When it comes to precision, laser cutting machines are the best method of engraving glass. With a CO2 laser, the energy impact is low enough to prevent microcracking other than the engraving itself. Interestingly, tiny, heat-induced fractures on the surface of the object are what creates the desired result.
Glass etching has many uses, and laser cutting machines are fast, effective ways of lightly engraving this most fragile of materials.
What Is Glass Made From?
Glass consists of silica, or sand, and a variety of other materials. When exposed to extraordinarily high temperatures, the silica melts and becomes a pliable, gooey substance. Glassmakers either pour this molten concoction into molds or blow it by hand. As it cools, it retains its transparent properties, but there’s also air and moisture trapped in there, too.
To strengthen or tint the glass, metal or minerals might be added, but it’s the moisture and air that make etching with a CO2 laser possible.
Lasers and Glass
As the laser beam hits the glass, it heats every element in that concentrated area. Neither the metals, the minerals or the silica reacts much because of the relatively low frequency and heat of the CO2 laser. However, the air and moisture that’s trapped inside do react, expanding and causing microscopic fractures that create the beautifully finished design.
Good Glass for Laser Cutting
- Molded/pressed glass
- Beer mugs
- Container glass
- Drinking glasses
- Pressed glass
- Wine glasses
- Mirror glass
- High balls
- Window glass
- Low balls
Most of the everyday glassware you’ll find around homes and businesses is made from soda-ash glass.
Bad Glass for Laser Cutting
Any high-end glass with heavy metals such as lead or titanium is bad for laser cutting. Even though expensive glass might look shinier or be less prone to breaking, it’s the standard stuff that makes the best-finished glass etching product. Bear in mind that glass can be a volatile material, and each item will react differently with a laser. Overall, UV and CO2 laser etching are considered the best methods of engraving glass.
CO2 Lasers Are Best for Engraving Glass
CO2 lasers are much faster than UV lasers, and they’re more affordable. The speed of processing means anyone with basic 2D drawing skills can have a potentially lucrative business with nothing but a laser cutting machine and simple software. There are lots of applications for glass etching, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on.
Low Risk of Breakage
Laser etching creates a pretty matte effect by causing minuscule fractures on the surface of the glass. You can create subtle contours and an extraordinary level of detail, but the low frequency and temperature make breakages almost impossible.
Etch Curved Glass
You can etch curved glass and flat glass using a CO2 laser, but you’ll usually need to use a rotary attachment for cylindrical objects. This lifts and gently spins the glass so that the focusing is entirely even.
You Can Make Lots of Products With a Laser Engraver
There are so many different ways to use a laser cutter for etching glass. Although it’s sometimes referred to as glass engraving, it’s a more shallow indent into the substrate. The accuracy of the design is astounding, and you can create elegant finished products faster than any other type of glass etching process. Some of the industries that use glass etching with a laser cutting machine include:
- Automotive: Windshields, mirrors and lights can be etched — in addition to specific parts of the bodywork on certain car models. One of the best ways to personalize your car is to get a design, logo or signature etched into it somewhere.
- Personal engravings: Many people use a laser cutting machine in their home to offer customized engraving services. This is a low-cost and low-production business idea. It’s easy to use 2D drawing software to program the laser cutter to add names and signatures after a little practice.
- Merchandise: Any company can make excellent use of a laser cutting machine to create gorgeous, customizable merchandise for its brand. Add your logo to glass and either give it away or sell it and your brand has made your way into a customer’s home for as long as they have the glass item.
- Decorations: People don’t just decorate for the holidays; it’s becoming customary to add appropriate ornaments each season. Create stunning glass decorations for people to showcase around their homes.
- Personalized gifts: The trend for customization is growing and not showing any signs of stopping. Now that laser cutting machines are more accessible, it’s easier to get a name or lovely message printed onto a gift. These keepsakes have genuine sentimental value and look pretty as decorations.
- Drinking glasses and bottles: As we understand the unnecessary impact single-use plastic has on the planet, the demand for reusable containers and glasses is rising. Glass is hygienic, attractive and easy to clean, so plenty of people will use it. You can add names, logos or messages onto people’s glasses or bottles for a small fee.
- Mirrors: Everyone has at least one mirror in their home, and personalized, decorative mirrors are definitely not an oversaturated niche.
Sandblasting and acid etching might be better for a large business. However, if you’re small to medium-sized and pondering over your next marketing campaign, look into how simple and effective a strategy that includes creating your own branded glassware can be.
Advantages of Laser Cutting Machines
There are lots of benefits that make CO2 laser cutting the best method of engraving glass, including:
- Mechanical impact means a very low risk of breakages.
- It’s speedy and efficient.
- You can work with a variety of other materials in addition to glass.
- It creates precise contours with a professional, accurate finish.
- Adding text, logos and even photographs is easy with a laser cutter.
- Processing each piece of glassware doesn’t affect the laser at all, so the machine is one of the most durable you can get.
- You won’t need to keep paying to update your tools like a traditional engraver would.
- Sandblasting is a heavy-duty process that can leave residual blasting agents behind. The laser beam removes fine particles, so additional blasting isn’t necessary.
Is It Possible to Engrave Photos Onto Glass?
You can engrave photos onto glass. The grayscale rasterization should be 70% black, which means 30% less heat is applied to the surface. If you use the full heat setting, the picture might lose clarity. Set the machine to 500 DPI and use ordered dithering to ensure the image data fits as well onto the glass as possible.
Can You Cut Glass With a Laser?
You cannot cut glass all the way through with a CO2 laser; this would be dangerous and ineffective. The glass would just shatter.
Glass Finishing Tips
Use a Damp Paper Towel
If a customer insists on using high-quality glass that contains lead or titanium, there is a way of avoiding cracks. Place a damp paper towel on the area you’re etching to distribute the heat better and prevent cracks occurring during the glass engraving process. The damp towel has another surprising benefit of providing extra clarity in the finished result.
Add rubbing oil to the paper towel once the work is complete and clean away any smudges or oils. A small, stiff paintbrush should be sufficient to remove any residual small shards of glass remaining on the surface.
Find Out More About the Best Method of Engraving Glass Today
CO2 laser cutting machines are the best method of engraving glass because they offer precision, speed, accuracy and affordability. Why not take a look at how much it might cost to start up your own glass etching business?
At Thunder Laser USA, we’ve kick-started lots of successful small businesses, many of which have grown into medium-sized companies and continue to ride the laser wave.