The Main Differences Between Laser Engraving, Marking, and Etching


The Main Differences Between Laser Engraving, Marking, and Etching

Laser technology took the whole world by storm some 25 years ago. It’s unsure if the inventors of laser technology knew how it would grow and be so beneficial across virtually every industry across the globe, but nevertheless, it has.

The growth of laser marking, engraving, and etching is expected to continue in the coming years. Smaller devices, better stability of the laser beam, higher accuracy and precision, new programming for more applications, and more developments in this industry keeps it going strong.

Three Main Laser Services

Three laser services stand out from the others, and that comprises laser marking, engraving, and etching. The differences in these laser applications is what we’ll be discussing today.

  • Laser Marking–The basic process of laser marking involves the laser beam interacting with a material’s surface to alter its appearance or traits. A low-powered laser beam moves slowly across the substrate using a discoloration approach. It creates a high-contrast marking that doesn’t damage the substrate.

The laser heats the material, resulting in oxidation under the substrate’s surface, which turns the material black. Laser marking also uses low temperatures for annealing metals. All these processes are done without any damage to the substrate being marked.

  • Laser Engraving – This process physically removes the substrate’s surface to create images visible at eye level. The laser uses high heat through the laser engraving process that basically causes the substrate to vaporize.

The process is fast and efficient. Sometimes several passes of the laser beam are necessary to create deeper marks. The three types of laser engraving include deep laser engraving, laser ablation, and laser etching. Each is determined on how much of the surface needs to be removed.

Engraving is popular for personalized and customized gifts, promotional products, and such. Laser engraving is the fastest process for marking with a laser. Engraving can be done on many plastic, wood, glass, and metal surfaces.

Laser engraving is substantially better than manual and tool-based engraving because it’s more legible even on small jewelry, it allows for more fonts, the risk of damaging the material is extremely low, and it’s simply faster.

  • Laser Etching – This process is a subcategory of laser engraving that happens when heat from the laser beam melts the surface of a material. High heat is used to melt the surface of a substrate. The melted material becomes expanded which creates a raise mark. Laser etching is shallow in comparison to laser engraving as the depth is no more than 0.001”.

Unlike laser marking and engraving, laser etching can be used on plated or anodized metals, ceramics, and polymers. The other two differences between etching and marking and engraving include the lesser depth at which it marks the surface and the alteration of the material’s reflective surface, enhancing contrast.

Industries Using Laser Marking, Engraving, and Etching

Laser marking, engraving, and etching are processes used in a variety of industries, including:

  • Industrial and tooling
  • Automotive
  • Medical
  • Electronics
  • Military and defense
  • Oil and gas
  • Aerospace

These are just a few examples of the industries that use laser marking, engraving, and etching for various purposes. One of the most important reasons for laser marking relates to ensuring compliance to governing regulations across industries.

Before you decide to invest in a laser marking, engraving, and/or etching business, make sure you know the laws in your country and region.


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