Shedding Some Light on Suncatchers

Welcome to the third in our educational series about metal products. This month we are focusing on SunCatchers – an item with tremendous sales potential as a promotional product. We guarantee that if you present this concept to your customers, they’ll love the idea! To introduce you to SunCatchers, we’ll touch on four key issues: What are SunCatchers, how are they made, ow are they sold and finally we’ll review design considerations.

What Are SunCatchers?

Everyone has seen SunCatchers, they are often found hanging on windows from a suction cup. In addition to being used as window ornaments, SunCatchers are also popular Christmas tree ornaments, night lights, key chains and bag tags.

Light passes through the translucent colored areas, highlighting the beauty of the design. Originally, SunCatchers were made with lead frames and plastic crystals that were melted in an oven. This presented two problems: 1) Lead melts at a temperature very close to that which melts the crystal – creating the potential for a real mess in your oven! 2) Melting crystals was not a commercially viable way to manufacture large volumes.

In the late 1970’s David Wehr, founder of PinLine, developed a new method that allowed for commercial production of SunCatchers. This new generation of SunCatchers is made of zinc and filled with epoxy. The key was special tape (which is still in use today), which seals to the frame without allowing epoxy to seep through small holes.

At about the same time, some industrious overseas suppliers decided they could manufacture plastic versions cheaper. The market was flooded with cheap imitation SunCatchers, which were made of lightweight plastic. Unfortunately, this confused the market and turned many people away from SunCatchers. Now those imitation SunCatchers are mostly gone and people have moved back to high quality metal framed SunCatchers.

How Are They Made?

We can start with a drawing, photograph or even just an idea. Whatever we start with, we’ll turn it into artwork depicting the metal areas of the SunCatcher. The ability to translate artwork or photographs into a SunCatcher is an art in itself and this is where we shine. With over 20 years of experience designing SunCatchers, we know a lot about what looks good and how to represent your logo, building or image as a SunCatcher.

As we discussed last month, when adding color to virtually any metal product you have to think of the color as water in a river. Colors need to be separated by metal walls (like river banks) so that they do not run together. Our trained staff will show you lots of tricks like how to use sub-struts to achieve your design objectives.

The other design characteristic that should be considered is the number of cavities in your design. As you’ll read below, each cavity in the design is hand filled with epoxy. The more cavities, the longer the filling process takes. At PinLine we include up to 20 cavities in the cost of the SunCatcher. Other suppliers include as few as 9 and charge you for additional cavities.

Once we have artwork representing the metal portions of the SunCatcher, we use that artwork to cut a steel die. The completed die is then set up in our die casting machines where molten zinc is injected (see the “Taking the Mystery Out of Metals issues of PinLine Pointers for a discussion of die casting). After the raw casting is ejected and cooled it is de-burred in vibratory tubs. This process removes the rough edges and plating finishes or oxidation can then be completed.

The finished frames are then set up on the special tape and placed on racks. Epoxy is mixed to match the PMS colors you’ve chosen and then is dispensed into the cavities using air powered syringe dispensers. Each color is applied separately and allowed to dry. (8-1 0 hours dry time required per color). After each color is applied and allowed to dry the SunCatchers are removed from the tape, inspected and packaged.
How Are They Sold?

SunCatchers are great items for all sorts of organizations – virtually any logo or image can be reproduced in stained glass. Three popular uses are 1) Fund-raising activities, 2) Corporate promotion, 3) Retail.

Fund-raising activities include all sorts of organizations such as churches, schools, foundations, alumni organizations, universities, etc. A popular application is to replicate a building, university seal or logo that has particular meaning to the group. The SunCatchers are then sold as ornaments, night-lights, or key chains as a means for the supporters to show their affiliation with the group. Many of these organizations will do continuity programs, using new designs for the SunCatcher each year. This allows a supporter to demonstrate their continuous support.

Corporations often use SunCatchers as gifts. Popular applications include holiday related SunCatchers incorporating the logo, corporate recognition, community relations, etc. Some recent examples have included AAA, John Deere, Colgate, Union Pacific and many others. Any colorful logo can be turned into a beautiful SunCatcher. Also we have more than 600 stock designs of SunCatchers that can be customized with your customers’ logo. For example, we often imprint our Snowman SunCatcher with corporate logos or holiday greetings. While popular, holiday applications are just one possibility.

Retail sales of SunCatchers is a great opportunity for distributors. Tourist destinations sell TONS of SunCatchers in their gift shops. On-pack promotions are also popular as we can make a SunCatcher to fit any budget. A restaurant chain sold SunCatchers made to represent their cartoon characters. SunCatchers have also been packed inside cereal boxes – The opportunities are endless!
Design Considerations
Suncatchers are a very specialized product. While almost anything is possible two factors to keep in mind when discussing opportunities with clients are colors and cavities.

Colors in suncatchers are always spot colors (no gradation of colors). Also remember that when light shines through any color – it will appear lighter than it does on a PMS swatch book. In addition, keep in mind that you have the option to use opaque colors instead of translucent colors. For example opaque white is usually preferred to translucent white as translucent white often appears “milky”.

Cavities are areas within the design that hold colors. Remember that the colors are liquid and the color will flow in a cavity until it hits a wall of metal. The more complicated your design, the more cavities you’ll have and therefore the more expensive it will be. In addition, highly detailed designs use more metal areas and therefore will have fewer “see-through” sections.

We understand that suncatchers can be a challenge to design but remember that our staff is standing by to help you at any time, We’ll be happy to help you create a memorable ornament for your client.

SunCatchers are just one of the ways we can help you Shine before your customers! CALL US TODAY and order your free SunCatcher samples so you can take advantage of the many sales opportunities