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Laser Engraving: A ultimate guide

Introduction

Laser Engraving is often used in the same sentences as Laser Cutting, but what exactly is Laser Engraving? How does it work, which benefits does this technology have, and what materials can be used? This guide will answer all of these questions and provide a detailed overview. Are you ready to dive into the world of Laser Engraving? Let’s go!

What is Laser Engraving?

The aim of Laser Engraving is to engrave a specific picture or logo onto a selected material.   It is a subtractive manufacturing method. However, before the actual engraving process can begin, the machine needs a file sent from a computer to the machine’s controller, which then positions the laser. When the Laser Engraving process starts, the beam creates a high heat that burns or evaporates the surface according to the image from the file. Two different forms should be distinguished: line engraving and surface engraving. While the first one uses vector images to follow paths or lines, the second vaporizes the material to create an image into the material or give the design a 3D-like impression.  What type of file do you need for Laser Engraving? Laser Engraving systems can not read any 3D files like .stl. So you have to use formats like jpg, pdf, png, or ai that are 2D files. The model contained in the file will be converted into dots and the distance between them determines how deep the engraving will be. 

Laser Cutting vs. Laser Engraving

Laser cutting, as the name implies, creates clean cuts into the material. Many different fields such as aerospace, automotive, medicine, or electronics rely on this technology as it cuts other materials and delivers a smooth finish. There are laser machines that can laser cut and engrave but would still need a 2D file to function. 

Is Laser Etching the same as Laser Engraving?

Laser Etching may be used as a synonym for Laser Engraving. However, it functions as a tool that melts the material rather than vaporizes it. When a material (in most cases, metal) is etched, it expands and creates a raised cavity. Thereby the characteristics are changed. With Laser Engraving the material keeps its original shape. 

Laser Marking compared to Laser Engraving

Laser Marking is different from Laser Engraving and Laser Etching as it does not vaporize part of the material and therefore does not change the surface of the piece. Laser Marking uses a beam with low power to work with the material, which causes oxidation, and the material turns black. Due to this reason, Laser Marking is sometimes also described as Laser Dark Marking. In the end, this method produces an image with high contrast, which is permanent.  Usually, Laser Marking and Laser Etching are used to produce text or logos onto a material part.

Laser Engraving Applications

Laser engraving is very versatile, which is why so many industries rely on this technology for production. 

Engraving is often used for awards or trophies to create a clean engraving on the surface. However, Laser Engraving can also be used for decorative markings or letterheads. 

In the production industry, laser engraving technology is often used for engraving barcodes onto certain parts. Engraving has the advantage that even when the part is used in production or other works, the barcode will not wear down and can still be scanned for company purposes. Other markers like QR codes are also often used with engraving technology.

Due to the precise engraving work that the laser offers, jewelry industries also work with this technology. It provides them the opportunity to offer their customers custom engraving, quickly. 

In the electronic or medical industry, parts need to be identified at any time. To provide easy and on-point identification, those parts are often marked by using laser engraving. 

There are many more different applications. However, these examples presented already show how well laser engraving can be used. If you are unsure if laser engraving is a good fit for your application, contact our team of experts to help you determine the best technology for you. 

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:

Acrylic

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

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. 

MDF

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

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

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.

Glass

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. 

Metal

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. 

Leather

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.

What kind of laser machines are there?

In laser engraving, there are two types of machines – Diode lasers and CO2 lasers. 

Diode lasers are often compared to LED lights. Photons are ejected by the use of electricity to spark electrons in a negative/positive junction. Prior to the impact with the material, the beam focuses the photons through the lens. Supermarkets, for example, use diode lasers to scan barcodes at the checkout. However, diode lasers for engraving purposes are more robust than the lasers in the supermarket and should be dealt with caution. 

Even though Diode laser engraving machines are the strongest of their kind, they cannot cut through every type of material. But, they do come at a very reasonable price and are great for simple laser engraving projects.

Diode laser printer selection:

  • Ortur Laser Master 2
  • FoxAlien LE-4040
  • Atomstack A5 Pro

The laser of a CO2 machine is generated inside an airtight tube made out of glass, which, in addition to other gases, also contains CO2. The electrical current produces light as it aggravates the gasses. The produced light rinses off different mirrors on the way to the lens. Before the beam leaves the laser machine and hits the material, the lens focuses the beam on the right spot. 

CO2 is usually more powerful than diode lasers. Due to that power, they have the advantage of being able to go through materials that diode lasers can’t. Unfortunately, these kinds of machines are also very delicate, and as soon as the glass tube or the mirrors are damaged, the laser may not work properly or at all. For this reason, they need far more maintenance than diode lasers. 

Despite this downside, CO2 lasers have the power to cut and engrave strong materials.  

CO2 laser printer selection:

  • OMTech 40 W (DF0812-40BG)
  • Flux Beamo
  • Full Spectrum Laser Muse Core
  • Glowforge Plus

Which Software can I use?

A laser machine needs vector files to start the Laser Engraving process. From the file, the Laser Engraver knows where to point the laser and which image to create. There are numerous software programs to create such a file. Here we will focus on six major programs : 

Inkscape

Let’s start with the software Inkscape. This open-source software is free and offers many different options in the design process. No matter if you want to create a file from scratch or use it to repair or change an existing file. It is excellent for beginners as it is user-friendly but still offers great design tools. Its many different ways to communicate with other users provide an ideal space to ask questions and improve the learning process.  Inkscape can be used on Mac OS X, Windows as well as Linux distributions. 

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is not known to be a laser engraving software per se. However, it is graphic design software that can also create files for laser engraving. Compared to Inkscape, this software is not free. You have the option to start a 7-day free trial after that the software costs 23,79 € per month. Even though Illustrator also works perfectly fine on its own, you have the option to take a package deal from Adobe and then use other software, like InDesign or Photoshop as well. For beginners, it takes a few sessions to get used to the software, but it offers a steep learning curve. Adobe Illustrator works with AI, PDF, DWG, SVG, DXF, and EPS file formats.  You can use the software as a Mac user as well as with a Microsoft computer. If you own an Ipad, you can benefit from a particular version for the Ipad and create your designs with the apple pencil on the tablet. 

LightBurn

Another software you can use to create a file for Laser Engraving is LightBurn. This software is completely designed for the creation of Laser Engraving files. It can work with image formats and vector graphics like PDF, AI, SVG, DXF, PLT, PNG, GIF, JPG, and BMP.  With the LightBurn editor, you can create new vector shapes and edit or arrange them. It also allows you to send the file directly to the laser machine. To make sure that the tool is a good fit, LightBurn offers a 30-day trial before there is a requirement to purchase a license.  LightBurn can be used on Mac IOS, Windows, and Linux. 

DraftSight

DraftSight is a laser cutting 2D software focused on detailed 2D vector drawing drafts. It has a unique feature that turns PNGs or JPEGs into vector lines, and angles.  DraftSight offers a 30-days free trial, and after that, there are different price levels – DraftSight Professional is $200 a year, and DraftSight Premium is $499 a year. Due to its higher price, DraftSight is instead aimed at experts.  To use DraftSight, you need either a Mac or Windows computer. 

OnShape 

OnShape is available for desktops, tablets, and smartphones, making your ability to work on your designs on various applications highly flexible.  There is a free 14-day trial available. After the end of the trial, it can cost up to $2100, depending on the chosen rate.  As OnShape is a cloud solution, it can be accessed through any web browser such as Safari, Chrome, Edge, or Firefox. 

LaserWeb

LaserWeb software is an open-source laser cutting tool, which is entirely free. One of the benefits of this tool is the possibility to import more than one file with various formats into one project. This increases your flexibility and is a good option for collaboration. With a large community at LaserWeb, access to many tips and tricks can help you with designing your vector file.  LaserWeb can be used on Mac as well as Windows. 

What benefits does Laser Engraving offer?

When used, Laser Engraving offers a lot of advantages: 
  • Speedy production  process

Laser Engraving impresses with a very swift process. Since every laser pulse on the material vaporizes, it does not take long to achieve the desired and finished result. The fast process makes it particularly convenient for rapid manufacturing and when the time of production matters.
  • Wide range of materials

Another benefit of using Laser engraving is the many different materials that can be engraved. Lending flexibility to the customer, who can choose from various wood options like MDF, POM or Cardboard, plastic or metal. These different materials allow for freedom of choice and design.
  • Precision 

Especially when it comes to small objects like rings or necklaces, laser engraving has high precision, it can engrave complex images into these small objects. 
  • Reliable process

The whole Laser engraving process is very reliable. In comparison to traditional methods, it very rarely results in damaged goods.

Start your Laser Engraving journey now!

Laser Engraving can be a great asset to your production and company. However, we know that these kinds of machines are a significant investment. So whether you are just beginning or already fully committed to Laser Engraving, you can rely on our industrial machines for engraving your products. Simply upload your 2D file, choose a material, and hit send to our laser machines. We will engrave the material to your specifications and send the finished product to you. 

If you have any questions about Laser Engraving, do not hesitate to contact our experienced team at Sculpteo. We are here to help and answer any questions at any point in your process. Happy engraving! 

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