Laser etching is the preferred choice for many industries producing permanent retention marks. Laser etching is mainly done by melting the material to create a contrasting pattern. More precisely, laser engraving includes annealing and laser etching.
Laser etching involves physically changing the material by varying the power and speed of the laser.
This article will look at the types of laser etching machines, common etching materials, and everything else a beginner needs to know.
In this article
- What is laser etching and how does it work?
- Types of materials that can be laser etched
- Types of lasers used in etching
- Applications of laser etching
- Factors to consider when buying a laser etching machine
- The best laser etching machines
What is laser etching and how does it work?
Laser etching is the process of using a high-energy laser beam to instantly melt the surface of a material to create a mark.
Laser etching works by using a high-energy laser to melt the material on the surface of an object to create a permanent mark. Immediately after the laser reaches the surface, the temperature of the material increases and the melted material cools down to create a permanent mark. The whole process is very microscopic and it is difficult to observe the changes in the material's surface directly with the naked eye. The color after laser etching depends on the metal and the setting of the laser parameters.
All laser marking methods are pulsed and laser etching is no exception. The pulse frequency of laser etching is much lower than the pulse frequency required for laser engraving. So by the time the laser beam reaches the material's surface, most of the laser energy is reflected and the remaining energy is absorbed. The energy absorbed by the material is converted into heat, the material temperature rises and the surface expands, cooling down to form a permanent etched mark.
Laser etching VS laser marking VS laser engraving
Do you know the difference between Laser etching, laser marking, and laser engraving? These are three completely different types of engraving. Although all laser processes are used to contrast the material's surface, they are very different in many ways.
- Laser etching: You can think of laser etching as a type of laser engraving where the etching only leaves a mark on the material's surface, and the process is speedy.
- Laser engraving: Laser engraving is the removal of material from the surface of a material using a high-energy laser beam. Laser etching results in a raised surface, whereas laser engraving produces a depressed surface. This is the main difference between laser etching and laser engraving.
- Laser marking: laser marking is the physical and oxidative reaction between the laser beam and the material's surface. Many experts classify laser engraving as a subset of laser marking. Laser marking can be annealed, laser carbonized, laser shaped and colored.
Types of materials that can be laser etched
Almost all materials can be etched with a laser, depending on the type of laser. Usually, a fiber laser etching machine is suitable for metals and a CO2 laser for non-metals.
Laser etching of wood
By setting the laser power of the CO2 laser or diode laser to a low value, the engraving depth will be minimal or even non-existent and look as if it were etched. With this method, it is very easy to etch wood, and you can easily etch various designs or text on wood, and many different types of wood can be laser etched, such as mahogany, plywood, birch, etc.
Laser etching of glass
Glass is a transparent and very fragile material and it is almost impossible to find a machine that can etch glass. The process of etching glass can be complex and many glasses can be cracked if the etching process is not carried out carefully. Usually, we choose a CO2 laser engraver to etch the glass, or if we choose a diode laser engraver to etch the glass, we need to paint the surface of the glass or cover it with a tinted sticker.
If you want to etch cylinders such as glasses, you will need to purchase an additional rotating attachment.
Laser etching of metals
Metal is also an extremely versatile material, and laser etching is an option for iron, copper and stainless steel. Some diode and mopa lasers also enable colored engraving of metals to make your products even more attractive.
The fiber laser is the best choice for etching metal, and it can etch directly onto bare metal. However, industrial fiber lasers cost over $15,000, so they are still available to large factories. For beginners or small businesses, you can buy a desktop fiber laser such as the Gweike cloud RF and Gweike G2, two low-power home fiber machines that are low-cost and full-featured.
Some people coat metal and use a CO2 laser to etch it. Although metal etching can be achieved with some of the more powerful CO2 lasers, this process reduces the life of the laser tube.
Laser etching of plastics
It can be challenging to leave fine marks on plastics and laser etching is the most common solution for marking plastics. The best choice for etching plastics is the CO2 laser, which can easily etch a wide range of non-metals.
Laser etching of leather
Whether it is a leather wallet, belt, or garment, the laser can easily etch the desired pattern. Laser etching of leather generates a lot of fumes, so try to do it in a well-ventilated space.
Types of lasers used in etching
Regarding metal etching, the fiber laser has an absolute advantage. It is no exaggeration to say that the fiber laser is specifically designed to cut/engrave metals. With a wavelength of 1064nm, it is very easily absorbed by metals, so it can easily perform many difficult metal etching and cutting tasks.
However, the fiber laser is generally more expensive and larger, making it suitable for factory use. If you want to buy a fiber laser cutter for your home, you can choose the Gweike G2 or Gweike RF.
Diode lasers are ideal for small businesses or beginners. Diode lasers can etch metals and non-metals, although they are less effective than CO2 and fiber lasers. Depending on power and size, diode lasers can cost between $500 and $1500. Suppose you choose to use diode laser etching acrylic or other transparent materials. The material needs to be coated in advance.
The diode laser's small spot size means you get precise details. For diode lasers above 20w you can achieve colored metal engraving by adjusting the etching power.
The CO2 laser, in contrast to the fiber laser, has a definite advantage when etching non-metals. For etching non-metals such as leather, wood and acrylic, the CO2 laser gives clearer etching results than other lasers. A typical desktop CO2 laser cutter costs between $2500 and $7000.
The reason for the price difference between etching lasers
After understanding the types of etching lasers, it is easy to see a wide price gap between the three. What are the reasons for this?
- The grade of the laser machine: fiber laser's laser radiation is stronger and more stringent, so the production standards of fiber laser are higher.
- The machine material has two kinds of plastic and metal. Many businesses choose a metal frame + plastic shell to save production costs. If you buy an all-metal laser machine, the price will be higher.
- The difficulty of producing lasers varies from fiber laser>CO2 laser>diode laser. The higher the difficulty, the more time and cost it takes to produce and the more expensive it is to sell.
Applications for laser etching
In addition to laser etching for traceability codes or times and patterns that need to be permanently marked, one of the larger uses for laser etching is personalization. Many people have made money for themselves by selling personalized items. For example, you can sell customized photo albums, wallets, mugs, belts, cufflinks, etc. They are a big seller on many anniversaries or important holidays.
You can show everyone your personalized creations through many channels to attract more customers.
Many pharmaceutical bottles or medical devices need customized 2D codes, barcodes and other markings, which can be permanently marked using laser etching. Engraving can also be done clearly for many micro areas.
Factors to consider when buying a laser etching machine
For those with no experience of buying a laser etching machine, you may wish to consider the following factors to help you narrow down the range of machines
Type of material
This is the quickest way to narrow your choice of etching laser, as the material suitable for etching varies greatly from laser to laser. Define your etching material and choose a laser that ensures the material is compatible with the machine. The CO2 laser etching machine is the most suitable for non-metal etching and partial metal etching. CO2 laser etching reduces the life of the laser tube when etching metal and is not recommended for etching metal materials regularly. You can choose a diode laser if you want to etch metals and non-metals without damaging the machine. The diode laser can only support low laser power and is unsuitable for large plants.
Speed and power
The power determines the cutting capacity of the machine. For etching non-metals, very small laser power is sufficient. However, etching metal requires a minimum of 20w or more laser power.
The power and speed of the laser will determine your productivity, so check the power and speed of the machine before you buy.
If only flat objects are to be etched, you only need to consider whether the machine table is large enough to hold the object. If you need to etch spheres or cylinders, you will also need to purchase a rotating attachment to assist with the operation.
Etching accuracy determines the final result and the detail of the product. If launching your laser customization business, perfect etching details can make the product stand out quickly.
The best laser etching machine
The Gweike G2 is a fiber laser cutter that can accommodate a wide range of materials at a great price. Its 20w laser module makes it easy to etch various metal materials.
- Handheld laser head: This portable laser has a total weight of only 12 kg, so you can easily move it anywhere. The detachable laser head supports you in etching metals more easily.
- Fast: With a laser engraving/etching speed of 15,000mm/s, you can etch complex patterns in seconds.
- Safety: Equipped with a CE standard shield to protect against laser radiation and fume leakage.
- Low price: the machine costs less than $2000 and is available on hire purchase.
We discussed in depth the basics of laser etching and how you can easily etch a variety of materials that we commonly use. Finally, I also shared an excellent value-for-money fiber laser cutting/etching machine that is not only low cost and portable but also full of features that make it perfect for small businesses and beginners.