3D Relief Engraving
29 Dec-2019

3D Relief Engraving: Here’s How It’s Done

You might be surprised at how easy it can be to create a high-quality 3D relief engraving using a Thunder Laser machine, a Ruida DSP and accompanying Lightburn software. Here, we present a series of videos that shows the progression of a 3D relief engraving. It provides details on most of the settings and materials, along with toolchains and workflows for the process.

The videos vary between short form and full length and include some time-lapse sections. The first attempt workflow video is a good starting point, and overall, the video series should cover what you need to know to do your own 3D relief laser engravings.

The text below summarizes what’s covered in the videos and provides some additional detail on suitable materials and other aspects of creating your own 3D engraving laser artwork. Here, we’re looking specifically at grayscale relief engraving.

My First Attempt:


The 1st Attempt Workflow


The 2nd and 3rd Attempts were not captured for publishing.


The 4th Attempt Video Short:


Settings for the 4th Attempt (Abbreviated Video):


A 3D Relief Engraving Workflow Summary

1. Start with a high-resolution grayscale photo of an image you’d like to engrave.

Download, then click and drag the image into your Lightburn software interface. Take the material you’d like to engrave and place it on the Thunder Laser engraver. Make sure your image is positioned properly on the overlay in Lightburn so that the relief will be carved into the correct place on your chosen material.

2. Adjust your settings for the level of relief and number of passes you want.

The bigger the differential in power output between high power (the maximum threshold) and low power (the minimum threshold), the more stark the relief engraving will be. Increasing the number of passes will provide finer details, but it will also increase the amount of data processing your Ruida controller needs to do in order to prepare the run.

3. Do a Preview in Lightburn.

If your Preview turns up as a blank square, make sure you’ve set your display in Lightburn to “Shade According to Power.”

4. Export your image and settings to your Thunder Laser machine.

Lightburn is very quick software, but your Ruida controller will take a little time to digest the image and settings and export them. Be patient — even if it doesn’t look like anything’s happening, it’ll still be processing.

5. When the image appears on your laser machine’s display, hit “Start.”

Depending on the size of the image, each pass should take a few minutes to complete.

6. Remove it from the Thunder Laser machine and clean your engraving with lukewarm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

The engraving will come out of the Thunder Laser machine looking charred. Scrub it with lukewarm water and a soft toothbrush. Needless to say, the better scrubbed your engraving is, the better the final result will look.

More Tips for High-Quality 3D Relief Engraving

3D relief laser engraving can be a great outlet for your creative side, for the creation of personalized artwork and for pursuing unique business opportunities. The market for laser cuttings and engravings is rapidly growing, and having an understanding of the best ways to get the most out of laser machines like those provided by Thunder Laser can be a good starting point for getting into three-dimensional laser engraving.

Choosing the Right Materials

Choosing the material for your project is about what specific kind of engraving you want to do. Some of the most popular materials include marble and granite, stone or brick, metal, wood, glass and acrylic.

Marble and Granite

Great materials for bringing out the most contrast in an engraving are marble or granite, making them especially well-suited for photo engraving. While marble engravings can be placed in indoor or outdoor settings, it’s granite that’s most ideal for any place that’s exposed to the elements.

Stone or Brick

Like granite, stone or brick are great options for any laser engraving that’ll be exposed to the elements. Using brick to commemorate public donations used to be done via sandblasting, but the complication and energy demand of that process has led to laser engraving becoming an increasingly competitive option.


A very wide range of metals can be decorated or otherwise modified with laser engraving. The process can be used for everything from creating art to manufacturing auto parts.


Wood is highly versatile, depending on the specific type you choose; it can be used for photo engraving, personalized items, inlays, prototyping and more. A lot of attention needs to be paid to matching your settings and approach to the characteristics of the wood you’re using.


Glass engraving needs to be approached meticulously to prevent the surface from getting roughened and chipped. With the right amount of care, however, you can create dazzling effects on glass objects like mugs, bottles, glasses and vases.


You can use acrylic sheets as a lightweight, durable alternative to glass. While an acrylic surface can also be etched with chemicals, laser engravers are safer, are more durable and can execute complicated designs with little effort.

Choosing the Right Parameters

Once you have the material you need for your purposes, it’s time to think through the parameters for the process that will yield the effect you need. Some key parameters include:

The thickness of the surface

Even for deep engraving, you’ll typically want your material to be no more than a half-inch thick.

Focal length

The focal length of your optics needs to be adjusted for the balance needed between detailing (shorter length) and depth (greater length).

Protective gear and surface preparation

Protective equipment like goggles and a mask will help deal with dust particles, while some materials (especially wood) may need to be pretreated to keep debris from affecting your machine.

Contact Thunder Laser for More Information

No matter what kind of 3D engraving you’re looking to create, the experts at Thunder Laser USA can help you find the right system and the right approach to meet your goals. Call us at 903-522-4070 or email us at [email protected] to begin your laser engraver journey.