How to Laser Engrave Like a Pro
Are you looking to broaden your crafty and creative DIY side? Or yearning for a new exciting project?
Learning how to laser engrave is a fun and unique skill to add to your repertoire. With laser engraving, you can customize carpentry, artwork, drink-ware, and so much more. There’s no limit to what designs you can engrave!
Then there’s the material to consider. You can laser engrave almost any type of material including wood, plastics, glass, and metal. You’ll find there are many different types of laser engravers available to fit every need.
But the best part is almost anyone can learn how to laser engrave. With the right tools, tips, and tricks, you can learn how to laser engrave like a pro!
Learning How to Laser Engrave
Before you begin learning how to laser engrave, there are a few items you’ll need to have available.
The most important is the laser engraver. A laser engraver or cutter is a machine controlled by a computer. It uses a laser to burn or melt the material to engrave a design.
The type of laser engraver you’ll need depends on the type of material you plan to engrave. A typical hobby laser engraver uses a CO2 or gas laser. This type of laser is best for cutting non-metal materials such as wood, acrylic, paper, glass, leather, and textiles.
If you don’t have the funds to buy a laser engraver (they can be very expensive!) you can find them at schools, colleges, maker-spaces, or even at a friend.
Once you have access to a laser engraver you can start learning how to laser engrave. Follow these tips to make your laser engravings look professional.
1. Raster vs Vector Images
Laser engravers require the use of a computer/design program to engrave an image onto an object. You can create your design in any of your favorite design software programs and then transfer it to the laser engraver software.
The only issue is you need to know what type of image file format to use. The two common file formats are raster and vector. An engraver can process both formats depending on the project.
If you’re engraving an object, you’ll need to use a raster image. Raster images use pixels, or tiny squares, to make up an image. Raster file formats include JPG, PNG, and GIF.
Vector images are best for laser cutting. Vector art consists of mathematical equations to make up shapes, colors, lines, and more.
Raster images and designs will take longer to engrave than vector images. A raster engraving causes the laser to go left to right across the area and then moves down, similar to an inkjet printer. A vector cut traces the lines of an image-making the engraving fast and the lines thin.
2. Picking the Right Design Software
You can use almost any design software you’d like to export your design. If you’re new to engraving and digital design, here’s a list of the most popular software available:
- Inkscape (free)
- Autodesk Fusion 360 (free)
- Blender (free)
- Tinkercad (free)
- QCAD (free)
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Photoshop
The most important factor is you’re able to export your design in the proper file format. If you’re engraving an image from a photo, you’ll need to change the image to grayscale. Again, raster images are best for engraving and vector is best for cutting.
3. Prep the Material for Engraving
Once you have your image ready for engraving, you’ll need to prep your material. Start by making sure your material fits in the laser’s work area. If it’s too big, you’ll need to cut it down or find a different object to engrave.
If this is your first time using a laser engraver, bring extra pieces of material to practice a few cuts or engravings. You’ll also need a utility knife, measuring tape, and painters or masking tape.
Small amounts of smoke will form during the engraving process. This smoke can stain the areas around the engraving.
If you don’t want the stain, cover the area with masking or painting tape. When finished, peel the tape off and enjoy a stain-free engraving! This works great when engraving wood or leather.
4. Laser Engraver Settings
Laser engravers have several different settings. The four most important settings include speed, power, focus, and frequency. These will need adjusting based on the material you’re using and how you want your final engraving to look.
Speed controls how fast or slow the laser head moves. The laser will move slower with thicker and tougher materials like wood. It should move faster with thin materials like paper or fabric.
Power describes the output of the laser. Most power settings range from 0-100%. Lower power is best for thin materials and higher power is necessary for engraving thicker materials.
Frequency refers to the number of laser pulses per second. Wood has a low frequency of around 500-1000 Hz and acrylic has a much higher frequency. Focus refers to a focus point or the area where the laser beam is the thinnest. You want this point to be on the material’s surface or slightly below. The focus lens used on the engraver will determine how to properly distance your material.
5. Creating Thick or Thin Lines
Imagine you have a vector image you want to engrave but you want thicker lines. You could reformat your image as a raster image to make the lines thicker.
Another option is to use your vector image but place your material farther below the focus point. The laser’s beam will lose focus (defocus) and spread out creating a thicker line.
The benefit is the engraving time will be much faster than engraving a raster image. The downside is the line or design may appear softer and the corners will burn a little deeper than a raster engraving. If that doesn’t bother you, then using a defocused laser for thicker lines is a great option.
Start Laser Engraving Like a Pro!
Learning how to laser engrave is an exciting way to build your crafty skillset. You’ll have fun creating custom engravings for gifts, keepsakes, and possibly clients just like the professionals!
Want to learn more new DIY skills? Check out our latest DIY articles for more great projects!