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Metal Laser Engraving: The Ultimate Guide

by Winnie Li Posted in July 07, 2022
metal laser engraving

Metals have always captivated humanity, finding use in everything from exquisite jewelry to significant coins. This old-age fascination led to the art of metal engraving, a skill first mastered by goldsmiths in the 15th century.

Today, we have metal laser engraving, a cutting-edge technique that's reshaping how we design metal. This method isn't just for businesses; it’s used by individuals too; to craft personalized metal jewelry and other useful ornaments.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore metal laser engraving in detail, and uncover the types of metals suited for laser engraving. We’ll also share some innovative engraving ideas to spark your creativity.

In This Article

  • How Laser Engraving Metal Work?
  • What Metal Can be Laser Engraved?
  • Best Laser Engraver for Metal Engraving
  • How to Laser Engrave Metal?
  • Metal Laser Engraving Ideas
  • FAQs on Metal Laser Engraving
  • Conclusion

How Laser Engraving Metal Work?

The heart of the process is a laser, an intense beam of light, powerful enough to erode metal from the surface. When the laser hits the metal surface, it is absorbed by the metal. They use that energy, and vaporize, leaving an engraved mark on the metal. In chemical terms, this process is called as sublimation as the metal directly moves to the gaseous state from the solid state.

The laser beam intensity (power) is variable and controlled by laser engraver software. It changes that intensity based on the design requirements. The laser strikes with more intensity on areas where deeper engraving is to be achieved.

color laser engraving on metal

In some metals, we observe vivid colors after engraving. Color laser engraving is a result of the reaction between the protective coating (oxide layer), such as on stainless steel, with the laser beam. The colors vary based on the metal type, speed, and power of the laser. In uncoated or pure metals, you may not observe these results.

What Metal Can Be Laser Engraved?

Some examples of metals that can be laser engraved are:

1. Stainless Steel

laser engraved stainless steel tumbler

Stainless steel is one of the most preferred options these days. It is used to make bottles, kitchen utensils, tools, surgical equipment, and a lot more. All these things can be engraved or etched using a laser engraving machine. Stainless steel can be etched by a diode laser, IR laser, and CO2 laser. For stainless steel engraving, you need a fiber laser engraver.

2.  Steel

There is no question about the usage of steel in our daily lives. It is used to make tons of products and items. Steel can also be laser engraved or etched. The permanent marks are usually made for identification of the manufacturer or part.

3. Aluminum

personalized engraved laptop

Aluminum is another common metal used for making various items we use in our daily lives, such as kitchen utensils, business cards, electronic products, etc. It can be engraved for personalization or identification. 

4. Titanium

Titanium is another useful metal material for jewelry, prosthetics, surgical tools, airplanes, and many other things. Most of the time, it is laser engraved for identification and personalization. For instance, prosthetics can be given a special identification number or rating using laser engraving.

5. Copper and Brass

Laser engraving machines can also engrave or etch copper. Copper pipes, wires, automobile parts, cooking pots, and other products can be laser engraved or etched for identification.

6. Gold

laser engraved gold medals

Jewelry items, trophies, and medals made of gold can be engraved and etched using a laser engraving machine. Jewelry items are engraved for personalization or gifting, while it is a must to engrave the medals and trophies.

7. Silver

laser engraved silver rings

Similar to gold, silver can also be engraved or etched with a laser engraver. It is done on precious jewelry items, trophies, medals, etc.

Best Laser Engraver for Metal Engraving

Metal absorbs beams of wavelength in the infrared section. So, for engraving metals, we have two options: fiber lasers and Infrared diode lasers. Fiber lasers are high-powered, heavy-duty, and expensive; primarily suited for industrial metalworking jobs.

For small-scale tasks like jewelry engraving or hobbyist projects, diode lasers are recommended due to their cost-effectiveness and adequate performance.

laser engraver for metal jewelry engraving

In the name of the best metal laser engraver, we have xTool F1, the quickest and most portable laser engraver for metals.

xTool F1: The Most Portable and Quickest Laser Engraver

xTool F1 is probably the lightest laser engraver on the market; it weighs just 4.6 kg. What’s more is the hand-held design, that makes it extremely easy to carry around. Perfect for on-spot metal engraving at craft fairs.

on-spot metal laser engraving

Another distinguishing highlight, something lacking in all engravers on the market: is a dual-laser module, which automatically switches based on the engraving job. It has a 10W diode laser and a 2W IR module.

The infrared laser is placed for metals and plastics. Whereas, the diode laser is for common materials like glass, acrylics, wood, cardboard, and leather. The duo makes it capable of engraving over 300 materials, making it a dream machine for both hobbyists and small businesses. You may easily perform color engraving on metals like stainless steel. Here’s how to use F1 to color engrave metal:

Engraving metals is a task of seconds with F1. Its engraving speed of 4000 mm/s is extraordinary in desktop lasers. It is an industrial-grade fiber laser engraver speed in a compact, portable form. The reason is the use of galvo-engraving technology in the F1.

F1 is a compact machine, so the working space inside is designed accordingly. It has a bed size of 115 by 115 mm that’s quite decent for engraving metal jewelry. However, an extension slot is also available which expands the workspace to 400 mm. For those interested in engraving stainless tumblers, rings, or metallic containers, the support for rotary attachment is present.

batch metal laser engraving

Operating xTool F1 is a breeze. You have to enter the material thickness in the control software and the laser focus auto adjusts the laser head. A manual knob is also there for those like manual adjustments. Further, the blue light preview feature clearly showcases the exact engraving area and how the engraving would look on the surface.

metal business card laser engraving preview

Safety is top-notch. The machine is fully enclosed with a laser filtering lid which keeps all the fumes and laser contained. It’s removed from a built-in fan.

In the software department, it works with the popular Lightburn and user-friendly xTool Creative Space (XCS). XCS works on all operating systems, plus gives you the ease of drawing simple designs with AI.

How to Laser Engrave Metal?

Step 1: Choose the Right Laser Engraver

Select a laser engraver suitable for metal engraving, such as a fiber laser, diode laser with sufficient power, or an infrared laser engraver. Each type has its specific advantages and capabilities, so choose the one that best fits your needs and budget.

infrared laser engraver for metal

xTool F1: Fastest Portable Laser Engraver with IR + Diode Laser

$1,599.00
View Details

Step 2: Prepare the Metal Surface

Clean the metal surface thoroughly to remove any dirt, grease, or debris. This ensures that the engraving process will be smooth, and the final result will be clear and precise.

Step 3: Secure the Metal Piece

Position the metal piece on the engraver's worktable and secure it to prevent movement during the engraving process. This is crucial for maintaining accuracy and precision.

Step 4: Set up the Laser Engraver

Configure the laser engraver settings according to the specific metal you are working with. This includes selecting the appropriate power and speed settings. Consult the manufacturer's guidelines or experiment with test pieces to find the optimal settings for your project.

Step 5: Create or Import the Design

Using the laser engraver software to create your design or import an existing image or text file. Ensure the design is properly scaled and positioned according to your desired outcome.

Step 6: Preview the Design

Use the engraver's preview feature to check the design placement on the metal surface. Make any necessary adjustments to avoid errors and waste of material.

Step 7: Start the Engraving Process

Once you are satisfied with the design and settings, initiate the engraving process. Monitor the process to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

Step 8: Inspect the Final Result

After the engraving process is complete, carefully inspect the engraved metal piece for quality and accuracy. If necessary, make adjustments to the engraver's settings and repeat the process.

Step 9: Clean and Finish the Engraved Metal

Remove any debris or residue from the engraving area using a soft brush or cloth. You may also apply a protective coating or polish to the engraved surface to enhance its appearance and protect it from wear and tear.

Top 10 Metal Laser Engraving Ideas

Laser engraving machines has opened up a world of possibilities for personalization and customization across various industries. Here are ten creative projects that showcase the versatility of laser engraving on metal:

Custom Engraved Jewelry

Laser engraving adds a personal touch to jewelry items such as rings, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. From initials and names to intricate designs and patterns, custom engraved jewelry makes for unique and memorable gifts or keepsakes.

laser-engraved metal jewelry

Engraved Metal Plates

Metal plates can be laser engraved with logos, text, or images to create identification tags, commemorative plaques, or product labels. These plates serve both decorative and functional purposes in homes, offices, and various industries.

Engraved Metal Award Plaques

Engraved metal plaques are a timeless way to celebrate achievements, milestones, or special events. They can be customized with names, dates, quotes, or images and used for various purposes, such as award ceremonies.

Engraved Metal Pet Tags

Ensure your pet's safety and identification with laser engraved metal pet tags. These tags can include your pet's name, your contact information, and even a small design, making it easier for someone to return your pet to you if they become lost.

laser engraved metal pet tags

Engraved Metal Name Tags

Professionalism and personal branding are essential in today's business world. Laser engraved metal name tags add a touch of elegance to your employees' uniforms, making them easily identifiable and enhancing your company's image.

Engraved Metal Business Card Case

An engraved metal business card case is a stylish and professional way to store and present your business cards. You can customize your metal card case with your name, logo, or any design you like using a laser engraver. An engraved metal business card case is a great gift idea for yourself or someone else who wants to make a lasting impression.

laser engraved metal business card case

Engraved Metal Luggage Tags

Travel in style and keep your luggage easily identifiable with laser engraved metal luggage tags. Include your name, address, and contact information to ensure a safe return if your luggage gets misplaced.

custom laser engraved metal luggage tags

Engraved Metal Guitar Picks

For musicians and music enthusiasts, laser engraved metal guitar picks make excellent personalized gifts or promotional items. Customize them with names, initials, band logos, or unique designs to create a memorable and functional keepsake.

custom laser engraved metal guitar pick

Engraved Metal Keychains

Personalized metal keychains are both practical and stylish accessories. Engrave them with names, initials, logos, or custom designs to create thoughtful gifts or promotional items for your business.

custom laser engraved metal keychain

Engraved Metal Signs

Durable and weather-resistant, laser engraved metal signs are perfect for outdoor or indoor use. They can be customized with business names, directional information, or decorative designs for a professional and long-lasting display.

These examples demonstrate the vast potential of metal laser engraving for personalization and customization across various industries. By exploring these ideas and more, you can enhance your laser engraving business or bring your creative projects to life.

FAOs on Laser Engraving Metal

Can Laser Engrave Any Metal?

Nearly all metals like iron, steel, copper, gold, platinum, titanium, and aluminum are suitable for laser engraving. The ease with which each metal can be engraved varies, but generally, they can all be marked with a laser.

What Metal is Best for Laser Engraving?

Laser engraving is well suited for metals that absorb the laser light well and vaporize quickly. Many metals such as copper, stainless steel, iron, gold, and platinum can be laser engraved. But among them, aluminum is considered the best for laser engraving. It has relatively low melting and vaporization points, which allow it to absorb the laser energy and vaporize more readily than other metals.

Will Laser Engraved Metal Rust?

Laser engraving may lead to rust on metals like stainless steel if the process removes the protective chromium oxide layer. However, with careful setting of the engraving parameters, you can avoid damaging protective layers. You can also apply an anti-rust coating after engraving to prevent corrosion.

Is Laser Engraving on Metal Permanent?

Laser engraving creates a durable and permanent mark on metal surfaces. Although metal can wear down over time, the engraving will remain visible for the lifespan of the item, as the laser alters the metal’s surface to create the design.

What's the Difference between Laser Engraving, Laser Etching and Laser Marking Metal?

In the realm of creating marks on metal, there are three primary methods to choose from: laser engraving, laser etching, and laser marking. Beginners usually get confused because these words are used interchangeably. Each technique has its advantages and limitations, making it essential to understand their differences before selecting the most suitable method for your specific application.

Laser Engraving Metal

Laser engraving involves using a high-power laser beam to increase the metal surface's temperature beyond its boiling point, causing the material to change from a solid state directly to a gas through a process called sublimation. As the surface material evaporates, it leaves a cavity, creating a deep, visible engraving with a 3D surface that can be seen and felt. 

This method provides excellent precision and accuracy, making it ideal for intricate designs, small text, and detailed graphics. Laser engraving metal is widely used for various applications, such as personalizing jewelry, creating custom awards, and marking industrial components.

However, metals have high boiling points due to their tightly packed molecules, with melting temperatures often exceeding 1000ºC and boiling points surpassing 4000ºC. To laser engrave metal, a powerful laser engraving machine specifically designed for this purpose is required. These machines utilize high-energy pulses to rapidly increase the metal's temperature. Low-energy, hobbyist, or DIY laser engravers cannot directly engrave metal, but they can be used for metal etching or marking.

Advantages:

  • High precision and accuracy
  • Permanent and durable marks
  • Suitable for intricate designs and small text

Limitations:

  • May require a coating or pre-treatment for certain metals

Laser Etching Metal

Laser etching differs from laser engraving as it does not vaporize the metal. Instead, it melts the upper microsurface of the material, causing oxidation and a change in the original color. Laser etching metal can be done with laser engravers of lower power level at 5w~15w. 

Advantages:

  • Faster process compared to laser engraving
  • Can be done with less powerful laser engravers
  • Suitable for creating high-contrast marks

Limitations:

  • Less durable than laser engraving
  • Marks may fade over time

Laser Marking Metal

Laser marking is similar to laser engraving in that it creates permanent marks on the metal's surface. However, some experts differentiate between laser marking and laser engraving based on penetration depth. In laser marking, the penetration is not as deep as in laser engraving.

Advantages:

  • Creates permanent marks
  • Suitable for various applications like logos, ID numbers, and QR codes

Limitations:

  • Penetration is not as deep as laser engraving
  • Not as suitable for creating depth or texture

Is Laser Etching Metal the Same as Laser Engraving Metal?

We have explored the concept of metal laser engraving, which involves removing particles from a metal surface through the use of high-energy pulsed lasers. These powerful laser pulses are capable of rapidly increasing the metal's temperature to its boiling point, causing the material to evaporate and leave behind a permanent cavity known as an engraving.

A laser engraver that can produce such high-energy pulsed laser is the most versatile and efficient method for metal engraving. In contrast, continuous-wave laser engravers do not have the peak power necessary for this purpose. 

Laser etching, on the other hand, relies on continuous-wave lasers to provide just enough energy to oxidize the metal surface, creating an oxide layer in the presence of oxygen. This oxide layer has a different color, resulting in a distinguishable mark on the surface.

One of the key advantages of laser etching metal is the ability to achieve multiple colors on the metal surface. The color outcome depends on both the metal type and the applied laser beam wattage. By adjusting the wattage, various colors can be obtained, making metal laser etching an attractive option for decorative purposes.

Conclusion

Laser engraving on metal offers a world of possibilities for businesses, hobbyists, and artists alike. With the ability to create intricate designs, permanent markings, and personalized items, metal laser engravers have become an essential tool in various industries. By understanding the different types of laser engravers, such as fiber, CO2, diode, and infrared lasers, you can choose the right machine for your specific needs and applications.

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