graphic space.

Hand engraving: Engraving done by freehand using hand-held tools. See Engraving.

Hat press: A specialized heat press design for imprinting hats. See Heat press.

Head strikes: These occur when paper gets very saturated with ink and begins to cockle or wave. The head will then scuff the paper and smear ink, ruining the transfer. See Cockling.

Heat press: A device used to press transfers onto fabrics and other substrates through an adjustable heat setting, time and pressure. There are generally three designs: swing-away, drawer and clamshell. Specialized presses are also available for odd-shaped products, such as mugs or hats.

Heat tape: Tape that can withstand very high temperatures used in sublimation. Used for a variety of different processes.

Heat transfer: A type of color imprinting that uses a specially-coated paper printed in a special printer that can be applied to fabric or other substrates using a heat press. Not to be confused with sublimation or lamination.

Inkjet film: A print film made solely for inkjet printers; a premium print film that is suitable for all types of artwork, including detail and photos. Not recommended for use with color laser printers. See Film print.

Inkjet printer: Device that drops liquid onto a substrate for printing.

Inlay: To create inlays with lasers, users first engrave away the recessed area or “pocket” and then use the laser to cut the designated piece to inlay into the recessed area. After inlaying the laser cut piece, users typically sand and finish the project.

Jig: A positioning tool used when working with non-flat or oddly shaped items. This ensures that the items are positioned correctly when running multiple items with the same files.

JPEG or JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): A type of compressed computer file usually used when sending photographic images through the Internet. See Raster image. 

Justification: Positioning of text relevant to the margins. Text can be left, center, right or fully justified.

Kerning: Space between characters in a line of text. Specific spacing between two specific characters is called a kerning pair.

Lacquer: A clear or colored coating applied to the finished surface of many engraving metals.

Laminate: A material manufactured by fusing two or more layers together to form one solid sheet.

Large-format printer: Printers typically 44” and larger. Usually used for all-over printing or cutand- sew applications, as well as photo panels and other large signage.

Laser: A device that utilizes the natural oscillations of atoms or molecules between energy levels for generating a beam of coherent electromagnetic radiation usually in the ultraviolet, visible or infrared regions of the spectrum. Acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Laser cutting: The separation of material using the heat from a laser beam following a precise vector path from the computer.

Laser engraving: The removal of surface material in a very controlled and precise manner. With a laser engraver, users can engrave text, logos and even photographs on a wide variety of materials. See Engraving.

Laser film: A higher quality print film tool than UV vellum, it is used to print black and white vector artwork for the exposing process of creating a photomask. Recommended for all types of artwork including detail and photos. See Film print.

Laser marking: Laser marking discolors the surface without cutting into the surface. The technique does not involve the use of inks, nor does it involve tool bits which contact the engraving surface and wear out. This can include a fusion process where users bond a material or coating to the surface.

Layout: Within a defined two-dimensional area, the arrangement of headlines (prominent single words or phrases), columns of type (letterforms), and images in such a way as to draw the viewer in and communicate effectively.

Letterforms: Letters of the alphabet (any language with written forms). Typical primary characteristic is two-dimensional orientation, meaning they are viewed head-on as flat shapes. These can be assembled by hand (calligraphy/lettering) or by a mechanical process (typography).

Letter space: The carefully-designed quantity of space between letters that allows people to read words easily.

Letter style: The letters in an alphabet have a primary construction pattern that allows for easy recognition. That pattern though can be rendered in an infinite variety of ways or styles. When that style is applied to all of the letters in the alphabet, it becomes a letter style.

Line space: The carefully-designed quantity of space between lines of words that allows us to read paragraphs easily.

Logo: A graphic image custom-designed to reflect some primary aspect of an organization. Logos can be image alone, just lettering usually styled in a particular manner, or any combination of the two.

Mask: 1. Self-adhesive material used for sandcarving; made of thick but flexible medium for cutting patterns and placing directly on the substrate to be blasted. 2. Masking refers to covering an item (award, plaque, etc.) with masking tape (or something similar) prior to engraving. The result is crisp and clean engraving free of residue and burn marks.

Matte: Having a dull surface; not shiny. See Gloss.

Membrane: A clear, thin layer present on some types of photoresist films. The membrane allows for easy release of the film carrier and, once the film has been developed, holds the photomask together. The membrane disintegrates during the sandcarving process.

Migration: Undesirable movement or bleeding of ink on a transfer sheet or product.

Modeling: In sublimation, a hazy look to certain products. This is usually caused by too much heat or time in the press.

Mug press: A specially designed heat press for coffee cups and steins to transfer sublimation and other color patterns. See Heat press.

Mug wrap: A device involving a heavy rubber band the width and circumference of a coffee cup with a metal strap on each end that can be connected, allowing the band to be securely wrapped around the cup. It’s used to transfer images via sublimation or other image processes to coffee cups without the use of a mug press.

Multipage layout software: CorelDraw and Adobe InDesign are probably the most widely used software products for laying out multiple page documents.

Nozzle: 1. The electromagnetic device contained within a print head that actually fires the ink. 2. The device used in sandcarving to direct the abrasive grit to the surface.

Nozzle check: A pattern that is printed daily that looks like a stair step pattern. Each dash represents a nozzle on the print head. If there are some dashes missing, a head cleaning will be needed.

Offset: Distance that engraving hardware/software will move a point of a tool to compensate for the tool’s cutting action. Offsets can also be used to remove material inside or outside the shape of an object.

Opaque: Not clear or translucent; not allowing light to show through.

Overspray: A haze of ink around a printed image. Usually shows up around letters or lines.

Oxidizing: Process of using an acid oxidation solution to blacken the engraved areas on a metal plate to provide contrast.

Page layout software: CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator are probably the most widely used software products for laying out single page documents.

Pantograph: Manual engraving machine allowing for tracing along dies or patterns with non-engraving stylus; stylus is connected by arm mechanism to engraving spindle for creating a duplicate image of die/pattern.

Perpetual plaque: Plaque designed for additions of individual recognition plates in rows and columns.

Photoengraving: A photomechanical process for making line cuts and halftone cuts by photographing an image on a metal plate and then etching. See Engraving.

Photomask: A stencil made of photoresist film that has undergone a developing process. The stencil design is typically created from custom, computer-generated artwork. Also called mask, stencil, premade pattern or template. see Photoresist film.

Photoresist film: A translucent, durable, flexible, light-responsive, water-soluble, raw film that has not gone through a developing process. Photoresist film is used for sandcarving onto several types of surfaces. It’s used to create a finished photomask. Also called raw material or film.

Photoresist hand sprayer: Designed specifically for washing out exposed photoresist film, this hand sprayer delivers pressure of 45-55 psi and produces a 4-inch-wide fan of water for an even washout.

Pre-ink stamp:  Pre-inked stamps have the ink impregnated in the rubber die and with a simple press, the impression is done.  There is an ink pad that sits inside the stamp mount and the ink flows through the die plate to create an impression. Pre-inked stamps tend to take a few seconds more to have the ink get through again to have a perfect impression, but definitely make a nicer, cleaner impression. These stamps are made of oil-based ink

Pixel: Any of the small discrete elements that together constitute an image.

Ply: An individual layer of a laminated material. See Two-ply and Three-ply.

PMS (Pantone Matching System): Standardized series of colors trade-marked by Pantone Inc., each with specific formulations and identification numbers.

PPI (Pulses Per Inch): The amount of times a laser beam will pulse in a one-inch area. Controls quality of image for the horizontal motion. In general, the PPI should match the image’s DPI. See DPI.

Press lines: Lines created by a transfer on a T-shirt. The heat press “presses” the edges of the paper into the shirt, creating a box look.

Profiling: Cutting out the shape (or profile) of a piece of material. Commonly used for making badge blanks, cutting out irregular shapes, or making cut-outs in control panels.

Promotional product: A product imprinted with an advertising message that is given away to promote a business name, product, etc.

Quantum physics: Yeah, we don’t get it either.

Raster engraving: Moves the laser across the surface in a back-and-forth motion; advancing linear pattern that is similar to the print head on an inkjet or similar printer. See Engraving.

Raster image: Images made from small dots (pixels) combined to create the image. Raster images lose quality when scaled, so a high resolution image is best. Common file formats include .jpg, .bmp, .tiff, and .gif. See Pixel.

RIP software: Used mainly in large-format printing, RIP software comes in a variety of different options and acts as a very high-powered print driver. The software gives more control over color and saturation levels, as well as a smart nesting feature which aligns images.

Rotary engraving: Engraving that is done with a rotating tool or cutter in a motorized spindle. See Engraving.

Rout: Digging into a substrate by tool head to remove material. Usually involves removal of material in large areas, often leaving only raised characters or logo images.

Sandcarving/sandblasting: Equal parts of a blasting abrasive and compressed air creating a sand stream using compressed air. Where the abrasive hits the surface, it roughens, or eventually erodes, the surface of the glass, metal, wood, stone, granite, etc., creating depth. Scorching: Pressing a shirt too hot yields a glossy-looking “press line” which is caused by the material actually melding together. These cannot be removed from the shirt.

Self-inking stamps Self-inking stamps have an inner working mechanism where the rubber die retracts back up and stamps the inner pad every time. They hold an ink pad up in the stamp mount, and when you press down, the stamp die plate hits the ink pad and then flips to make an impression.  Self-inkers offer a good impression at an economical price. Self-inkers are made of water-based ink

Spindle: Device that holds the cutter during the engraving process.

Stage carving: A multi-level carve that incorporates more than one depth, ranging from a light frost to a deep carve. The result is a three-dimensional image of the artwork. Stage carving is a specific method of sandcarving and is achieved with an abrasive media. See Sandcarving/sandblasting.

Stencil: A thin sheet of material into which a design is cut. Commonly used in the sandblasting process.

 Sublimation: The process of changing from a solid to a gas without passing through an intermediate liquid phase.

Substrate: A material upon which an image is placed via engraving, sublimation or other process.

Swing-away: A heat press that will swing away out of a workspace. Swing presses also allow for a few thicker products to be pressed. See Heat press.

Teflon sheet: Takes the place of a blowout paper protecting the heat press from stray gassed inks. The sheet can be cleaned with a paper towel and possibly some cleaning solution.

Template: A shaped piece of metal, wood, card, plastic or other material used as a pattern for processes such as painting, cutting, shaping or drilling.

Three-ply: Engraving substrates that typically have a cap on either side of the core, and can be engraved on either side of the material. See Ply and Two-ply.

Two-ply: Substrate with thin top layers of contrasting colors. Two-ply denotes one different colored layer on a substrate. See Ply and Three-ply.

UV adhesive: Adhesive that cures in seconds by UV light and is optically clear in color. Use when bonding glass to glass, glass to stone, lead crystal or any optic crystal bases to their counterpart.

UV (ultraviolet) light: Part of the spectrum ranging from 185 to 450 nanometers. UV is also the prime cause of pigment failure in some inks.

UV vellum: A transparent wood pulp paper product. It is a less expensive, alternative to laser film that is used to print black and white vector artwork. UV vellum can be used on most all printers but works best with a monochrome laser printer.  It’s used to expose bold lines, text and artwork when making a photomask and is referred to as a film print tool. See Film print.

Vector engraving/cutting: Follows the line and curve of the pattern to be engraved, much like a pen-based plotter draws by constructing line segments from a description of the outlines of
a pattern.

Vector image: Use of geometrical building blocks (points, lines, curves, polygons) to create images. These images can be scaled without loss of quality. Common file formats include .dxf, .dwg, .ai, .eps, .cdr, and .pdf.

Vector software: CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator are probably the most widely used software products for working in a vector environment.

Weeding: The removal of excess material, such as the inside portions of letters e, o, g, q, d and p after applying vinyl lettering or cutting tactile lettering.

Word space: The carefully-designed quantity of space between words that allows people to read lines of words easily.

X-axis: All components involved in moving the laser head in a left to right motion.

Y-axis: The arm that the laser head is attached to that will allow the laser head to move from top to bottom.

Z-axis: All components involved in moving the laser bed up and down to allow for precise focus of the laser beam.


Decorating or marking methods:

4-Color Process

Acid Etching


Die Striking

Direct To Garment






Full Color Digital

Heat Transfers

Hot/Foil Stamping

Laser Engraving

Laser Etching


Offset Printing

Pad Printing

Rubber Stamps


Screen Printing

Special Effect Printing


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