What Is Laser Engraving?

If your anything like me, you probably have an idea for a laser engraving project that you’re anxious to get started on. If you’re looking at laser engraving machines and trying to decide what exactly you need to make your project happen, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been working with laser machines for many years, and while working closely with the Thunder Laser brand, I have become intimately familiar with laser cutters and engravers and everything they are capable of. This guide is meant to help you understand what’s available in the market and how to pick the right machine for your next project or customer order.

Laser engraving doesn’t involve any tool bits or direct contact with the material surface. Instead, as in the case with Thunder Laser Machines, it’s the use of high powered C02 laser beams that remove surface layers of the material. The laser uses directed high heat to vaporize the surface layers and leave a clean engraving sporting intricate designs.

Sometimes there can be a bit of confusion surrounding whether or not a single machine can be used for both laser cutting and laser engraving. With Thunder Laser USA, you can do both. It’s just a matter of changing the lens selection. When engraving, for example, you can use a lens with a shorter focal length to achieve more precision while reducing the emphasis on the cutting depth.

Applications

How Much Do They Cost?

If you’re a hobbyist and looking for a machine to handle the occasional project, you might consider the Nova 24 laser machine. It’s an excellent starting place and full of possibilities.

Pricing starts at $6,600 and can range up to $14,800 for the true workhorse of the laser machine lineup. If you want a clear breakdown on the price comparisons between different machines, take a look at our recent writeup on laser machine costs.

Can a Laser Machine Engrave Metal?

Next to wood, I would consider metal to be the second most engraved on surface, and we often get the question regarding whether or not our laser machines can handle engraving on metal. An example is the Nova Series of laser machines. These are your typical CO2 laser machines commonly used in metal engraving. The quality of the cuts and etches, however, can be better with another type of laser.

CO2 laser can bend when it hits reflective surfaces. This explains why CO2 lasered surfaces are sometimes rough and need further cleaning after engraving. You can get cleaner, smoother cuts with fiber a fiber laser because metal surfaces absorb the beam instead of reflecting it. The ideal laser machine for metal engraving, therefore, requires a fiber laser.

Please contact us if you are in need of a fiber laser or metal engraving. We work with many manufacturers and can get you suited into something that fits you.

Laser engraved metal can produce some of the most impressive designs and artwork — everything from gun barrels and metal mugs to iPhones, laptops, and wedding rings. Here’s a tip: metal is more expensive and not necessarily the best material for test runs. Use wood or other cheap test material to test out your design instead and make sure that everything looks good before you roll out your production.

The Design Process

Every good engraving project starts with a quality design. Online you can find access to a variety of free resources to get you started.  Obrary is one of those websites you should check out, as it has been a community effort to provide high-quality design files available for free downloads. These are typically vector files that you can be opened and sent to the laser machine in a program such as RDWorks or LaserMaker (both available with the purchase of a Thunder Laser machine).

If you’re a fan of Adobe, Illustrator can be a great program to create fantastic designs. Here is a helpful video where Timothy provides a comprehensive guide to designing for a laser engraver in this video:

Things You Need To Know Before Buying a Laser Engraving Machine

Work Area Size

Almost as important as the brand of machine you buy, make sure that the surface area of your laser engraver will accommodate the size of your LARGEST project. It’s better to make sure you have enough room than to run into the problem of owning a laser engraving machine that is not big enough to handle your projects. Here is a breakdown on our machine sizes:

Nova 24 – 23.6” x 15.7” (600 x 400 mm)

Nova 35 – 35.4” x 23.6” (900 x 600 mm)

Nova 51 – 51.2″ x 35.4″ (1300 x 900 mm)

Nova 63 – 63” x 39.4” (1600 x 1000 mm)

Rotary Attachments

If you’re thinking about engraving round objects such as mugs, consider adding a rotary attachment to your machine. The laser engraver with rotary attachments turns your workpiece as it engraves along the curved surface of the object. Both the Chuck Style Rotary Axis and Roller Style Rotary Axis are optional accessories that we provide as add-ons to our machines.

Lens Upgrades

Our Thunder Laser machines use a sealed CO2 glass laser tube that is capable of diverse cutting and engraving scenarios. If you are looking to engrave high definition designs, I would recommend upgrading to the high-resolution head, which is capable of engraving with detail up to 1000dpi.