My Current Employment at Metal Magic
Trying to explain what I do at Metal Magic is not easy. Having been a Graphic Designer for 15 years before I ever even accepted a job at Metal Magic, I had no idea how things were embossed, foil stamped or debossed. I simply asked my Printer/Finisher to have it done and my product came to me finished giving no thought to this entire industry. But once the door was opened to me I never looked back and copper and brass dies, their production and advancements in the industry have filled every waking moment of my life.
At Metal Magic we are engravers of premium brass and copper dies for everything from stationery to wine labels, commercial packaging to annual reports, trading cards to book covers.
Have you ever bought a new DVD and you could feel all of the characters on the cardboard sleeve it came in and wonder how that got there? I probably drew that. Have you ever looked at a wine label and wondered how they got the gold parts of the label on there? I probably made the die that did that. How about when you buy a new book and you can feel the title raised up? I probably made the copper embossing die and the counter that made that. Metal Magic makes the copper and brass dies that make all of that happen.
I’ve been at Metal Magic for 8 years and I’ve worked in every aspect of the business. I currently work in the copper department, brass department and even in our Hot-Stamping Foil division. I’ve mastered everything from file prep, layout, pre-production drawing (every die that has a movie character on it needs to be drawn digitally first), R&D, shipping, to CNC programming and upgrading our current technology to our new next-gen tech that we run with now. If there is something that any customer needs that is out of the ordinary or unique I am consulted in both the creative process and the production process.
In 2013 I was tasked with rebuilding the entire Copper Department production process around several new pieces of technology that our company had invested in. A Luescher Multi-DX and a HAAS CNC machine. Everything up to that point had been done with film, light boxes and hand-milling once etched.
Moving to an automated process included converting/digitizing customer files in Illustrator, laying them out on 18″ x 18″ template in Illustrator, sending the files to the RIP on the Multi-DX, developing the plates, etching the plates, making a CNC program off the the 18″ x 18″ template, writing the final code for the CNCs and finally the cutout process. The process I came up with doubled our production and we’ve purchased 3 more HAAS CNC machines and another Multi-DX. Our production abilities are expected to triple and possibly quadruple over the next 2 years.
My True Copper Passion
Making embossing and debossing dies fills my days thoroughly. But my real passion in this industry are copper plaques. I’m not talking about your average name plaque or Worlds Best Teacher desk plaque. The plaques I love are custom one-off plaques I’m often tasked with and more often doing simply for the pleasure of it. I’ve done many over the last 8 years and I will highlight my most favorite one. This process will show what we do HUNDREDS of times a day on a much smaller and more automated scale.
This is the plaque I did for my brother Jake. His back story can be found here. Due to a coma he was left with an inability to speak clearly or to write. When visiting him we were unable to communicate. So I ran down to Walmart and bought a dry erase board and a permanent marker and made a letter board. It was the first time I’d been able to communicate with my brother in nearly 5 months. The first thing he spelled out was “it sucks not being able to talk”.
But of course he didn’t deserve a that plain old budget Walmart letter-board so when returning to Phoenix, AZ from Ft. Myers FL, I immediately started his custom one off board. Here is how the process takes shape, the piece is created and how it’s finished.
I spent nearly 2 weeks drawing (digitally) in Illustrator and Photoshop using a Wacom Tablet. I begin with the rough outline, then start adding details. Each part of the illustration work is custom however I use a lot of stuff for reference. I looked at my hat sitting on my desk to draw the hat. I used the DaVinci Font to draw each of the letters on the board. I researched sign language to come up with the graphic for the numbering system.
Once I was satisfied with the artwork I spent a full day making sure that everything that was the correct 100% black and sent the file to our Luescher Multi-DX. Basically it’s a huge laser plotter. The plate is laid down and then vacuumed to the table to prevent any bowing and thus the image would not be perfect. The bed of the table is pulled into the Multi-DX where an incredibly powerful laser passes back and forth over the plate.
This video shows the lasers being pushed into a single bundle of fiber optic cables. LASERS!
The plate is precovered in a blue photo-sensitive paint that reacts to light. Where the laser exposes the blue paint it becomes incredibly hard. Once exposed completely the plate is then run through a developer that washes away all of the areas that were not exposed to the laser. The blue paint that was is adhered to the plate and will protect the area of copper under it from being etched down into the plate. Put another was these exposed areas will stay “surface level” after etching. The areas that are etched down in the acid will be filled with black paint later in the process.
Here you can see that all of the unexposed areas have washed away leaving the blue paint on the areas I do not want the acid to etch into. Now onto the acid vats.
The plate is put into an acid vat where it spins inside the machine very fast and acid is sprayed onto the copper for a very specific time based on how deep you want the etch to go down. Where the blue paint is will not be affected. However where the copper shows through it will be eaten away by the acid. This plate was etched to a depth of .007 from surface level.
You can see in the above photo where the acid has eaten away everywhere not coated in the remaining blue paint.
Once etched the plate is washed and dried, cleaning the plate of any acid that may remain in the lower areas as well as the blue paint which protected it. Now we move onto the painting process.
The now etched, cleaned plate is covered in an industrial black paint that is immune to all weather, temperature and chipping. Now comes the sanding… lots and LOTS of sanding!
You can see that the lowest areas (those exposed to the acid) are now holding in the paint while the surface area (protected by the blue paint) is sanding away exposing the beautiful surface level copper. After a ton of recoating and resanding the lower areas are basically filled with paint. Then the plate is polished with some very fine grit sand paper and then coated in an industrial clear coat that will protect the entire piece for the next 100,000 years or so with little to no cleaning.
Here you can see the nearly finished piece. The finished piece was mounted to a very nice piece of ash wood that was also sanded and coated in a very good polyeurathane.
The above images show some of the incredible detail I put into the piece. Like I said at the beginning of this VERY long post, this is probably my most favorite project I’ve ever worked on in my 18 years of graphic design. Certainly it means the most to me and I hope someday my brother’s grandchildren pass it on to their grandchildren. I love you Jake.