The 6 Best Laser Engravers
Lasers As Science Fact, Not Fiction
Raster images are used to copy photos onto objects, whereas vector images are best when dealing with line-heavy art that needs to be resized.
"Fire the laser!" exclaims Dr. Evil in his crazy aspiration for world domination. Slapstick comedy notwithstanding, we won't be discussing an eccentric villain's obsession for sharks with laser beams attached to their heads, "death rays," nor any type of science fiction. What we will be discussing is science fact in terms of using laser technology as a tool for practical design and creativity. So whether you're a DIY hobbyist with an artistic flare or a business owner looking to provide your customers with personalized merchandise, a laser engraver is a fantastic way to etch those special messages, logos, and patterns into a variety of everyday objects and materials, affording them meaning that can stand the test of time.
A laser engraver creates patterns of a certain depth onto a particular surface through direct incisions coming from a laser that converts light energy into heat. Once a predetermined pattern has been programmed into the device's special software, the machine uses heat to burn that pattern into your materials. The resulting recess formed on the surface of the workpiece involved becomes the engraving.
Engraving machines are typically calibrated so that their lasers are never quite strong enough to cut entirely through the material. The laser beams are programmed to pulse rapidly in order to burn away very small amounts of an object's surface, leaving only a shallow impression behind. The machine's three main parts include a surface (or bed) on which an object may be placed, a controller, and the laser itself. A laser beam allows the controller to trace a given pattern onto the machine's surface.
Laser engravers are compatible with a wide variety of materials, including natural woods, acrylic plastics, metals, stone, glass, and many types of jewelry. The two most common types of laser technology for these machines are carbon dioxide and Nd:YAG. Low-energy CO2 lasers have chambers filled with carbon dioxide gas and are ideal for engraving materials like wood, glass, plastics, and even fabric. Nd:YAG lasers contain a solid material called neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet and deliver higher volumes of energy than their CO2 counterparts, making them ideal for engraving heavy metals.
The machines use either raster or vector digital images for transferring patterns onto a surface. Raster images are used to copy photos onto objects, whereas vector images are best when dealing with line-heavy art that needs to be resized.
So what are the benefits of this technology? Aside from etching patterns into hard metals and other materials, durability comes to mind. A medical device, for example, could have an ID or label engraved into its metal components without the concern for pattern degradation over time. Secondly, engraving machines are relatively easy to use. Visual data exchanges between a graphics program and an engraving machine are quick and adjustable, which can minimize material waste. Thirdly, the device is highly precise, meaning that detailed graphics can be engraved accurately onto very small objects. Finally, the engraving process is environmentally friendly, meaning there is no use of any harmful inks, acids, or solvents to get the job done, only heat and energy.
Choosing The Best Laser Engraver
When investing in a laser engraving machine, two of the most important considerations to make should be the size of the device bed and the unit's power output. When thinking about your workload and the types of objects with which you'll be working, try to find a machine with the largest bed size possible, as this will directly determine the maximum size of workpieces you can place on the machine's platform. Even if your workpieces are small (e.g. keychains or tags), it's always beneficial to have a surface larger than you need should you decide to engrave different objects. The machine bed is described as having both X and Y axes, where the X-axis determines an object's width while the Y-axis determines its height. With regard to power, many laser engravers offer an output of between 30 and 50 watts.
Depending on the products you're engraving, decide whether you need a machine with low-energy carbon dioxide or high-energy Nd:YAG lasers if you'll be working with thick materials like woods and precious metals.
Look for a machine with USB connectivity when possible, as this will allow for fast job transfers.
A Brief History Of Laser Engravers
Engraving patterns into objects isn't exactly a new concept. In fact, the first evidence of such an activity dates back well over 500,000 years to a chiseled shell from Indonesia. Later evidence shows that early humans also engraved patterns onto both bone and ivory. The first evidence of stylus marking appeared in the Cuneiform writing system of the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia as early as 3500 B.C.E. By 1000 B.C.E., the first shallow grooves were made in metal in an effort to decorate simple jewelry.
Engraving patterns into objects isn't exactly a new concept.
Fast forward to the end of the 18th century CE, and we'll find the earliest evidence of engraving on steel, which was primarily used for creating banknotes and book illustrations at the time.
The first working laser prototype was developed in 1960 by American engineer Theodore Maiman while working at the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. It used synthetic ruby as its active medium and was characterized by a deep red beam of light. The first CO2 laser was developed in 1963 and was considered much more cost-effective and efficient than Maiman's design. Engraving machines leveraging Nd:YAG laser beams appeared by 1973.
Today, the laser engraver suits many applications and industries, while being an incredibly dependable and versatile tool that can easily meet the demands of both business owners and consumers alike.