Everything You Need to Know About Laser Engraving

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Everything You Need to Know About Laser Engraving

laser engraving process

Looking for laser engraving services? Not sure where to start? Worry no more! In this post, I will give you a full guide to laser engraving.

Did you know that Over the past 2022, Aria has sculpted more than half a million metal and plastic parts with laser engraving? We have professional engineers and can deal with all kinds of reproduction radium laser engraving projects.

What is laser engraving?

Laser engraving is a process of using a laser beam to remove material from the surface of a material, leaving a permanent mark or design. The laser beam vaporizes or melts the material, creating a precise and detailed engraving.

Metals, plastics, wood, leather, and glassware are common materials used in the procedure. It is a fast and accurate way to create custom drawings, patterns, and text on various materials.

Is laser engraving the same as laser cutting?

Laser Cutting

No, Laser cutting uses a laser to cut through a material. The laser beam melts or vaporizes the material to create a precise cut, and the depth of the cut depends on the power of the laser and the material being cut. Laser cutting is commonly used in industrial manufacturing to cut materials like metal, plastic, and wood, as well as in smaller-scale applications like crafting and prototyping.

What colors can a laser engraving machine produce?

The color of a laser engraving depends on the material. Laser engraving machines give a light-colored mark on materials like metal and plastic.

Laser engraving changes the color of a material by oxidizing or evaporating its surface with a laser, without using paint or ink.

Common colors include:

white,

black,

white,

Silver,

gold,

red,

yellow,

green,

blue.

How deep can laser engravers go?

laser engraving stainless steel

Laser engravers can create marks ranging from microns to millimeters deep. Modifying the laser’s power and speed parameters regulates the depth of the engraving.

Plastic can be engraved to a depth of 2-4mm, and Laser engrave metal parts can reach a depth of 0.5-2mm, It is depending on the material strength and power of the laser engraving machine.

How Does Laser Engraving Work?

A laser engraver directs a laser beam onto the material’s surface. The energy the material receives causes it to heat up and vaporize or melt. Most laser engravers give room for adjusting the depth and intensity of the engraving. You can achieve this by altering the power laser beam and the speed.

As technology advances, laser engraving continues to increase its industrial applications. Fiber laser technology for metal engraving is one of the common industrial applications.

With the principle of laser engraving clear, it begs the question, What are the steps to laser engraving?

Steps to Do Laser Engraving

To carry out laser engraving, there are five steps to follow. These are:

  1. Preparation

  2. Design

  3. Calibration

  4. Engrave

  5. Inspect

Preparation

The preparation phase of the laser engraving process encompasses several steps. Firstly, you will need to create an idea of the markings to laser engrave. Next, pick the correct laser engraving materials. This will depend on your desired design and the compatibility of the laser engraver.

This step is crucial as the laser engraving machine leaves permanent marks. Consequently, it is hard to make alterations after the engraving process is complete. It is therefore important to go for the best laser engravers.

Design

In the design phase, you will create a vector file for the laser engraving machine. The image on your vector file will guide the laser machine on where to focus the laser beams. There are several software packages available for creating such a file. Some examples include Adobe Illustrators, Inkscape, Lightburn, DraftSight, and Onshape.

Calibration

Once you have the design ready, it is now time to set up the laser machine. For optimal results and fine details, experiment with various laser parameters. Use different laser strengths, cut depths, speeds, and line thickness. This process will help you create the ideal laser parameters that align with your needs.

Technical Parameter

Maximum engraved area:

1250 * 18500 mm

Speed:

0~~72 m/min

Minimum formed text:

1 * 1 mm

Positioning accuracy:

<0.01mm

Design format support:

BMP、HPGL(PLT)、JPEG、 GIF、TIFF、PCS、TGA、DST、DXP

Engrave

The laser beam is directed to the surface of the material, vaporizing or melting the material to create the desired design or text.

Common laser engravers easily engrave on the X and Y axis. It is much preferred since the two axes represent the horizontal and vertical directions on a flat surface.

However, more expensive machines can engrave along the Z axis, which is the depth of the material. This allows for more complex designs and 3D engravings. For a laser marking machine to engrave on the Y axis, it needs a movable table. This table moves back and forth in the Y direction while the laser head remains fixed in position.

This allows the laser to engrave on a larger surface area without the need for the laser head to move. A quality laser engraver has software, which communicates with the machine’s motors to move the table accurately and precisely.

Fiber laser engravers with all the above movements are one of the best laser engravers. A small business with such a machine can leverage creating more personalized items. With the continued rise in AI adoption, who knows what the near future has in store for us?

Inspect

After laser engraving, the material is inspected for accuracy, and alignment, and any residue is cleaned to ensure the design or text is accurate and properly aligned.

Surface Finishing

The engraved material can be finished with a protective coating or polished to enhance its appearance, depending on the material. Common finishing processes for engraved materials include sandblasting, painting, polishing, anodizing, and coating.

Which materials can be Laser engraved?

As we speak, I can think of five types of engraving machines, which also means that there is a wide range of materials available. Some commonly used materials include metal, leather, plastic, and wood.

Plastics

Laser engraving on plastic can create precise and intricate designs with high contrast, and the engraved area can be filled with paint for added visibility. Different plastics have varying responses to laser engraving, so it’s important to choose the appropriate settings and ensure proper ventilation during the engraving process.

Metal

Most people prefer metal laser engraving because it offers high precision, sharp and clean lines, and the ability to create intricate designs.

The best laser engravers for engraving metals are fiber laser engravers. A fiber laser marking machine has a high-power density that allows for precise and fast metal engraving. Metals highly absorb the wavelength of fiber lasers. This makes metal laser engraving energy efficient as most of the energy is transferred to the surface of the metal.

Metal engraving also has its downside especially if you are laser engraving highly reflective metals. Engraving highly reflective metals can be a challenge as the laser beams can reflect off the surface and cause damage to the machine or the material. Examples of such metals are stainless steel and aluminum.

The fiber laser engraver is the best laser engraver for reflective metals. Fiber lasers emit laser light at a different wavelength compared to other laser engraving machines. The wavelength of fiber lasers is shorter than that of other lasers. This makes it easy to focus more energy onto a smaller laser spot on the metal surface. The result is a higher level of precision and control when laser engraving metal.

Commonly engraved metals and plastics include:

Document
Plastic Metals Other Materials
ABS Aluminum Cellulose acetate
ASA Chromium-plated surfaces Cotton
PVC Gold-plated surfaces Leather
Resins Nickel-plated surfaces Paper
Acrylic Stainless Steel Rubber
Polyacetal Brass Ceramics
Polyamide (PA) Copper Glass
Polycarbonate (PC) Zinc Wood
Polyester (PES) Iron
Polystyrene (PS) Steel
Polyurethane (PU) Bronze
Polyxpropylene (PP)

Wood

It is also possible to laser engrave wood. Most people do not like laser marking wood for fear of catching fire. However, you can tune down the laser power of your laser machine to minimize the risk. If you are looking to laser engrave wood, it is best to use wood with a fine surface. A smooth surface finish provides the best results, as it allows for more precise and consistent laser marking.

Can a laser engraving machine engrave on a curved surface?

When engraving curved objects like pens and bottles, you will need a rotary attachment. The rotary attachment allows the object to rotate while the laser engraves, ensuring that the engraving is even and accurate.

Without a rotary attachment, it would be difficult to engrave on curved objects. The laser would only engrave on a small part of the object at a time and potentially omit other details.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Laser Engraving

Like most manufacturing processes, laser marking also has its pros and cons. Let’s start with the advantages of laser engraving.

Pros

  1. Fast production processes. A laser engraving machine does not take long to engrave as it works at high speeds. Take the fiber laser engraver as an example, it can take a few minutes to engrave depending on the design and material used. It is important to keep in mind that thinner materials engrave faster than thicker materials.

  2. A wide range of materials is available. Unlike other processes like chemical etching, laser etching is compatible with a wide range of materials. You can engrave metal, and plastics among others. This can afford small businesses more freedom in the choice of materials and design.

  3. Precision. A laser engraver has high precision and accuracy and can engrave metal and other materials at +/- .01. It is however important to note that the precision will greatly depend on the quality of the laser engraver and tools used.

  4. Non-contact marking. Laser marking is a non-contact process whereby the laser head never touches the engraving area. This helps minimize the risk of contamination and preserve the part’s physical and mechanical properties.

  5. Repeatability. A laser engraver stores the vector file and can duplicate the design several times with high precision and accuracy. This gives you a fast turnaround time.

Cons

  1. Need for technical expertise. A laser engraver requires an experienced operator to deliver high-quality laser marking. Acquiring expertise can increase operational costs.

  2. High cost of machine operation and maintenance. Purchasing the best laser engraver is quite expensive. Additionally, these machines have high maintenance and operational cost. It is best to outsource laser engraving services.

What Can You Create with a Laser Engraving Machine?

A laser engraver allows you to create various items. Here are a few examples;

Personalized gifts

You can create unique and personalized gifts for family and friends. This can include engraved jewelry, custom phone cases, personalized keychains, and more.

Bar codes and Qr codes

Laser engraving can produce very precise and high-quality codes that are readable by barcode scanners and smartphones.

Signage

You can engrave metal like aluminum with a fiber laser to create custom signs for businesses, offices, and other commercial settings.

Decorative Items

You can mark plastics with a laser engraver to create intricate and detailed designs for wall art and home decor.

Laser engraving best practices on CNC precision parts

Laser engraving on CNC precision parts is a popular technique in many industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical. Here are some best practices to consider when using laser engraving on CNC precision parts:

  1. Choose the right laser engraver. Different lasers have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to choose the right laser for your project. For precision parts, fiber lasers are often the best choice because they offer high accuracy and can engrave a wide range of materials.

  2. Use the proper settings. The laser settings you use will depend on the material you’re engraving and the desired outcome. Experiment with different settings to find the optimal balance between the speed and depth of the engraving.

  3. Clean the part thoroughly. Any debris or residue on the part can interfere with the process. It is important to clean the part thoroughly before engraving. Use a solvent or other cleaning solution to remove any oils, dirt, or other contaminants.

  4. Secure the part properly. Make sure the part is secured properly before engraving to prevent any movement or vibration during the process. This will ensure accurate and consistent engraving.

  5. Test on a scrap piece first. Before engraving on the actual part, it’s a good idea to test the laser on a scrap piece to ensure that the settings are correct and the engraving looks as expected.

Conclusion

With its numerous advantages, including speed, accuracy, and versatility, laser engraving has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for customizing and personalizing items. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, understanding the basics can help you create stunning and unique designs.

As you reflect on this information, consider what possibilities this technology opens up for your creativity and innovation. How can you use laser etching to make your mark on the world?

FAQs

Q: What types of laser etching machines are available?

A: There are several types of laser engravers, including CO2 lasers, fiber lasers, and UV lasers. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on the specific application and material being engraved. Fiber lasers are the overall best laser engravers.

Q: Can a fiber laser engrave?

A: Yes, a fiber laser can be used for laser engraving. Fiber lasers are very effective at engraving reflective metals, such as stainless steel, brass, and aluminum. A Fiber laser is compatible with various materials, including plastics, wood, glass, and more. The high precision and speed of A fiber laser make it a popular choice for a wide range of applications. A fiber laser is the best for metal laser engraving. Fiber laser engraving is popular in industrial manufacturing and jewelry making.

Q: What is the difference between fiber laser and CO2 laser?

A: The main difference between a fiber laser and a CO2 laser is the technology used to produce the laser beam. A CO2 laser uses a gas mixture to produce a high-powered beam of infrared light, while a fiber laser uses fiber optics doped with rare earth elements to produce a laser beam.

Another significant difference is the wavelength of the laser beam. CO2 lasers typically operate at a wavelength of 10.6 microns, while fiber lasers operate at a much shorter wavelength of around 1 micron. This difference in wavelength makes fiber lasers more effective at metal engraving. CO2 lasers work best with materials, such as wood, acrylic, and leather. This is due to their longer wavelength and ability to produce a smoother cut.

Q: What laser is best for engraving metal?

A: A Fiber laser is the best for laser engraving metal. This is because a fiber laser can emit light at a much higher intensity than other lasers. This allows them to easily engrave through reflective metals. A good example is stainless steel. Fiber lasers are efficient and have a longer lifespan compared to other types of lasers. making them a cost-effective choice for metal engraving.

Q: What is the easiest metal to laser engrave?

A: Metals with a low melting point, such as aluminum and brass, are easier to engrave than harder metals like steel or titanium. However, with the use of fiber lasers, it is now possible to engrave metals like stainless steel.

The quality of the engraving also depends on factors such as the laser power, the material thickness, and the engraving speed.

Author

Gavin Leo is a technical writer at Aria with 8 years of experience in Engineering, He proficient in machining characteristics and surface finish process of various materials. and participated in the development of more than 100complex injection molding and CNC machining projects. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience.

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