Laser Engraving is a splendid use of laser and technology that brings tons of benefits to the user. If you are not familiar with laser engraving, how to do it, what items to engrave, and what you need to do laser engraving, you are in the right place.
In this article, we will dive deeper into the science behind laser engraving. We will understand it with the nitty-gritty of its working, the materials that can be engraved, and different types of laser phenomena. We will also share a splendid laser engraving machine to help you make the right choice.
What Is Laser Engraving?
Laser engraving is a special type of laser marking that produces similar results when compared to traditional engraving methods, but without the use of inks or tool bits that contact the surface material. Laser engraving is best understood in contrast with its sister technologies–laser etching and laser marking.
In laser marking, a low-powered laser beam is moved slowly across the target material. The beam slightly discolors the material, creating high-contrast, permanent markings without damaging or compromising the structural integrity of the material. Laser marking is often referred to as laser coloration or laser dark marking, nomenclature which emphasizes the fact that the material is unaffected by the application of the marking.
Laser engraving uses a high-powered laser beam to vaporize the surface of the target material, leaving a cavity whose depth can range from one fiftieth to one eighth of an inch. Laser engraving works with a variety of materials, including plastic, wood, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and glass surfaces. Laser engraving is especially useful for marking parts that are expected to experience high levels of wear throughout their useful life, as the deep penetration of the laser in the engraving process assures the permanence of markings.
A third application, laser etching, takes place when a high-powered laser beam is used to melt the surface of the target material, causing it to expand and leaving a visible, raised mark on the material surface. Laser etching can be applied to a variety of surfaces and materials and typically removes less than one thousandth inch of the material surface.
How Does Laser Engraving Machine Work?
Laser etching, laser marking, and laser engraving are all applications that can be satisfied by an industrial laser cutting machine. Laser machines vary significantly in their function and properties: there are CO2 laser engraving machines which primarily emit low-powered laser beams and could fit comfortably on your desk, and there are also high-powered fiber lasers that have been purposefully designed to facilitate high-volume laser marking and engraving applications in an industrial setting. Different lasers vary based on the specific chemistry that they use to create the laser beam.
In general, all laser cutting machines have three common components: the laser itself, the control system for the laser, and the marking surface. The operator of the machine uses a software program to modify settings on the laser cutter, including the power output of the laser and the speed of the controller that directs the laser across the material surface. These settings can be used to change the laser cutter application from laser engraving to laser etching or marking.
An image chosen for engraving onto a given material must be produced with graphics editing software. These include well-known applications such as Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, and Adobe Photoshop, and AutoCAD that can produce vector files. Vector files have a special property that makes them ideal for the laser marking application: the images in vector files maintain their clarity and proportions when adjusted to any size.
A saved vector file containing the desired image can be uploaded into the laser cutter software and translated into numerical data. The laser cutter’s own software can take that data and use it to program the laser machine’s controller apparatus to produce the provided image using the laser.
Conceptually, you might think about laser engraving machines as being similar to 3D printers. They both use digital designs to automate a creative process, but while a 3D printer functions by printing plastic blocks in the programmed pattern, the laser machine uses a programmed pattern to take something away from the material–leaving engraved text or a lasting image in its place.
5 Types of Laser Engraving Machines
There are five types of laser engravers you can use industrially. Below are their properties and applications.
Fiber laser Engraving Machines
Fiber lasers are quite powerful, with a power level ranging from 20-50 watts. Furthermore, they have a wide range of material compatibility due to the high level of filtration of monochromatic light beams. Therefore, they are highly popular marking machines.
Fiber lasers produce excellent beams, are highly durable, flexible, and suitable for working with complex surfaces. However, they are not suitable for marking thick or reflective surfaces.
CO2 laser Engraving Machines
CO2 lasers operate at the wavelength of 10,600nm featuring sealed-tube laser systems with galvo-steered beams. Consequently, they are the most suitable machine for engraving organic materials such as wood, glass, ceramics, plastics, etc.
They can also be used for metals. However, there is a need to treat the metal with a special marking agent that sticks to the part after marking and gives it a permanent, high-contrast mark. Although effective, CO2 lasers are expensive with high maintenance and operational cost. They also consume a lot of energy and have little throughput due to the extra process.
UV laser Engraving Machines
UV lasers use UV rays at the 355nm wavelength. They do not produce high heat like the others machines making them suitable for engraving materials with a low thermal threshold. They are an important part of the electronic industry for marking electronics, circuit boards, and microchips.
UV lasers have efficient power usage. However, they have limited engraving capability when working with materials such as metals due to their low power level and production of low heat.
YAG laser Engraving Machines
YAG lasers are compact, lightweight, and popular machines for marking thin metal sheets. They are suitable for marking materials such as aluminum and steel. Unlike other engraving machines, they produce low-power laser beams. Therefore, there is no material distortion during and after marking.
MOPA laser Engraving Machines
MOPA laser marking machines are like fiber lasers based on their design and outlook. However, they have different internal technology evident in how the Master Oscillator Power Amplifier gives the machines a high-power efficiency.
The machine produces a high coherent beam that is amplified without losing its properties. The frequency amplifies to 2700KHZ compared to the fiber laser’s 500KHZ. MOPA lasers are very versatile and are suitable for:
- Multiple colors marking on stainless steel
- High contrast black marking on anodized aluminum
- High contrast marking on plastics.
Which materials can be Laser engraved?
One of the significant advantages of Laser Engraving is the many different materials that can be used. No matter if it’s acrylic, plywood, MDF, cardboard, glass, metal, leather, or POM, Laser Engraving can be used on all of them. Let’s take a closer look at how this technology is applied to each material:
The plastic material acrylic has many characteristics. It is strong, considerably resistant to scratches as well as stable concerning tolerance and shrinkage. This material copes well with laser operations and will deliver a good outcome. Due to its waterproof properties, it is a great asset in the kitchen or bathrooms. Different industries are already using acrylic, like medical or electronics.
Two acrylic types are distinguished: cast acrylic (GS) and extruded acrylic (XT). However, in a laser engraving process, only cast acrylic is recommended, as it produces better results.
At Sculpteo, we offer over fifteen different acrylic colors.
Plywood is another material that can be laser engraved, but what exactly is Plywood? This material is made by gluing several sheets of wood together. It is often used by cabin makers, builders, or industrial designers who rely on Plywood’s impressive characteristics like flexibility, water resistance, mechanical resistance, lightness, and aesthetic appeal. This material also has a clean and light surface which makes it perfect for laser engraving projects. As a lightweight material with a low chance of snapping, it is a good option for assembly projects.
In most cases, Plywood is used to give a design a unique but natural appearance. Therefore it is an excellent material for finished goods.
Another wood material that can be used is MDF, short for Medium-Density Fiberboard. This engineering wood material is produced from hardwood or softwood residual fibers, then combined with resin binder and wax. MDF panels are formed when the fiber is applied with high temperature and pressure. MDF is suitable for engraving as it allows to create depth within the material.
Like the materials before, MDF has many impressive features: it is robust and very affordable. Plus, its post-processing is easy as it is waterproof and fireproof, can be molded and curved, painted, stained, and dyed. MDF is defined by its fine texture and light beige color.
Cardboard is from the same origin as regular paper and is a rigid and light material. In the production process of a cardboard flat, embossed or corrugated paper is laminated into different thickness parts. Cardboard is not only recyclable and biodegradable but also extremely lightweight and priced competitively. The belief that cardboard is only used for packaging is not valid, as it is an excellent option for prototyping or is used in the architecture field for presentational models. Another perk of using cardboard is that it is super easy to work with. It can be folded, cut, and works with different assembly methods such as glue or staples.
POM stands for Polyoxymethylene and is an engineering thermoplastic. It is also known as Acetal or Delrin. Due to its excellent mechanical properties, outstanding dimensional stability, and strong resistance, it is extremely popular. The surface of POM is smooth and resembles glass.
This material offers various properties. It is not only lightweight, robust, and durable, but also water- and weatherproof and solvent resistance. It is often used for industrial tooling, spare parts, gears, hinges, or locks.
Almost every type of glass can be engraved. With this technology, mugs, wine glasses, or bottles, or other items can receive incredible effects. Especially in the wine industry, laser engraving is often used to give the items a more custom look. However, there are a few things to be aware of: It is essential to use the right glass. That is why it is always helpful to test the type of glass first before the engraving process starts.
Like glass, almost every metal material can be engraved, steel, iron, silver, aluminum, gold, silver are one of the most common ones. While glass engraving is most commonly used for promotional purposes, metal engraving is used for promotional and industrial purposes. Aircraft companies will engrave their wings for better aerodynamics, automotive companies work with laser engraving to manufacture certain parts, and others engrave barcodes or QR codes onto their parts.
Among metal, glass, plastic, and wood, is leather, another material that can be laser engraved. for a unique and custom look. The following leather materials are most often used: Suede, Alcantra, Natural, Synthetic, and Nubuck. Leather is generally quite hard, which makes laser engraving even more appealing, as it is tricky to create visually appealing designs using other tools.
How Much Does a Laser Engraving Machine Cost?
A good number of laser engraving brands in the market will promise to deliver quality and durable products. So, when choosing a laser engraving machine, determining the cost should come after identifying all the features and properties that need to feature in your unit. If you are looking for a laser engraving machine with the best and reasonable price in the market, then you can rely on our buyer’s guide. The laser engraving machine price ranges from $300 to $4000.
Factors that determine the price of a laser engraver include:
- Type of laser (carbon dioxide or CO2, diode, Fiber, or UV)
- Operational features or functions
- Size of workspace or engraving area
- The workpiece material
- Power ratings (20W, 30W, 50W, 100W, and more)
How To Choose Laser Engraving Machine?
Choosing the suitable laser engraving machine for your project might be difficult, especially when it is your first time using one. Here’s what you need to when selecting laser engravers:
Power Output Source of Laser Engraving Machine
The power output of the machine determines the thickness and nature of the material you can engrave. For hard materials, you will need a laser machine with a power rating that falls somewhere between 40 W and150W. Laser engravers with power outputs of 20W,30W, or 50Ware primarily associated with simple tasks.
The technology of Laser Engraving Machine
Besides the laser technology, check for other technologies in the market that guarantee high-quality engraving results. The best thing about high-tech laser engravers is that they make work easy and produce seamless results.
Use of Laser Engraving Machine
The user can achieve a lot with a Laser Engraving Machine that is easy to use and store. Go for a unit that is easy to assemble and disassemble in no time.
Accessories and parts Laser Engraving Machine
Laser Engraving Machines do fail when they are highly stressed, and the best way to prepare for such challenges is to ensure that replacement parts are readily available. Check to see if the vendors hold sufficient stock of spares
Technical Support of Laser Engraving Machine
The Presence of aftersales is a guarantee that your Laser Engraving Machine will give you more extended service. Online reviews and testimonies are important information sources that can help you determine whether a particular brand or vendor provides customer support services.
Cost of Laser Engraving Machine
When it comes to technical products, cheap can be expensive in the longer run. For this reason, it is essential to take your time and review each laser engraving machine for sale to get an insight into the different technical aspects of a Laser Engraving Machine.
Modern laser engraving machines are more intelligent, faster, more accurate, easier to use, more powerful, and do not make much noise. When choosing laser engraving machines, always go for a big engraving area and support all computer systems. When choosing a laser engraving machine, it is vital to consider the material of the workpiece.
Application of laser engraving machines
The area on the surface of the workpiece that needs to be engraved should at all times be inside the beam’s focal point. The heat generated from focusing the light beam on the surface of the workpiece can either vaporize the material or make it fracture and flake off.
Laser engraving can work on metallic (silver, gold, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum, titanium, and more) and nonmetallic (glass, wood, plastic, leather, PVC, paper, resin, stone, ceramic tile, acrylic, rubber, and vinyl)materials.
It is possible to perform Laser engraving on guns, coins, pictures, jewelry, and business cards. Some laser engraving machines come with adjustable wattage, giving you the option to work on objects with different materials and thicknesses.
Laser Engraving Machine for Metal
Fiber laser engraving machines work well on metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, tool steel, brass, titanium, and more. You would need a fiber laser engraving machine to engrave aluminum surfaces. You may need to adjust various parameters of the laser engraver for it to work on the different metal materials.
Painting or anodizing metals before engraving their surfaces yields better results. It is important to note that transparent, smooth, and highly reflective materials hardly absorb laser beams, so coating or painting these surfaces will make it easier for the laser beam to be absorbed and eventually deliver a better engraving effect. At all times, it is crucial to avoid the reflection of the laser.
Laser Engraving Machine for Wood
If you are looking to engrave wood surfaces, you need a laser engraving machine for wood for the best results. Such a machine can work on different wood materials, including basswood and plywood. Most people use these units to engrave cardboards, cutting boards, baseball bats, corks, and many more. For better results, product sample testing is something you need to do not burn your workpiece.
Laser Engraving Machine for Plastic
When adding your design to the surface of a PVC material, it would be best that you work with a laser engraving machine for plastic. You will need to adjust the setting in units that can engrave different materials. The problem with engraving plastic is that when the material burns, it gives off toxic fumes.
Laser Engraving Machine for Glass
You can engrave custom logos and designs on nearly any glass product, including mirrors, bottles, and windows. In a typical laser engraving machine, you will need to coat the surface of your glass object before working on it. A laser engraving machine for glass engraving projects produces better results. With a CO2 laser, you can make beautiful frosted or matte effects on your glass products.
You will need a laser engraving machine with rotary attachment to work on any glassware due to its shape and delicate nature. Some of these machines are sold together with attachments, while for some, you will have to purchase them separately.
Laser Engraving Machine for Guns
Gun owners must track and monitor guns so that they do no end up in the wrong hands. They can achieve this with ease by engraving labels, serial numbers, QR codes, and other technical, regulatory requirements on the surface of guns. Some private gun holders may consider giving their gadgets a personal touch by engraving custom designs, personal messages, names, images, logos, and artwork on the surface.
Based on the shape and design of a typical gun, you will need a laser engraving machine for guns to produce high-quality surface designs. Guns have different parts of varying materials, so the best equipment to work on these devices is the fiber laser engraving machine.
Laser Engraving Machine for Jewelry
Engraving is a technique commonly used by art designers in making custom and personalized jewelry. In this case, a laser engraving machine for jewelry offers the best results. Regardless of the type of jewelry (necklaces, rings, bracelets, wedding bands, pendant, antique, locket, tag, jewelry gift, or jewelry box), you can personalize them with signature, letter, number, name, pattern, picture, and among other engravable designs. You may need to consider using a rotary attachment for jewelry with curved surfaces.
You can do many things with a laser engraving machine. Besides engraving on the different material surfaces, some can do annealing, ablation (etching), and color change (carbonization or bleaching). Depending on the size of the laser machine, you can work small to big objects of different shapes and materials.
What Are the Differences Between Laser Marking, Laser Etching, and Laser Engraving?
What is the Laser Marking Process?
Laser marking is also called laser coloration, charring, or laser dark marking, and is attained when the laser beam changes the surface of the material. A low-powered beam is required to complete this slight alteration of the surface. High contrast marks can be created through laser marking without damaging the material. When laser marking a plastic surface, it can be called “charring,” while annealing is commonly used for laser marking metals. There are four main types of laser marking.
Laser foaming is when a laser heats a polymer which results in its melting and forming foam-like bubbles. The process is often used in packaging materials and the automotive industry.
Laser annealing is typically done on metals like steel, titanium, and stainless steel. First, the surface of the metal is heated with the laser beam, which causes oxygen diffusion below the surface. Consequently, the metal begins to oxidize inside, and once it cools off, the oxidation results in a color change.
Laser Carbon Migration
Carbon migration is used for metals and metal alloys. The laser beam forces carbon to migrate to the surface of the material, which causes dark markings.
Laser coloration is used on plastics and metals. Specific parts are heated depending on the anticipated outcome. The pulse frequency and width of the laser are changed to create different colors and shades. This means that lasers used for the coloration laser marking process must have a broad range of power levels, frequencies, and speed.
What is the Laser Engraving Process?
Laser engraving involves physically using a laser beam to remove material from the surface of a workpiece. This process exposes a cavity that reveals an image to the eye. The engraved image can also be felt by hand.
The laser beam creates intense heat that causes the material to vaporize. This is usually done quickly because the material is vaporized with each pulse. A deeper mark can be achieved by repeating the passes. Laser engraving is viewed as a subset of laser marking. Still, it is the ideal option for creating some personalized or custom items for sentimental or commercial purposes. This is also the fastest way of making a mark with a laser engraver.
Laser engraving is not the ideal option for marking safety-critical parts. Laser engraving also typically has a maximum engraving depth of 0.020 in., although a depth of 0.125 in. can be reached in some materials like graphite. The laser engraving process provides many options because engraving can be done on many materials, including but not limited to plastic, wood, leather, metal, glass, etc. Laser engraving is more legible than traditional engraving for small objects such as jewelry and provides more font options. Laser engraving also has a smaller chance of product damage or deformation.
What is the Laser Etching Process?
The laser beam is pulsed during laser etching, releasing sudden bursts of energy at specific intervals. Within one second, a 100-watt pulsed laser can release 100,000 pulses. Each pulse contains one millijoule of energy and can reach 10,000W of peak power.
Since laser etching metals require less energy per area than engraving, pulses are more distant from one another. When the beam hits the surface, the material absorbs its energy and converts it into heat. Although the metal reflects most of the beam’s energy, it also absorbs and changes part of that energy into heat. With laser etching, the material absorbs just enough energy to melt its micro surface and expand.
When the beam’s energy is changed into heat, the temperature of the material increases. At such high heat, the surface becomes malleable so that the shape changes. As the material melts and cools down within milliseconds, localized changes occur on the surface. Surface roughness changes, creating permanent markings. The surface roughness is then permanently transformed. Color changes happen because of different patterns on the material surface. For high-quality markings, black and white provide the best contrasts. Of course, the laser etching process is adjusted for each application and, therefore, slightly different.
What are the applications of laser marking vs. engraving vs. etching?
Various industrial regulations mean industries must use lasers for identification, resulting in the wide adaption of these technologies across multiple sectors. For example, in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration required all medical industry manufacturers to include a unique device identifier on all packages and device labels. Likewise, legislation requires manufacturers to have identification marks on any replacement and medication parts in aerospace.
Laser Engraving Applications
Laser engraving machines used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. They were only used for industrial purposes at first. However, improvements in laser technology have drastically lowered their prices, and it is now possible to buy a basic laser engraver for less than $500. The rise of inexpensive machines has made it possible for anyone to set up a laser engraved business in their garage, and some people have even bought laser engravers purely for hobbies.
Laser Etching Applications
Car manufacturers require traceability from their suppliers, which means they were early adopters of the data matrix code to uniquely identify parts going into the final assembly. Laser etching is used for these identifying marks. Nowadays, manufacturers require that part identification be performed as early as possible.
QR codes, serial numbers, bar codes, dates, and part numbers use laser engraving. The processes are also used for best before and expiry dates, maintenance due dates, and company logos.
Laser Marking Applications
Laser marking may also be used to create ID cards and smart cards as it is fraud-proof. The process is used in the food, automotive, aerospace, medical, electronics, advertising, semiconductor manufacturing industries.