Laser Engraving Terminology
As with most professions, laser engraving has its own unique language. Whether you are new to the business or a long time engraving veteran, knowing and understanding laser terminology is important to your business. Laser language can be divided into several categories:
Laser Engraving Systems:
CO2 Laser Systems- Refers to the gas mixture used to generate the laser beam. These types of laser engravers have become increasingly popular among engraving and award shops due to the relatively low price and tremendous range of applications. Materials commonly used with CO2 laser engravers include wood, acrylic, leather, rubber, glass, ceramics, marble and coated metals.
YAG Laser Systems - These systems operate with a shorter infrared wavelength and are substantially more expensive than CO2 laser engravers. While they do have the advantage for people wanting to engrave on bare metals they are also very limited in that they do not engrave on most of the materials used with CO2 laser systems.
Equipment Options and Accessories:
Air Assist - An attachment available on some laser engravers that allows for a constant stream of compressed air to move across the engraving surface. This option is ideal for stamp makers or others whose materials generate unusual amounts of debris. Air assist is ideal for deep, clean engraving and also cutting.
Auto Focus - Now standard on some machines this feature allows for the automatic focus of the lens on the area to be engraved.
Chiller - A separate water unit used to circulate fluid around the laser tube to help keep it cool during use. This is generally only necessary for systems of 50 watts or greater.
External Exhaust System - The blower unit needed to exhaust vaporized materials outside the working environment. The system needed depends on the laser model used. Please check with the system's manufacturer.
Focal Tool - A measuring device included with your laser system that helps to focus the laser beam on the material to be engraved.
Jigs - Devices designed to hold parts in place while engraving the full field. Common jigs include those that holds many pens for single job engraving and many others can be self made out of acrylic or wood sheets.
Lenses - Concentrates the laser beam emanating from the laser tube. Available in several different focal lengths to achieve slightly different spot sizes.
Rotary Attachment - This option holds and rotates round objects such as glasses or bottles so that the complete surface can be engraved.
Scanner - A useful accessory for you computer if you intend to engrave photos or other images. Images can be imported into your graphics software before sending the entire file to the laser engraver for output.
Vacuum table - Suction table that helps to hold down unusually light materials such as fabrics or light paper for laser engraving.
Related Software and Techniques:
Bitmaps - Patterns of dots that blend together to form pictures. Monochrome bitmaps are used when scanning and engraving line are or camera ready black and white images. Grayscale bitmaps are used for scanning and engraving photographs. Color bitmaps are not recommended for laser engraving.
Colorfilling - The application of paint to engraved areas of a piece.
CorelDraw - The most popular software graphics package used in the laser engraving industry. Most versions will work well with your engraver.
Deep Engraving - Running multiple passes over an area to achieve deep results. This may be necessary when using a low power laser on unusually hard materials.
Halftones - A series of dots arranged in a specific pattern. Also known as grayscale bitmaps, halftones are popular for the laser engraving of photographs.
Masking - The process of applying a low-adhesive transfer tape to a product prior to engraving. This protects some materials from any potential smoke or heat damage and also allows for color filling. The laser engraves through the tape and the engraved area can be neatly filled with paint. The tape is then removed leaving the paint on the engraved material. This is a particularly useful process when greater contrast between the material and the engraved area is desired.
Raster Engraving - Engraving from left to right and top to bottom.
Vector Engraving - Combinations of x and y lines used to make up your images to be engraved. This type of engraving is best for borders and patterns with large empty spaces in them and is substantially faster than raster engraving.
Wattage - The measure of a laser's output power (not to be confused with the measure of standard lighting's output power). The greater the wattage, the faster and deeper a laser will engrave. Most popular compact laser engravers range from 15 to 100 watts of power.