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What Is a Rotary Engraver?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many types of engraving techniques and machines that are suited for different materials, preferences and purposes. A rotary engraver is a mechanical engraver that includes a motorized spindle and a cutting tool that rotates with the spindle. To control a rotary engraver, a pantograph or computer software is usually employed. These engravers are typically smaller than other engraving machines — around desktop size — but they can come in full sizes, as well. They are meant mostly for nameplates, name tags, small pieces of jewelry and awards.

The main feature of a rotary engraver is that it uses a cutter that rotates from a mechanized spindle. This engraving machine moves on three axis levels: the Z-axis is the depth, the X-axis is the horizontal, and the Y-axis is the vertical. Different cutting bits are used to make different cuts, such as using a conical cutter to make a V-shaped cut or a parallel cutter for a straight line. This type of cutter is best used on plastic and soft metals, but other materials also can be used.

The control mechanism for a rotary engraver is usually either a pantograph or a computer program. A pantograph is a mechanism that uses two pens. When one moves, from the engraving operator, the pen connected to the rotary engraver also will move. This is normally used for text engraving. The operator will trace the shape of a master letter, and the engraver will copy the letter into the material.

Computer software is easier for an amateur to use and can produce photo-realistic results. All the user has to do is load the program and open an image or text file in the engraver’s program. Then the user commands the engraver to duplicate the document, and it will trace the same design into the material.

A rotary engraver is normally smaller than other engravers, such as a laser engraver; they are popular with hobbyists and work better with smaller items. Most rotary engraving machines are able to fit on a desktop or bench. While usually smaller, full-size models are available for those who enjoy the rotary engraving method and need to engraver larger materials.

Small, easy-to-engrave items are most commonly used with a rotary engraving machine. Desktop accessories such as a small award or nameplate, lighters or jewelry are commonly used with these engravers. Larger models will be able to make bigger signs and engrave into large, flat pieces of material.

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