8 Tips for Personalizing Gifts

Posted by on May 29, 2013

Recently a reader of Gift Giving for Busy People sent me a great testimonial and a photo of a gift he selected and had engraved for his friends’ 25th wedding anniversary. It’s a bottle opener by Nambé, so the silver color is perfect for the silver wedding anniversary. He had it personalized with “Cheers to 25 years” which I think is brilliant! He said the bottle opener made sense because the couple entertains a great deal, and thought the personalization would make it more special. He is right!

Nambe bottle opener, Nambe gifts, Nambe anniversary gift, Nambe personalized gifts

Inspired by this creative and thoughtful gift, I thought I’d give some tips for purchasing and personalizing gifts.

Personalization is the process of adding words, numbers, logos or other characters onto products through engraving, embroidery, or other techniques. Anything from names and dates to poems, sentiments, or any other message can make a gift unique and memorable. Retailers like Things Remembered have an entire showroom full of customizable gift items. Local trophy shops can also help create personalized gifts, including small engraved plates that are a snap to add to items such as portfolios, clocks, or photo albums.

I love giving (and receiving) personalized gifts. One year I was stumped for a Christmas gift for my mom. Then I stumbled upon a photo ofPersonalized 002 her with a guitar one Christmas morning in the ‘50s (long before my brother and I were born). And I remembered a photo of my brother receiving a guitar for Christmas in the ‘80s in nearly the same pose. And voila! Two gifts were checked off my list as I had identical personalized frames made for each of them. I purchased inexpensive frames at a discount department store and had silver plates engraved at the mall saying, “Like Mother” and “Like Son.” Completely customized and they both loved it!

1. Plan ahead. No matter what method of personalization you choose, chances are it’s going to take some time. Some stores do engraving in-house; others send the items off site. Particularly around the holidays (not just Christmas, but Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) and in the early summer (think about graduations and weddings), chances are you’re not walking out of the store with your item. Allow at least two weeks, perhaps more at peak times, to avoid additional fees for rush orders.

2. Give something useful, practical and beautiful. Is the item something that can be used or displayed now, and into the future? Or will it be clutter? I love the idea of the bottle opener. It’s useful and will remind the couple of their friend and their anniversary trip every time they use it. I have an ice cream scoop engraved with a bank’s logo from my hometown; I still remember the picnic where my mom won it as a door prize. Memories like this are priceless!

3. Use a legible font. Simple fonts like Times and Helvetica are classic and easy to read in both upper and lower case. Some script fonts become very confusing and nearly illegible, particularly the capital letters, when used for anything more than a monogram. Therefore, always ask for a proof of your engraving as it will appear on the item before it’s finalized to ensure it’s readable. I remember one event I worked on where the invitation used a font (which was carried over onto the program and menu) that had a “C” that looked like a “P.” My boss and I had quite a laugh over the “Phicken Ponsommé” for years after the event.

4. Be creative. Personalized gifts aren’t just plaques for a “job well done” anymore. Nearly anything can be personalized. Textiles may bePersonalized gift mug, personalized gifts, Father's day gifts embroidered; metal objects may be engraved; and nearly any flat surface may have an engraved plate adhered to it. Think about something unique to your recipient such as a signature saying they’re known for. For example, when feeling grateful for abundance, my dad would often say, “My cup runneth over.” So I found a silver mug reminiscent of a Medieval grog mug and had it engraved on one side, “My cup had overfloweth” and on the other, “So I got a new cup.” He used it as a pencil cup on his desk. (And now I use it!)

5. Be clear and avoid shorthand. I’m going to try and stay off my soapbox here, but our instant message mentality is destroying our ability to speak and write! “CUL8R” may be efficient in some contexts, but it is not proper English. (Hopefully that’s not news to anyone.) Unless it’s a special circumstance, such as a meaningful acronym or an actual award for texting, use normal language. Remember, you want this to be everlasting. Will the message make sense today and in 20 years?

6. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Whether it’s three simple initials or a soliloquy, it is vital that everything be spelled correctly. The adage “it’s not written in stone” is not true in this instance—it is written in stone (or its modern-day equivalent) and it could be costly and inconvenient to have the piece redone.

7. Follow the rules for monograms. When engraving a monogram for one person, place the first initial of the last name in the center (and make it larger) with the first initial of the first name to the left and first initial of middle name to the right. So “Mary Sue Carlton” would appear asInitials 1When engraving a couple’s monogram for a wedding or anniversary gift, the first initial of the couple’s last name should appear in the center, with first initial of the woman’s first name to the left and first initial of the man’s first name to the right. So “Mary Carlton and David Carlton” would appear as

Initials 28. Understand the engraver’s pricing structure. Every retailer is different, so be sure to understand how much your personalization will cost. Remember The Brady Bunch episode where the kids wanted to surprise their parents with an engraved silver platter? Jan thought the engraving was 50 cents more than the price of the platter, but it was 50 cents per letter, forcing the kids to raise the money by singing on a talent show for a cash prize. (Their act was called “The Silver Platters” and they lost to a prancing poodle.) Prices are more in the range of a few dollars per letter these days, so craft your message accordingly and get a final price before completing your order.

Personalized gifts are perfect for holidays, birthdays, milestones, graduations, births, weddings and anniversaries. And that’s pretty much the entire universe of potential gift-giving scenarios!

In other words, the next time you need a special gift, think about getting personal.