By Steve Conde
One nice little market that is perfect for sublimation is the Car Shows/Motorcycle Shows that take place in nearly every US town and city every weekend during warm weather. Some of these are just little meets where people who have old cars, restored cars, trucks, motorcycles or hot rods, get together in the parking lot of a local eatery and let people stop by and check out at their cars. On the other end of the spectrum are the major car competitions where each car is on display and judged for a host of criteria.
To be sure, you can go after the trophy end of this hobby if your business is so inclined but you can also go after the “Dash Plate” part of this hobby.
A Dash Plate is a small piece of metal with the name and year of the show printed on it. These are often collected and displayed with the vehicle to impress the judges with how many shows the car has been in. They are commonly given to every participant just for bringing their vehicle to the show.
For many years, these car plates have been screen printed in one or two colors and occasionally even in four colors (that is very different from full color or four-color process which is more like what sublimation is). A few are engraved as well but not many.
This is perfect for sublimation. Even though all the plates are identical, we can offer things no one else can (or should). For instance, most screen printing shops will only do a quantity of 100. We don’t care, we can do any quantity although you should charge more for small quantities than you do for larger ones. Screen printers generally cannot do full color. They can do multiple colors but blending them is another deal altogether. We can give the customer full color. I don’t really know how many colors are in the gamut I use but I tell people I can print 275,000 colors. I doubt anyone will really take me to task on that but if they want to count them, I’ll show them how. This means we can actually print photographs. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to generic pictures of cars or motorcycles, etc., we can print a photo of last year’s Grand Prize Winner or of a custom design if they have one.
You’ll probably not get rich making Dash Plates but still, it’s a nice little piece of business. Especially after you gain the trust of a dozen or so car clubs. In my area of the country, the most I can get for a Dash Plate is about $1.50 in a quantity of 100. That’s $150 for 100 pieces of metal measuring the size of a business card. The bigger the size, the more it costs, etc. Broken down, this job will require the best part of four sheets of metal. With metal costing between $6 and $9 per sheet or quality metal (UNISUB, Dye-Sub, etc.), depending on what you use, this will mean I will least make a 400% profit on my material. Of course labor has to come out of that and my experience tells me it takes about an hour to make 100 dash plates from start to finish. If you count your labor to be worth $50 an hour, you still just about double your money which isn’t too bad.
A couple of notes: You will need a metal shear to cut your metal ($200-$1500) and I like to round the corners on mine which requires two additional machines: A corner rounder ($85-$300) and a miniature belt sander ($50-100) to sand off any burrs left by either the shear or corner rounder. If you don’t do this, the corner rounder will leave sharp edges that can cut fingers or scratch other dash plates.
I print a third or half sheet of metal at a time, depending on what printer I use. These go very fast since it only takes about 1 minute to press metal. Then I cut them apart and round the corners if needed. To sand off the burrs, I just touch the back side of the plate to the belt sander for just a second and the plate is ready. Like the baker’s dozen, I always throw in a few extras in case one gets scratched and so I never have to worry about a customer coming back saying I miss counted and only sent 99 plates.
Not into cutting and making your own? Well, Condé has the answer, with square or rounded cornered pre-cut dash plates. Either way you go, they are a great little addition to your product line.