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What is laser engraving?

Focused Laser Beam Laser processing is quickly becoming an industry standard for working with a variety of materials used in today’s modern manufacturing environments. Laser processing generally means working with materials by means of cutting, engraving or welding. While there are numerous types of laser processing, we are going to discuss just one—laser engraving. Laser engraving is a valuable, highly desired type of laser processing, and when it is done well, it yields productive and stunning results.

If you are wondering how laser engraving works, you are in the right place. On this page, we will cover the laser engraving basics, how it works, the different types of materials used, application tips and much more. If you have additional questions about laser engraving beyond what is covered on this page, please feel free to contact us. We have passionate, knowledgeable staff members with decades of experience and expertise with laser engraving. We would be more than happy to connect with you and discuss if laser engraving can enhance or improve your current manufacturing needs.

Now, let’s start with the basics.

Laser engraving is a non-contact process which uses a focused laser beam to remove material from a surface down to a specified depth. The focused laser beam delivers energy to the processing area in a manner which converts a high percentage of the light energy into heat. The laser beam’s heat vaporizes material or leaves a contrasting mark on its surface. The effect the laser beam has on the material is often referred to as laser engraving, laser etching or laser marking. These three terms are often used interchangeably but each does have a more specific meaning. The engraved depth and/or type of mark left by the laser beam determines which process you are performing.

What is the difference between laser engraving, laser etching and laser marking?

The primary difference between laser engraving, laser etching and laser marking is depth—the depth of the engraved area left behind by the laser beam.

The term laser engraving is used when the removal of material is greater than .001” deep. Common examples of a laser engraved product would be checkering of a gunstock or deep engraving of a wooden sign.

Laser etching is the removal of .001” or less of material. Many products have a thin layer applied to them which is removed to leave a contrasting appearance. Coated metals are a great example of a product which can be laser etched to create personalized flasks, tumblers and other drinkware. Another great example of laser marking

Laser marking, on the other hand, does not melt or vaporize material. Instead, it uses a laser beam to create oxidation or a heat affected zone on the surface of a material, leaving behind a blackened or contrasting mark. Laser marking is popular for items like serial numbers, barcodes and logos. Additionally, marking sprays can be used to assist in creating a durable laser mark on material which may not be conducive to laser marking on their own. A very popular laser marking product is Cermark®.

laser engraving

laser engraving

removal of material greater than .001" in depth.

laser etching

laser etching

removal of a coating or less than .001" of material.

laser marking

laser marking

heat effect area turns color and/or oxidizes.

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How does DPI (dots per inch) affect engraving quality?

An engraving resolution or DPI (dots per inch) is set in the KCAM laser software. The DPI is used to set the amount of passes the laser beams make over a certain distance. Generally, a higher DPI results in a crisper and more defined laser engraving. 300 and 600dpi are two commonly used laser engraving resolutions that work well for most materials processed by lasers. As material is removed with laser pulses, images or engraved areas are created on the surface of a material. The processed areas are what form the final product.

Advantages of laser engraving.

Non-Contact Process: Laser engraving is a non-contact process which eliminates the need for expensive tooling replacements. There is also no need to worry about snagging, ripping or pulling of the material being processed as the laser nozzle floats over the material without any physical contact.

Flexible Capabilities: Laser engravers are capable of processing wood, plastic, natural stone, foam, textiles, paper, foil, cardboard, metal and just about any material you can get underneath the laser nozzle.

High detail and accuracy: The laser beam is focused down to as small as .005” providing wonderful detail and the capability to engrave ultra-small font sizes.

Easy design software: Engraving files are easily created without complex programming. Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW and Inkscape are just a few of the commonly used software programs that are compatible with Kern’s laser engravers. PhotoGRAV 3.0 software will quickly prepare high-resolutions images for laser engraving. Catalogs of laser-ready images can be purchased from various artwork suppliers.

Multi-tasking: Once the laser system is in operation you are able to work on other projects that need your attention. A blinking light and audible job done alarm can be set to alert you when laser engraving is completed.

Laser engraving applications

What is 3D Laser Engraving?

Kern is well known in the CO2 laser industry for providing the most detailed 3D laser engraving system in the world! Kern’s 3D engraving technology has opened new avenues for artwork to be displayed on a variety of wood products. Designing 3D images takes some time but the end results will be breathtaking.

The key to 3D laser engraving is to understand the software you are working with. You need to be able to shade your drawing in gray to give the depth desired in your image. The grayscale artwork below previews what a laser ready 3D image should look like. Kern’s KCAM laser software is one of the very few on the market which will accept true 8-bit or 256 different colors of gray for resolution. That means there are 256 different power levels from black to white, which correlates to the 256 different levels of gray between black and white.

3D laser engraving

Laser etching applications

Laser marking applications

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