What is laser engraving?
Laser engraving is a process that uses a custom built machine who’s main function is to concentrate a laser beam down to a tiny focal point, that moves across the surface of an item, concentrating sufficient energy to ablate (burn away) the surface material. These laser engravers have been commercially available for over 30 years now, and have gradually replaced the more traditional methods of hand engraving an object.
The amount of material that is removed by the laser is controlled by the operator, manipulating both the speed at which the machine passes over the surface of the object being engraved, and the amount of power supplied to the laser source at the same time.
Due to the wide range of density and chemical makeup of different materials, every item being engraved will require appropriate settings to be calibrated on the machine before attempting to engrave an item. Failure to apply enough energy to the item will result in either no material being ablated (no visible engraving), or hazy, poorly visible text and graphics. Applying too much energy can result in burning the item, melting the surface, or cutting through the item entirely. It takes years of experience to accurately predict the correct settings required for a suitable engraving, however most manufacturers of laser engraving machines will provide guidance to assist operators new to the industry.
What is the difference between Laser Etching and Laser Engraving?
These days the terms laser etching and laser engraving are interchangeable. Both refer to the process of using a laser engraver to mark the surface of an item. This can be done with either a CO2 laser, or a fibre laser. Certain materials require a fibre laser to produce a mark, where attempting to use a CO2 laser will result in no engraving at all. Most metals respond well to engraving with a fibre laser, however the relatively recent invention of metal-marking compounds have brought that capability to CO2 lasers too.
There is a 3rd process available, known as laser annealing, which can only be done with a fibre laser.
Is Laser Engraving better than hand engraving?
The laser engraver is computer-driven, and with the appropriate software, allows us to reproduce text in a vast array of fonts, with accuracy, repeatabilty, and consistency. In addition we can engrave photos, logos, vector graphics, barcodes and QR codes as well. Any design that can be converted to a 2D, single colour graphic can be engraved. Laser engravers cannot produce ‘colour’ – they only recognise monotones (ie black and white). They apply laser power wherever there is black on an image, and skip sections that are white. Shades of grey are just varying concentrations of black dots (the tighter the dot pattern the darker the colour) so we are able to reproduce photos and images that have been converted to monotone first.
The speed and repeatabilty of a laser engraver makes it far superior to hand engraving, and so they have now replaced hand engraving for nearly all engraving jobs.
Can any item be laser engraved?
No, not every item is suited to laser engraving. Some limiting factors are:
– the size and weight of the object
– the material to be engraved
– surface coatings that have been applied to the item at time of manufacture.
Certain plastics cannot be engraved, however a range of engravable plastics have been developed for use as electrical labels, switchboard labels, control panel labels etc. The industry term for these plastics is ‘traffolyte‘, however the original ‘traffolyte’ has been superceded by a vast array of laser-ready plastic sheets designed for this purpose. Most customers using these labels still refer to them as traffolyte labels, and so the naming convention continues.
At Light Scribe Laser Engraving we specialise in the production of traffolyte labels, and supply them to a wide range of industrial clients, from electricians, to solar panel installers, commercial refrigeration mechanics, and many more.
Now that you are familiar with the process of laser engraving, we recommend you contact us to discuss your ideas and we can advise how we can assist you with your engraving job.