Years ago when I had a manual engraving machine and made door signs, traditional name badges, and electrical box plates for a side business, my older son was into LEGO® kits. He of course built himself a car. At the same time, personalized license plates were first coming along ("vanity plates"), and I thought he should have a vanity plate for his awesome creation. So I tried engraving "Heyward" on a brick--and be darn if it did not work. I then figured out how to fill them in, and it really looked spiffy ( a 70's word for very very nice). But on a manual machine, they were a real pain and even though I thought it to be a great idea, I knew that there was really no way to produce them economically, and the internet had not been invented as a marketing mechanism.
About 7 years ago, my younger son Peyton had just graduated from UNC and was looking for a job. At this time we were doing those little mini-license keychains and made dog tags still on that same manual engraving machine. We worked ham fests and flea markets and craft shows. I convinced him that we could probably make a little money if we bought a "real", i.e. computerized machine while he went to technical school to get trained to make a living. As we were setting up the machine, we had to move Heyward's old LEGO® collection to make room for our new workshop, and the old idea popped up again. I took a few of his old bricks and tried out the idea on the new machine. It was a frustrating experience but we finally worked out the process with a bit of what I think is some innovative LEGO® engineering and persistence. I was ready to try the internet to see if any interest out there.
Low and behold, I discovered that for some reason no one else--at least no one I could discover--had come up with that old idea. And I discovered a whole culture of creative really smart people previously unknown to me. Matt Gerber, the coordinator of the first BricksWest® thought the idea of engraving on the bricks was good and I said they would make great name badges and keychains. He jumped at the idea and envisioned a contest for badge enhancement by the participants; and they seemed to really take to it.
Peyton and I went to BricksWest® in San Diego to see what the possibilities were. I was of course in hopes of being able to wow the LEGO corporate guys with my incredibly simple but brilliant idea and get permission to set up a kiosk at LEGOLAND, move to California to make my fortune. (This idea is too good and watch--I bet The LEGO Company will soon be offering them at their spiffy theme parks and their company stores). --Update: they do just that at some of their larger stores and LEGOLAND.
Well it was a success anyway as I got to go to the Tucson Mineral Show, see Southern California, go to the zoo, and meet a bunch of interesting people that like to play with LEGO® bricks. But in this context, play is like Jordan "plays" basketball or Peyton Manning "plays" football, or Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe "played" tennis.
I of course was becoming immersed in TLC ("The Lego Community") and learned of BrickFest. I contacted Christina and started doing their badges. I must say it has been fun. And eight years later, although will not consider it profitable (even though it did put my daughter through boarding school and college :) ), it still has great potential. I have sold items to practically ever state in the Union and to over 25 countries.
I have high hopes for this new printer, which opens up all kinds of additional items that could not previously be done with the engraving machine. We can now print photos directly onto LEGO™ pieces as well as more complicated designs.
-Tommy Armstrong, Founder and Owner