Vinyl pickguard material is normally engraved with an engraving machine. I do it old-school with a 1950's era manual pantograph type engraving machine. Basically, I make up a template from a maple board, which is oversized, like 7:1 or 10:1. The pantograph machine then copies the logo or text down to the smaller size.
My machine is a cool old dinosaur, but almost everyone else these days uses a CNC engraving machine. They've come way down in price in recent years. I have a small CNC engraver that I bought from a friend a few years ago, but I haven't gotten it hooked up and running yet.
Cutting the groove in the vinyl is actually easy. The material is very soft. The reason for the pantograph or CNC engraving machine is to accurately control the cutting tool. With text or fine lines, they've got to be smooth and precise, or they look bad.
Yes, you can manually engrave if you want to, but it requires a lot of delicate hand skill. And you can't repair mistakes. One little wiggle or bump can ruin the pickguard. You'll need to do a lot of practicing on scrap stock first.
If you want to try it manually, there are two approaches. One is a Dremel tool with the little router style base and a special engraving bit. You need a special bit that's ground for engraving plastic. The "engraving bits" that are sold in the Dremel displays are made for engraving metals, which is completely different. They will just burn and melt the vinyl. Even a regular pointed cutting bit will melt the vinyl and leave a ragged line. You need the special plastic engraving bit. It is ground to cut a narrow V-groove down deeper, and clears the chips without melting them. In the Dremel tool, you run it at the slowest speed.
The really old school way to engrave is with a manual engraving tool. It's like a miniature V-shaped woodworking gouge, honed very sharp. You hunch over the work with big magnifiers and a lot of patience. It'll cut the vinyl easily. The tough part, again, is that you have to accurately control its movement, and you can't make any mistakes.
If all of the above is way too complicated, you can cheat and take your pickguard to the local trophy shop. Almost every trophy shop these days has a CNC engraving machine. Some of their machines may not be big enough to mount a pickguard, so you'll have to show them. If you just want text, they can punch it in the computer and select from various fonts. For a logo, they'll prefer that you provide the design done in Adobe Illustrator. They can work from Photoshop or even hand drawn, but they'll charge extra. It actually doesn't cost much for them to do the engraving.
Last edited by Bruce Johnson : 12-04-2012 at 12:34 PM.