Laser engraving involves focusing a laser beam on a part from a distance at a suitable power level. This evaporates the material, leaving a permanent mark on the part. Adjusting the power is important because too little will be ineffective and too much will burn the material.
The laser engraving process is very simple. Here are the steps required to laser engrave a part:
Ideation is coming up with ideas about how the marker should look and the right material to work. It requires a lot of creativity. Therefore, this is the most important step in the laser engraving process as it determines the quality of the marking and its efficiency.
Conceptualization is also very important, as laser-engraved marks are permanent. Therefore, it is not easy to change the wrong tag after the tagging process is completed.
Design the Image for the Marking
Design the image you want to label on the computer program. You can use Adobe Illustrators, Inkscape, Lightburn, DraftSight, and Onshape to create graphic designs. Also, you need to make sure that the machine is compatible with the designed files.
Choose the Material
Choose a material that is compatible with your laser engraver and complements your design. Typically, laser engravers can process materials such as stone, glass, plastic, and metal.
Set up the Machine
The settings and types of engraving machines separate their processes from each other. Set the laser intensity, depth of cut, speed, number of passes and wire thickness, and test similar test materials to see how well it works. Store the best settings that reflect what you want
Laser Engraves the Part
Put the material into the machine and make a mark. You can remove material from the machine and clean it while marking.
Materials used in the laser engraving process
The laser engraving process is compatible with many materials. Here are a few you can consider for your project.
Woods is also compatible with the process. Due to the high temperature, many consider them to be a fire hazard. However, you can adjust the power of the laser marker to engrave wood without catching fire. Plywood, MDF, and cardboard are popular wood materials that can be machine-carved.
Plastics such as acrylic and POM are common materials for laser engraving. However, the power of the laser must be fully tuned and tuned based on the material's absorption spectrum and other existing additives. Plastics are more compatible with CO2 and UV laser marking.
Metal is the most common material that people laser engraving, so it is called "the heart of many industries". Examples of metals compatible with this process are stainless steel, gold, silver, iron and aluminum. Fiber engraving machines are the most suitable machines for metal marking.
The process is also suitable for coated metals, and is suitable for vaporization of metal coatings. This results in a clean removal of the coating.
Speedy production process
This is a quick process that can take 3 to 5 minutes, depending on material, design and laser power. This process is important in rapid manufacturing due to its speed.
Wide range of materials
It is compatible with many materials such as metal, wood and plastic, unlike marking systems such as dotted systems and chemical etching. This gives customers more freedom in choosing materials and designs.
Laser markers are highly accurate and capable of engraving to +/- 0.01 inches, but the exact accuracy depends on the type of machine and its components. Due to its high precision, it is suitable for the jewelry, medical and electronics industries.
Laser marking machines are suitable for batch marking processes due to their repeatability. The machine's software stores the design and can mark and add the same marks on different or identical parts. Repeatability ensures you have faster turnaround times and great looking products.
Durability of Marks
Laser-engraved markings are high-contrast for improved visibility and are permanent. Therefore, they are durable in different environmental conditions, be it abrasion, heat or chemicals. This is different from marking processes, such as inkjet marking, where the chemicals responsible for marking can be washed off in a non-conductive environment. Due to durability, laser engraved markings are suitable for product identification and traceability.
Eco-friendly Production Process
It does not require consumables such as chemicals that pollute the environment like inkjet marking. Also, unlike spot blasting machines, they do not make any noise. Therefore, the process is environmentally friendly, clean and energy efficient.
As a non-contact marking process, there is no material contamination and distortion of the physical and mechanical properties of the part. This is different from point peening, where the stylus hits the material, and in inkjet marking, the chemicals may not be compatible with the material.
Need for Expertise
Using a laser engraver requires a professional operator to take full advantage of the machine's potential and deliver high-quality marks. The high demand for expertise increases operating costs. Furthermore, expertise determines the quality of the mark.
High Costs of Operation and Maintenance
Compared to other marking system machines, engraving machines are expensive. They also have high maintenance and operating costs. So this suggests that using one will require initial and subsequent investments. Due to the high cost of operation and maintenance, it is recommended to outsource to laser engraving services.
The machine emits dangerous gases and fumes during the marking process. Therefore, you need good ventilation and protection systems to ensure a safe working environment.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Laser Engraving
Laser engraving is highly recognized in the industry for its advantages of fast production speed, high precision, and strong material processing capabilities. However, this process also has its drawbacks. Here are some pros and cons you should be aware of.
How to find the best laser engraver:
Choosing the right laser engraver depends on your purpose, usage and budget. Also don't forget to check user feedback. Then, check the following among different laser engravers to see if they meet the above factors - before you choose!
a) Laser power and type
There are different laser engravers, from low power semiconductor laser engravers to powerful fiber optic and YAG laser engravers. The most commonly used laser machines are diode and CO2 engravers with different power levels.
If you're an adept DIYer and plan to turn your hobby into a small business or classroom, you'll find plenty of diode and CO2 machines, although you can spend a fortune on a high-volume fiber optic engraver, especially if you want to To handle professional tasks.
b) Material compatibility
What kind of material are you going to use? Different types of laser engravers can effectively handle various types of materials. Generally, it is assumed that if you want to work with non-metallic objects, it is best to use a CO2 laser engraver.
Fiber laser engravers, on the other hand, are better at etching metal. Diode engravers can handle both cases, but they work slower. We recommend reviewing product descriptions and user feedback to see exactly what types of materials the engraver can handle.
c) Object shape
Do you want to etch designs on flat objects? Or are you planning to engrave on cylindrical items with curved surfaces? If it's just the former, any normal laser engraver will work for you. They have a large work bed for a flat item.
But for cylindrical objects you need to find the axis of rotation. This accessory usually attaches to a regular laser engraver and can engrave on glasses, mugs and more. Also, check to see if the engraver can align the design on uneven surfaces.
d) Machine size
Small laser engravers are ideal for small workshops. If you're just starting out in your bedroom or want to move your workshop to a corner of your garage, the small machine can go anywhere. Some of them are handheld, giving you more control and mobility.
But keep in mind that a compact router can have a much smaller work bed, making it difficult for you to handle larger objects. Some carvers have extendable work beds. Also be aware that it can take up space if you need a professional engraver.
e) 3D printing and CNC engraving machine
You'll find many state-of-the-art machines that offer additional capabilities for 3D printing. These versatile machines can add value to your business as you can create a variety of custom designs and objects to suit your clients' needs.
Some laser engravers are also designed to accommodate a CNC mill, which together with three axes can give you 3D engraving. These are advanced features that you won't be able to master quickly, especially in mid-range or low-end laser engraving tools.
f) technical support
Laser engraving tools must be able to properly connect to a PC or smartphone. It will give you proper control over how the design is engraved on the object. A common way to operate a laser engraver is to start with a pattern uploaded or created on a design program.