Metal is often used for ornamentation because it is strong, shiny, and corrosion-resistant.
This section will focus on how metal laser engraving works, engraving techniques, and what metal engraving businesses you can start to make a profit.
Metal engraving makes your gift unique. All engraving marks are permanently retained, and many QR codes are engraved using laser cutters.
This article will explain in detail all the problems encountered with metal engraving.
In this article
- Metal laser engraving vs etching vs marking
- What is metal laser engraving, and how does it work?
- What types of laser engraving machines can engrave metal?
- What metals can you laser engrave?
- Metal laser engraving applications/ideas
- The best metal laser engraving machines
Difference between metal laser engraving vs etching vs marking
Do you know the difference between engraving, etching, and marking? Which is the most common thing you see before learning about metal engraving? At first, I thought engraving VS etching VS marking was one technique. Then I realised that there are three very different ways of marking metal. Next, we will talk about laser etching, engraving, and marking.
Laser engraving of metal
Laser engraving is the instantaneous sublimation of material on a metal surface using a laser. The enormous energy of the laser beam can turn the metal material directly from a solid into a gas. The process of sublimation of metal is how laser engraving works. The area where the metal material sublimates leaves a cavity; visually, we see a sharp contrast. If the engraving marks are deep, we will visually see a 3D engraved surface.
Laser engraving of metal requires a high energy pulse engraver that can reach the melting point of the metal instantly during the engraving process. Here are the features of laser engraving.
- The metal engraving process generates high heat levels and direct sublimation of the metal material during engraving.
- High-speed engraving
- Contrast is created mainly through sublimation
- Suitable for precise and complex patterns
Pros compared to traditional metal engraving.
- Can engrave all metal materials
- Supports engraving of small items such as PCB and watch parts
- Supports a wide range of designs and personalised fonts
- Permanent engraving marks
- Fast engraving speed
Laser etching of metals
Laser etching of metal mainly uses the metal oxidation reaction to achieve metal dissolution. The etching machine causes oxidation of the material during the metal etching process, which results in a change in color or the formation of a protrusion in the metal material. Visually there is a stark contrast.
Metal etching involves placing a design you want to etch on the metal and using electrodes connected to a wet cotton swab. An oxidation reaction with the metal material follows, accelerating the dissolution of the material. The following are the characteristics of metal etching.
- Etching uses the material to expand to form a raised mark
- Shallow etching depth
- Slower and more complex process than metal engraving
- Low cost
- The pattern is not permanent and will fade over time
Laser marking of metal
Laser marking also works differently from laser etching and engraving. It is mainly through a low-powered laser beam that reacts with the material by oxidation, and the marked area becomes visually darker, creating a pattern with contrast.
It has also been suggested that laser marking and engraving are two different types of engraving that work on the same principle. The major difference is that metal marking is shallow engraving. The following are some of the characteristics of the laser marking process:
- High contrast patterns achieve on metallic materials through low power
- The high temperature of the laser causes oxidation on the surface of the material
- The metal is not deformed after the marking is completed
- More straightforward process than laser etching
- Suitable for marking 2D codes, barcodes, etc., which can remain permanently
- There are four common types of laser marking: coloring, carbon migration, annealing, and foaming
- Laser marking is very popular for titanium and stainless steel marking applications
How laser metal engraving works
The working principle of laser metal engraving has already been briefly discussed. Primarily, the material is removed from the metal surface by powerful pulses of the laser beam. The material sublimation is achieved by permanent engraving with an undercity.
It should note that only high-energy pulses are used for engraving metal, as the melting point of the metal is so high that only very high temperatures can sublimate the material immediately.
Laser etching is achieved using continuous pulses and also allows for colored engraving. Unlike the Mopa laser, which enables colored engraving of metals, most laser engravers we usually buy can only achieve grey and black engraving. This is the most significant advantage of laser etching.
Laser engraving machines that can do metal engraving?
Fiber laser engraving machine
Fiber laser engraving machines are the best choice for engraving/cutting metal. If you want to use it at home or start your own laser engraving business, there are better choices than a fiber laser cutter. High-power laser engraving machines are often used in industrial production, and the fiber laser cutter is very expensive and large.
CO2 laser engraving machines
CO2 laser engravers are mainly used to cut/engrave non-metals and some metals, for example, aluminum oxide or metals with an oxide coating. CO2 laser cutters mainly produce a laser beam through a laser tube. We know that most metals reflect laser light and that reflected laser light could damage the laser tube. So there are better choices than a CO2 laser cutter for engraving metal.
If you want to engrave wood, leather, acrylic, marble, etc., the CO2 laser cutter is the best choice.
Diode laser engraving machine
This low-power metal engraving machine is usually small and light, making it ideal for home use. They are ideally suited to the task of engraving metal.
A diode laser engraving machine is the best choice for small businesses. It is generally less expensive but depends on the machine's power, speed, and various parameters.
It would help if you chose a laser metal engraving machine of 15w or more. Too little power will affect the engraving effect.
Blue engraving machine
Compared with the CO2 laser cutter, both have similar functions and can engrave non-metal and some metal materials. However, the blue light engraving machine is more focused on non-metal engraving.
Which metals can you laser engrave?
Stainless steel is one of the most widely used metals today and is usually used in many industries, such as aerospace, rail transportation, and housing renovation. Stainless steel is a low-carbon metal material that is exceptionally corrosion-resistant and durable. You can choose between diode or fiber laser cutting machines to complete the engraving.
There are many different types of steel, and you can use laser engraving metal. You can have unique logos engraved on them.
Aluminium is a lightweight metal that oxidises quickly, so you can choose from a wide range of engraving machines to complete your engraving.
Titanium is used extensively in industries such as aerospace parts and medical tools. For precision engraving, a laser engraving metal machine is essential.
Brass is a lustrous metal material that tends to oxidise and turn black, so we often do not choose to engrave brass by etching.
Gold is a very stable metal with a low melting point and is expensive. You may waste gold using a fiber optic laser to cut gold. So we usually choose to diode engrave gold or even just hand engrave it.
Like gold, silver is also a soft metal. However, unlike gold, silver is also prone to oxidation and blackening. This is why the surface of silver engraved during the metal engraving process will oxidise and turn black. However, you can put silver into a unique solution, which will quickly return to its original state.
Metal laser engraving ideas
Here are some metal engraving projects that you can use for inspiration.
USB flash drive
If you are a USB stick seller, you can purchase a metal engraving machine to customise the USB sticks you sell. Not only can you customise the text, but you can also customise the graphics. This will significantly increase your competitiveness.
Standard business signage, school bag name tags, and dog tags can all be uniquely designed using a metal engraving machine. You will have seen these signs in many places. They are obvious and have a long-lasting engraving effect.
Laser metal engraving can also engrave 2D codes, barcodes, ID numbers, and other products that must be retained permanently. Many products require a traceability code to allow future reference to various information about the product. Using laser metal engraving ensures that the engraving marks never disappear and that the QR code is still clearly visible even after a long period.
You can personalise a wide range of jewelry, such as necklaces, rings, and watches. It would be a fantastic gift to engrave customised text or designs on the gifts you will give on various holidays with special significance, such as wedding anniversaries and birthdays.
Are you feeling incredible? Laser metal engraving marks can be retained forever, symbolising that you can preserve your shining moment forever. Of course, you can also use a laser metal engraving machine to engrave the medal/trophy.
Paper business cards are not only a waste of trees but also challenging to keep, so that you can customize a metal business card. Not only will the information on it last forever, but it will also be less likely to be damaged.
Metal business cards are also more luxurious and will make an excellent gift for business partners.
Paper albums are not easy to keep and can become blurred if left in the living room for a long time. Engrave your photo on metal, and it will last forever.
You can engrave a cheering message or a name on a fountain pen and give this gift to your child or student. It would be an excellent and surprising gift.
The best metal laser engraver
The Gweike Cloud RF is a metal RF laser tube cutter that easily cuts and engraves a wide range of metals and non-metals. It also comes with a rotary axis, which means you can engrave flat surfaces and supports rotary engraving.
The RF metal tube is perfect for engraving metal, and the 50w laser power allows you to engrave faster and more efficiently.
With an engraving speed of 600mm/s and an engraving accuracy of 0.001", you can engrave with striking detail alive. If you use the Geike Cloud RF for your own laser engraving business, you are sure that your product will soon stand out from the crowd.
In the meantime, this is a desktop laser machine for beginners, which comes with a safety enclosure, a CE-compliant viewing window, and various accessories such as a material kit and a blower. You also get a free software package to help you engrave easier and faster.