Re: Getting started with ASM customs
Although I am still a novice, I will take a crack at describing my experience and approach broadly. Although, I agree with Abby99's sentiments and believe that there is no correct, formulaic way to go about it, just what works best for you.
Step 1: Spend a significant time perusing CT for a) other individual's posts that document their process/approach, and b) individual gallery posts of their customs. Ones with development from mock-up to final product are especially helpful to get a sense of how the chips evolve. If you know the type of chips (ASM, Paulsons, etc.) your leaning towards, order sample sets here.
Step 2: Decide on your style of inlay/chip. From your research, get a base sense of what type of inlay design you like. For example, I found I was most drawn to minimalist, classic look. This was also somewhat influenced by the fact that I knew I was going for ASM clays. If I was to go for ceramics, I probably would have leaned towards a more flashy design.
At this stage I also started searching for graphics and fonts to consider for incorporation into the inlay design. Note, I knew I was going to do the design myself, but I think this is something worthy of doing even if you have a designer. I also tried to stick to searching images and fonts that 1) I could get the rights to use (either through purchase or permission, and 2) files that would scale well when manipulated, generally vectors in *.ai or *.eps format (I avoided things that were only available in gif or jpg, etc.)
Step 3: Figure out broadly what type of set/denominations your likely to go with. Many good articles that are must reads for breakdowns and will help you narrow down what you need for various stakes. This is also where you might begin figuring out what your budget allows. At this point I determined that I was definitely going for a cash set with no more than five levels and could accommodate at least a 10 person $0.50/$1 NLHE game. I also decided on my colors for the chip base here as well. Of course, sample set is needed to do.
Step 4: Begin to put together your inlay draft(s). At this point I knew what type of set and broad denom categories I wanted. I also knew what style of design I liked and had a pool of images to play around with. So I went about just trying different things out with the inlay. Note, that the final inlay design itself probably took about 2-3 weeks to settle, but at this point in the process, I had enough to start messing around with it and in about a week I had a base style of design and the graphics/fonts narrowed down.
Step 5: Start putting together mockups in Chip Factory. Once I had the base inlay design selected (still recognizing that some rough edges would still need to be smoothed out), I turned back to the chips themselves and the denominations. I went into the chip factory and setup my 5 base chips with a draft inlay in them. I began to try different edgespot and spot color combinations out to see which (of the styles/colors I liked most) a) worked well across the set, and b) worked well with the inlay style.
Note, I think that this is the most effective time in the process to really begin picking edgespots and spot colors. IMHE I don't know how you can make any really good choices (for custom inlay chips) until you have a more concrete idea of how your inlay is going to look. I also created a spreadsheet at this stage to track the edgespots I liked and their costs respectively. Budget was an issue for me, so this was very helpful as it allowed me to easily narrow down my choices for both aesthetics and budgetary constraints.
Step 6: Cooling off period/Tweaking Phase. At this point, you should have narrowed down to: 1) your base chip colors chosen, 2) the number of levels you want, 3) a primary, base draft of your inlay design with room for modifications/tweaking, and 4) a short list of edge spots and colors. This is not to say your ready to send your order in. No way. For me, I was probably 3 weeks into design, thought, "Okay, let me call the order in." Called ASM and Michael gave me the best advice, sit on it and let it settle in.
I did so for about a week, and ended up tweaking all of the above here and there. I found that this cooling off period, really allowed me to step back and look at what I had put together from a different perspective and make some really good revisions to multiple different elements of the chips. I tweaked the inlay design a little, changed the spots and spot color in minor ways, played around with my chip counts in my spreadsheet a ton. After a week, I looked back at my order and found I finally got what I was looking for when I started.
While up to this point, I didn't take advantage of posting any drafts or seek any thoughts on the set from CTers (I didn't do so until my order was in and final), I think this would definitely be a great place to do so for good holistic feedback on your set. Of course, feedback could be helpful at any of the prior steps if your stumped on any one decision. However, for being my first custom set, I really wanted this project to reflect my own personality and preferences. I found that by doing my homework (and a ton of it) on the forums at the start, I knew what I liked and knew the pitfalls I should look out for. If would have gotten stumped, I would've posted for sure. But, from the start I felt that I wanted this to be something completely unique to me and unveil at the end.
Step 7: Place your order. The whole team at ASM was great to work with.
Step 8: Wait. This is the worst part, but a necessary evil.
Step 9: Delivery. Can't spreak to this yet, still waiting, but only for a couple more days hopefully.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.