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What is Laser Etching?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 17, 2024
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Laser etching is the process of using a laser beam to permanently cut an image or pattern into a hard material, such as glass, wood or metal. For large projects, the size, depth and location of the pattern is typically programmed into a computer that controls the laser. The strength of the laser is based on the material used and the level of heat required.

This type of etching is typically found in a manufacturing setting. There are two types of lasers, hand-held and machine-operated. The hand-held units are used by a production technician to correct minor errors or quality issues with the product at the end of the work flow. Artisans or engravers who need to create a very precise work product can also use laser etching as a tool.

The machine-operated unit is programmed to mass-produce a specific pattern, by etching it into the final material. Common uses of laser etching include circuit boards, engraving metal or carving hard plastic. Lasers are rarely used for wood, as they tend to leave burn marks on the surface of the wood.

When selecting a laser etching machine, it is important to consider three things: warranty, price and operation. The laser etching machine will have to generate significant heat and draw a large amount of power to operate the laser. The risk of components burning out or failing is higher with this type of machine. A good warranty will protect you from repair costs for a specific period of time and allow you to get the value of the unit before needing to invest in repairs.

The price of a laser etching machine ranges from $7,800 to $25,000 US Dollars (USD). Take the time to make a list of the features that you require and those that are nice to have but not necessary. Make your selection based on the useful life of the unit. If your business requires a significant amount of etching, the investment in a quality etching machine is worth it. If not, look for a unit that simply meets your current needs.

The daily operation of the unit is a very important consideration. Look for a model that is easy to use, with a simple interface, built-in help function and is programmable. Allow the staff who will be using the machine to assist in the product review process. This will reduce the complaints about the machine after it is purchased and will result in a selection that meets the practical needs.

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Discussion Comments
By EtchingPros — On Jan 02, 2010

Thank you for the good article on the basics of laser etching. You are certainly correct about the criteria for making the correct choice of machines, and a strong warranty is a must. Our business depends on our laser etching machines being up and running 90 percent of the time or better.

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