Laser engraving and laser etching

Laser engraving and Laser etching

Laser engraving and laser etching are methods of cutting lines on hard surfaces like metals. Unlike laser marking, which causes discoloration of the material surface to create high contrast markings without disrupting the surface of the material, both of the methods mentioned above remove a fragment of the area of the surface as it marks.
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Laser etching sweeps away the top layer of material. Here, the surface is not cut, and thus no fissures are left. On the other hand, laser engraving cuts through the metal surface, thereby leaving crevices. The marking made in this way is easily noticeable and sensible to touch.

Difference between laser etching and laser engraving

When it comes to laser cutting, both laser engraving and laser etching are often confusing. They are mistaken as same and are usually used interchangeably as both refer to permanent marking on a material. Though the terms share similarities in a broad context, there exist notable differences when it comes to making cuts or designs on the surface of the chosen material. They also have unique applications as per the requirements, risks, nature of work, and benefits. A clear understanding of the two terms is thus necessary to choose between the technologies to be adopted for the purpose in hand.

The following excerpt details the differences between the two techniques.

Etching v/s Engraving

Though both laser engraving and laser etching are used for the same purpose of making marks on metal surfaces using lasers, they differ on a technological basis. Consequently, the impact produced on the material's surface is also different.

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The fundamental difference being that the former is a physical process while the latter is a chemical process. While an engraver uses a sharp, pointed tool to mark on the metal surface, an etcher burns the surface with the aid of acid, thereby leaving impressions.

Laser engraving is achieved by using high heat laser. The laser vaporizes the material surface and resulting in permanent impressions. It is to be noted that the laser engraving makes the deepest cut. The outcome is a cone-shaped indentation on the material's surface. On passing the laser over the same area several times, the aforesaid cone-shaped indentation can be further deepened.

On the other hand, laser etching employs a low powered laser. Laser etching, in practice, is a subset of laser engraving. The print is achieved when the material melts due to the heat from the beam. The outcome is a slightly raised etching pattern of your choice. A low- powered laser gives rise to a smaller quantity of heat that is just enough to oxidize the surface of the material due to which it turns black. The action gives rise to high-contrast, identifiable markings on the metal. This type of imprinting has limitations on its cutting applications and is particularly suited for specific purposes.

Another significant difference is the depth of cut through the surface in both of these methods. The extent of penetration of the laser beam in laser engraving is more significant than that in laser etching. In the technique of laser etching, this depth should not exceed 0.001" or 1/1000 of an inch. Whereas in the method of engraving, the maximum extent is usually 0.02" (in the case of metals).However, it can go up to 0.125" or one-eighth of an inch for softer materials.

Laser engraving can be conveniently used for cutting lines through any material. Some of the commonly used materials are metal, wood, plastics, acrylic, glass, and leather. It can be even used on soft materials like paper. It is a viable option for people who want to customize something. On the contrary, laser etching is suitable for specific purposes. It is more feasible for small projects and thin materials like jewelry. It can be used ideally on materials like stainless steel, anodized aluminum, polymers, ceramics, and plated metals.

For cutting through materials that are anticipated to undergo high wear and tear, laser engraving is the ideal method. The cut made by this technique is long-lived. As opposed to it, laser-etched cuts are less durable. Under these circumstances, the laser etching technique is suitable for surfaces that are likely to meet up with low levels of wear and tear. But the drawback of laser engraving is that it can structurally damage the engraved part at times. Hence, it is not advisable for making cuts through safety-critical parts.

Benefits of Laser Engraving

  • It is a quick and speedy process
  • Engraving machines can be controlled by specific software
  • The cuts produced are conspicuous and sensitive to touch
  • On repetition of many passes, deeper cavities can be made
  • Cost-efficient
  • Durable marks

Benefits of Laser etching

  • Highly precise
  • Cost-efficient
  • Durable
  • Best suitable for low wear applications

You can learn more about laser engraving machines (marking machines) :