Laser Engraving: The Possibilities
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Laser Engraving: The Possibilities

Today’s laser engraving and cutting equipment provide versatility for whether you are thinking of diversifying or simply expanding.

By Diane Bosworth

The word, “versatility” is often used to describe today’s laser engraving and cutting equipment: for good reason. Not only can you use the same system to cut out parts and engrave them, the material and product choices are seemingly endless, as are the markets in which people use lasers.

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  • Engraving

    Engravers, more and more, are turning to laser technology for engraving functions due largely to the great versatility in material choices. Popular laser engravable materials include wood and veneers, plastics, acrylic, glass, marble, coated metals, leather and other fabrics, stone, granite, mat board and other paper products, hard surfaced materials like Corian, cork, melamine, Delrin, rubber stamp, and gasket material. Additionally, there are a host of manmade materials including simulated wood and stone products, which have proven to be ideal for laser engraving. Material manufacturers continue to produce and provide products that are compatible with lasers. This is important because the faster and more efficiently one can run laser engraved jobs the more profitable the job will be.

    One of the keys to being able to engrave profitably is to invest in the right machine from the beginning. The main thing to keep in mind is that speed is largely a function of wattage. For versatile one-a-of-kind jobs, 25 ­30 watts of power is generally sufficient. For high production numbers, especially when engraving hard materials like oak or natural stone materials, you will want to invest in higher wattage. There are also limitations to cutting capabilities with the lower wattage systems that you will want to be aware of. It is best to check with the manufacturer or distributor to best determine the wattage that will best suit you. You might also want to consider your future growth potential as well when choosing the appropriate wattage.

    These systems were originally designed with engraving in mind so the process is fairly simple. Artwork is generated via a graphics program and or imported into a PC via a scanner. Settings for power, speed, and resolution are set on the PC or the system itself. The job is then sent to the engraver much like one would send a word document to a printer. The part is placed onto the tabletop and focus is set either manually or through the auto focus feature found on many of the newer systems. When ready, hit “print” and the machine will engrave. The laser, as it moves across the part, will engrave the artwork by actually vaporizing and removing the material. The vaporized material is then exhausted outside, via an exhaust fan.

    When done, many materials are customer ready right off of the tabletop, while some pieces requiring cleaning and/or finishing.

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    Vector Cutting

    While raster engraving refers to a method of engraving that is made up of a series of back and forth passes, vectoring refers to combinations of X and Y lines used to make up images to be laser cut or point to point engraving. Vector engraving is largely used for outlining designs. To cut through material, you will be using the vector cutting capabilities of your machine. The most popular materials that are cut by a low powered CO2 system include vinyl, plastic, leather and other fabrics, mat board and other paper products, stencil material, gasket material, thin woods and veneers. When laser cutting parts, it is very beneficial to use a cutting table or other method of lifting your material off of the tabletop. This will give you an adequate airflow for maximum cut quality.

    Many jobs involve both raster engraving and vector cutting in one job. For example, to make name tags, lay out your sheet of plastic (or other material) and use your system’s color mapping features to set up your system to first engrave the parts then cut them into shapes. The color-mapping feature allows you to set up a job that requires different settings for different processes so that it runs in the most efficient order possible.

    To start with, it is helpful to follow the recommendations for speed and power that are in your system’s manual, and experiment from there. You will also get special tips and tricks for processing specific materials. Additionally, some of the material manufacturer’s also provide recommended settings and useful tips as well, for their materials.

    Other

    Your system has several other capabilities that may be useful for you. Engraving around curved surfaces like wineglasses is possible using an option called a rotary fixture.

    Some of the newer systems also allow for the engraving at different depths in one job using a feature called 3D effects.

    By setting the PPI setting (pulses per inch), you can also make perforated cuts in certain materials.

    Conclusion

    To get the most out of your laser engraving system, the best advice is to experiment. You will quickly find a tool that is a diverse as your business and your imagination.

    Diane Bosworth, long recognized as an expert in the field of laser engraving, currently, with her husband, Rob, owns and operates Access Business Solutions, Inc., the headquarters for quality used laser engraving and marking equipment. (CO2 and YAG).

    You may contact Diane at Access at 715-386-8021 or online at dianec@usedlasers.com

    Access Business Solutions, Inc http://www.usedlasers.com

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