Connect with us

Novelty Items Any Shop Can Print

From ornaments to dimensional name tags, phone holders and more.



WILL IT SURPRISE you that we signshop owners, even the most basic of us, have the equivalent of those random staples in our “fridges,” and we can create some incredible “specialty products” we never realized we were able to do?

At Curry Printing, my print and signshop in Baltimore, we have pretty standard and entry-level signmaking equipment — an eco-solvent 54-in. printer with contour cutting inline, a hot/cold laminator, a dry mounter, and an extremely talented and versatile graphic designer. With these very straightforward sign industry building blocks, I am constantly intrigued by the types of novelty items we can produce in-house.

You do need to consider the easy opportunity afforded from printing personalized badges.

I CAN’T COOK. I can thank my mother for my lack of kitchen skills and unawareness that all vegetables don’t begin life in cans. Because of this, I’m in awe of creative types who can figure out what to cook, how to make it, and have it turn out both beautiful and tasty. Fridge Wars, a reality TV show, challenges professional chefs to create a gourmet meal using only standard refrigerator ingredients. Watch how a contestant opens a fridge, finds three eggs, a wilted bag of spinach, a block of moldy Swiss and some bacon bits, and voilà! They’ve created a Quiche Lorraine fit for a queen!

As an example, we can make custom name badges for high-end clients quickly, easily and beautifully with just this equipment. If you are already handling name badges for your clients in-house, good for you! If you are currently subbing these out, read on.

Taking custom name badge work in-house has several benefits. First, you can control the quality much better than an outsourced vendor. Working directly with your client, you know their needs and level of quality expectations, understand their colors and can match them with other work you produce for them. Next, you can actually show your customer a physical sample (we call them “hard copy proofs”) so they can see what the end product looks like and make changes as needed without rejecting an entire order.


Raised letters add interest — and value — to name badges.

Often your team can handle this project faster in-house than sending it to an outside vendor, waiting for a proof from them, making changes, getting another proof, and then waiting for the order to be shipped. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found shipping these days to be less than speedy.

There’s also less risk when you do the job yourself — you don’t have to worry about the order getting damaged in transit, being late, being wrong or being bad.

Finally, you can let your team express their creativity, coming up with cool new name badge solutions for your clients.

You can easily buy sheets of PVC, aluminum, acrylic, and all sorts of substrates for “blanks” from your local sign supply company (we use Harbor Sales in Sudlersville, MD), and specify the size you want them to be, with the added benefit of cost-effectiveness. When we use PVC, we simply go right to our “box o’ scraps” (you probably have one of these too!) and use what’s in there. Recycling at its best! You can further personalize your badges by asking the client what type of closure they want, magnet, pin or something else. You can even create custom sizes and shapes for a unique end result.

For pricing these badges, you want to make sure you capture any extra hand labor that goes into applying the adhesive to the substrate and sticking on the backing. Depending on the quantity, I’m guessing that when you add in your markup if you had to outsource, you’ll come up with something pretty close producing internally. A win all around!

Other signshop owners significantly more creative than I have come up with all sorts of potential new revenue streams for us to consider.

Many donation bin templates can be found online.

Phone stands are only a coule of printed pieces that ship flat and assemble easily.

Greg Lamb, owner of Conway Copies in Conway, AR, has a number of creative products he is able to manufacture using his Konica Minolta Accuriowide 160 and Colex finishing machine, such as a custom phone stand. These are printed multi-up, applied to Sintra board for sturdiness, and then cut on his Colex using a template available online. This phone stand is two pieces with lots of options for customization and creativity. The pieces snap in together easily, so they can be packed up and shipped flat to save cost. Your client gets a great-looking promo to give away and have their brand sitting on their customers’ desks all day every day. There’s even a hole to fish a charger through in the back! Alternatively, these can be printed directly to a substrate using a flatbed and can even run 60 up. For an added professional touch, you can polybag them individually for your client.

Sometimes the idea is the box itself, also simple to print and fold.

Lamb also produces custom “donation collection bins” for some of his nonprofit clients. These can be printed on a flatbed directly to Coroplast, cut on the router using easily available templates also found online, and then assembled by the end user to create a custom, brightly colored, attractive and functional way to collect contributed items.

Another company doing novel projects with their standard signmaking equipment is a locally-owned and uber-successful print and signshop in Knoxville, TN, Graphic Creations. Owner Jim Caughorn, using HP Latex printers, Graphtec plotters and a Colex CNC cutter, has come up with a creative and cost-effective way to produce custom holiday ornaments for the University of Tennessee to send to alumni each year. They are made with 3/16-in. polycarbonate printed in sandwich mode with different art on top and bottom layers of the print. They cut with a small 1/16-in. diameter bit to hold as much detail as possible. The Graphic Creations team has produced and shipped over 4,000 of these ornaments across the nation to UT alumni before Christmas each year. Graphics Creations’ partner Preserve Press holds the licensing.


High-quality prints make great office wall art for all sorts of businesses.

Caughorn’s team also manufactures custom “license plates” which can be used in states that do not require tags on the front of vehicles. These can be printed on a flatbed using 3mm aluminum composite or, if budget is a concern, 3mm PVC.

One popular specialty product that IntegriPrint, a print and marketing service provider in Buffalo, MN, manufactures using their flatbed Mimaki printer is a custom tile coaster. Through trial and error, they figured out how to print directly onto the top of the “blanks” from a local tile supplier. They order adhesive-backed felt from Amazon, apply it to the bottoms and boom! You have a gorgeous, unique, highly desirable giveaway that’s easy to pack up and ship and can be very cost-effective depending upon the number ordered.

IntegriPrint owner Chelsie Schmid attends many national tradeshows, including Printing United, and always comes away with fresh product ideas she and her team can produce as self-promo pieces and to sell to clients. They also make phone holders, although Chelsie is quick to add, “We didn’t come up with the phone holder idea ourselves; we got it as a sample from Colex when we did a demo with the equipment back in 2019.” They simply reverse-engineered it and ran with it from there. Videos on their website showcase both the phone stands and the coasters, which have helped drive hundreds of orders last year alone.

One company produces thousands of Christmas ornaments for University of Tennessee alumni on an annual basis.

Many signshop owners already have this multifunctional equipment sitting on their floors. Your employees might like the challenge of stretching their skill sets and creativity a bit when tasked with coming up with new and fresh specialty product ideas. Going to tradeshows, asking peers in the industry (or the Brain Squad!) and even looking on YouTube can give you and your team all sorts of inspiration. Finding new and previously untapped revenue streams is becoming increasingly important to protect against recessionary effects and ensure your firm is growing in the right direction.

Don’t be a one-trick pony, only using your equipment to make signs. Broaden your horizons and jump on the promo bandwagon today with some of these creative ideas!

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), promotional products are some of the most cost-effective forms of advertising for you and for your clients, with an average of 0.7 cents per impression. Additionally, users of promo products keep them on average for seven months, and according to a 2016 ASI study, 85% of consumers were able to identify advertisers on the promotional products they owned (see





Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

Promoted Headlines




Most Popular