Metal Engraving: The Ultimate Guide
Laser engraving machines are immensely powerful. They can vaporize the surface of the material that comes in contact. But the question is whether a laser engraver can engrave metal or not.
Metals are very hard as their molecules are very close, and their melting temperature is too high. Therefore, it is one of the most frequently asked questions from beginners as well as users.
We are going to share a detailed guide for metal engraving for beginners. We will discuss metal engraving, its methods, how it works, metals you can engrave, their applications, and suitable laser engraver for metal. We will clear your doubts and give a detailed overview of metal engraving.
In This Article
- Laser Engraving Metal vs Laser Etching Metal vs Laser Marking Metal
- What is Metal Laser Engraving & How Laser Engraving for Metal Works?
- What Types of Laser Engraver Can Engrave Metal?
- What Metals Can You Laser Engrave?
- Metal Laser Engraving Applications/Ideas
- Best Laser Engrafver for Metal
Metal Engraving Methods: Laser Engraving Metal vs Laser Etching Metal vs Laser Marking Metal
When it comes to how to engrave metal, laser engraving, laser etching and laser marking are three commom methods. Before we dive further, it is a must to understand the difference between laser engraving, laser etching, and laser marking of metal. Beginners usually get confused because these words are used interchangeably; however, they are completely different.
1) Laser Engraving Metal
Laser engraving is the process of removing the metal from the surface by increasing its temperature over its boiling point.
Once the temperature reaches the boiling point of the material, the particles get immense kinetic energy, and they change their state from solid to gas. This is a direct change that does not include the intermediate stage, which is liquid. This process is known as sublimation.
When the material evaporates, the laser engraving appears to be deep. You can feel it and see its 3D surface. It is because the material evaporates and leaves a cavity or empty space.
But keep in mind that metals are very hard, and their molecules are tightly packed. With that being said, their boiling point is quite high. The melting temperature of metals is over 1000ºC, and the boiling point is over 4000ºC. This is a very high temperature, which is not easy to achieve.
If you want to laser engrave metal, you need a powerful laser engraving machine that is specifically made for this purpose. It requires high-energy pulses that can increase the temperature of the material in no time. The hobbyists or DIY laser engravers of low energy beams cannot engrave a metal; however, they can etch it.
2) Laser Etching Metal
Laser etching is a different process compared to laser engraving. It does not involve removing or boiling metals; instead, it oxidizes the surface of the metal, which brings a change in the original color. We can say that only the upper micro surface of the metal is melted, which causes oxidation of the material. Therefore, laser etching metal can be done by a small or desktop laser engraver that have an optical power of 10-15W.
Laser etching is a very quick process because it only acts on the micro surface. It is also cost-effective, but it is not as durable as laser engraving. It can fade with time and will not last forever, but on the other hand, laser engraving lasts for a lifetime.
However, you can easily do laser etching at your home, and many people etch metals for their small businesses and other purposes.
3) Laser Marking Metal
Laser marking is considered the same as laser engraving. It is also for creating permanent marks on the surface of the metal. These marks can be logos, ID numbers, QR codes, etc. However, some experts differentiate between laser marking and laser engraving through penetration. According to them, in laser marking, the penetration is not very deep.
What is Metal Laser Engraving & How Laser Engraving for Metal Works?
We have discussed that laser engraving is the removal of particles from the surface of the metal. The laser source emits powerful pulses that are suitable for engraving. The pulses are absorbed by the metal, and they are capable of increasing the temperature of the material to the boiling point. When the material evaporates from the surface, the permanent cavity is left behind, which is called engraving.
Only high-energy pulsed laser can engrave a metal because they can increase the temperature instantly. A continuous-wave of laser does not have that peak power. Thus, a laser that can produce such energetic pulses is ideal for engraving.
Laser etching can be done by continuous-wave of laser that provide just enough energy to oxidize the surface of the metal. The beams are absorbed by the metal, and the temperature of the surface is increased. Due to heating and the presence of oxygen, an oxide layer is created. This oxide layer has a different color that creates a distinguishable mark on the surface.
The oxide layer is not very deep; it is just on the surface. If you remove the particles from the surface, you will see the original color again. The depth of the oxide layer can be controlled through the laser machine.
The best thing about laser etching is the multiple colors that you can achieve. Firstly, the color depends on the metal itself. Then, it depends on the applied energy or wattage of the laser beams. At different wattages, you can achieve different colors. It makes laser etching more attractive.
As there is no material removed in etching, there is no waste. The marks are of a different color than the original, which creates a clear contrast.
What Types of Laser Engraver Can Engrave Metal?
1) Fiber Laser Engravers
Fiber laser engravers are the best when it comes to metal engraving. These lasers can literally engrave and create a cavity after removing the particles from the surface. It is because they are immensely powerful, and the high energy pulse is capable of increasing the temperature of the metal in no time.
There is a special core in fiber lasers for metal engraving, due to this core, the laser beams are amplified, and the energy output is immense. There are other fiber lasers for metal cutting, metal cleaning, and other purposes, and their doping is done accordingly.
These laser engraving machines work at a very high speed and can easily engrave various metals quickly. They are suitable for industrial purposes as they require considerable space. They are not for DIY or small businesses. They are very powerful and expensive. The cost can be from $3,000 to $20,000, depending on the optical power, features, and other specifications. If you are looking for a laser engraving machine that can etch metals, it is not the right choice.
2) CO2 Laser Engravers
CO2 laser engravers can etch metals. And they can create the desired marks on various materials including wood, plywood, acrylic, leather, glass, ceramics, etc. They offer continuous laser beams that are suitable for metal etching.
A CO2 laser machine costs much less than a fiber laser. You can easily use it at your home and enjoy engraving, cutting, and etching various materials. A common CO2 laser engraving machine can be bought for $3,000 to $5,000.
Therefore, other than metal etching, you can make and personalize different items and fill up your inventory with a wide range of products.
3) Diode Laser Engravers
A diode laser engaver is also for etching metals. They are less powerful than CO2 lasers, but they can do the job. The best thing is that if the diode laser is powerful enough, it can also achieve various colors on different power levels. For instance, xTool D1 Pro 20W can bring different colors on metals. It makes etching more beautiful and attractive.
A diode laser engraving machine is an excellent option for small businesses. They are compact, inexpensive, and beginner friendly. You can buy a diode laser engraving machine for metal for $500 to $1,200, depending on the power, features, and specifications.
While buying a diode laser machine, make sure the power is 15W or more. It is good for etching metals at a fast speed and getting good results.
4) Infrared Laser Engravers
Infrared lasers have a wavelength in the infrared region, so they work better for some materials compared to diode lasers. They are ideal for metal etching as well as plastic engraving. The wavelength is usually 1064nm, which is absorbed by metals and plastic, and the results are exceptional.
What Metals Can You Laser Engrave?
1) Stainless Steel
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 special fiber laser engraver.
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.
Aluminum is another common material 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. You might have seen aluminum in smartphones and LEDs. They also have something written on it. It is written using a laser machine.
Titanium is another useful material for jewelry, prosthetics, surgical tools, airplanes, and many other things. Most of the time, it is engraved for identification and personalization. For instance, prosthetics can be given a special identification number or rating using laser engraving.
Laser machines can also engrave or etch copper. Copper pipes, wires, automobile parts, cooking pots, and other products can be engraved or etched for identification.
Jewelry items, trophies, and medals made of gold can be engraved and etched using a laser machine. Jewelry items are engraved for personalization or gifting, while it is a must to engrave the medals and trophies.
Similar to gold, silver can also be engraved or etched. It is done on precious jewelry items, trophies, medals, etc.
Metal Laser Engraving Applications/Ideas
There are tons of applications for metal etching and engraving. We are listing a few of them to give you a brief idea.
The most common application of metal laser etching and engraving is identification. It is ideal for putting QR codes, ID numbers, bar codes, logos, names, and other things on metals. The permanent marking never goes away and makes identification a lot easier.
Signages for roads and business can be made using a laser engraving machine. People prefer metal signs because of their durability and long-lasting engraving.
You might have seen nameplates on the tables and doors of people. These nameplates can be etched or engraved with metal engraving machines.
4) Jewelry Making
Jewelry items can be personalized through laser etching and engraving. You can write names, dates, quotes, or anything else on bracelets, pendants, watches, rings, etc. These personalized items are quite trending nowadays.
The names and other details on the trophies are usually engraved to last for a lifetime. You can engrave different metal trophies using the laser engraving machine. Precious medals, such as gold medals and silver medals, can also be engraved or etched.
6) Gift Making
Personalized metal gifts are made using laser engraving or etching machines. The laser creates permanent marks and can write names, dates, logos, or anything the user wants. People love to give these personalized gifts to their loved ones.
Branding on various metal items and products is quite easy with a laser engraver. The name of the companies, logos, QR codes, addresses, etc., can be engraved on etched on the product.
8) Promotional Items
For promotional purposes, business giveaway items as gifts. They can have metallic pens, cards, medals, and other items. These metallic items can be engraved using a laser engraver for promotional purposes.
9) Business Cards
Metal business cards are another application of laser engraving. Some people prefer metal business cards because they look exceptional, and they do not wear out with time like cardstock; they are long-lasting. They serve the purpose of creating business cards very well. Colorful metal business cards are available on the market, so you just need to engrave or etch them according to your requirement.
Best Laser Engrafver for Metal
xTool D1 Pro(2-in-1 kit) is a Diode and Infrared Laser engraving machine, which makes engraving various metals and non-metals a lot easier. It comes with a diode and IR module, so you can switch between them easily according to the requirement.
The IR module is excellent for metal etching. It can etch precious metals, such as gold, silver, and platinum, and non-precious metals, copper, aluminum, stainless steel, etc.
Thus, you can etch a wide range of metal objects and make personalized jewelry items as well. Moreover, it is also good for plastic cutting and engraving, and the results are better than a diode laser.
The diode laser is the most powerful diode laser in the world. Its optical power is 20W, which can etch various colors on different metals. You get 340+ vivid colors according to the metal you are etching. It makes the etching exceptionally beautiful. Other than metal etching, you can engrave various materials, such as wood, acrylic, glass, and ceramics.
xTool D1 Pro offers an incredible speed of up to 400mm/s. The precision is also commendable. You get fine details and optimal accuracy that makes the object eye-catching.
The best part is that you can upgrade it and change the laser modules. There are accessories available, such as rotary attachment, extension, enclosure, etc. You can add new parts and attachments with time to keep your machine up to date.
Beginners can also use xTool D1 Pro. It is a desktop laser machine that comes with specialized software. It is also equipped with modern safety features to prevent accidents. It is a complete package that makes engraving, cutting, and etching of a wide range of materials quicker and easier.