Laser Engraving Part 3: The Possibilities
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Laser Engraving Part 3: The Possibilities

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.

By Diane Bosworth

Learning the possibilities of using laser technology may broaden your company horizons.

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  • Engraving
    Those businesses requiring engraving of their projects more and more are turning to laser technology for engraving functions due largely to speed and versatility in material choices. Material choices are vast including woods and veneers, plastics, acrylic, glass, marble, coated and uncoated metals, leather and other fabrics, stone, granite, mat board, foam, and other paper products, hard surfaced materials like Corian, cork, melamine, Delrin, and rubber stamp 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 of a 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 wattages.

    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 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, 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 materials, 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, acrylic, 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 table top. This will give you an adequate air flow for maximum cut quality.

    There is also an option called air assist, which allows a thin stream of air to blow over the work area, removing debris and smoke, which can also be advantageous in protecting the work surface from smoke and/or debris damage.

    Additionally, there are applications that involve both raster engraving and vector cutting in one job like nametags and ADA signage to name a few.

    The applications
    For sign making the most common applications that we see are ADA signage, the precision cutting of letters, vinyl cutting, engraving and cutting of Point of Purchase and other advertising displays.

    The limitations
    A laser is not capable of removing large areas of material as is a router. Additionally, much of today’s equipment does have size restrictions. However, there are an increasing number of larger format machines on the market and it appears that this is a growing trend, allowing for larger and heavier pieces to be laser engraved. Higher laser power is also available for production speeds and greater versatility.

    Diversification
    Investing in laser equipment may also open up new markets for you including awards, promotional products, advertising specialties, gifts, office products, glass etching, and more.

    Laser technology continues to evolve offering the sign maker more options for current projects, as well as new and profitable opportunities for the future.

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