Laser Engraver – the Definitive Guide (2018)

I recently watched a friend of mine using a laser engraver to engrave metals signs. He creates beautiful custom made metallic signs with his own individual designs.

Because I knew nothing about laser engraving before, this was the starting point for my recherche on laser engraving. And the result is, that I created this piece of content right for you guys.

Top laser engraving machines

Qiilu 1500mW CNC laser engraving machine

The Qiulu is a cheap 1500mW desktop CNC laser engraver that allows you to make your own individual engraved workpieces. Besides the carving space of 42 x 42 x 78 mm it provides an image resolution of 550 x 550. Because it has an open frame, you should wear the laser protection glasses when operating.

  • Power: 1500mW
  • Engraving space: 42 x 42 x 78 mm
  • Resolution: 550 x 550
  • Extras: Built in battery / runs without computer

Qiilu 1500mw Laser Engraver Printer Laser Engraving Machine DIY USB CNC Router Cutting Carver Off-line Operation with Goggles for Art...

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Last price update as of August 12, 2018 6:24 pm PST More Information
$132.99 $133.99

Orion Motor Tech 40W desktop laser engraver

The Orion desktop laser engraver is a high power desktop laser engraving machine that can create high resolution images of up to 1000 dpi.

This engraver is designed especially for flat workpieces.

  • Power: 40 W
  • Engraving space: 12″ x 8″
  • Resolution: Up to 1000 dpi
  • integrated ventilation fan for fumes and smoke extraction

Orion Motor Tech 12"x 8" 40W CO2 Laser Engraver Cutting and Engraving Machine with Water-Break Protection

Last price update as of August 12, 2018 6:24 pm PST More Information
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What is laser engraving?

While traditional engraving uses corrosive chemicals to etch shapes in substances, laser engraving employs concentrated beams of light to achieve the same result. A laser engraver creates precise structures without touching the material.

Essentially, the laser beam locally melts material being processed, making shapes that are as diverse as the operator desires. With the right software packages, all kinds of designs are possible, from corporate logos to safety information on heavy machinery.

Depending on the beam energy you either can cut the material or add a surface structure on top of your workpiece.

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Difference between laser marking and laser engraving

Laser engraving isn’t to be confused with laser marking, although the two processes are similar.

In laser marking, a low energy beam is applied to materials, causing localized discoloration by oxidizing material just below the surface.

While at laser engraving, material is removed from the top of the surface of the workpiece.

As an alternative for a laser engraving you could also use a cheap desktop CNC milling machine.

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What materials can you cut with a CNC laser engraver?

Before you start using a laser engraving device, it’s important to know, which materials are appropriate to use, and which ones can be damaged by the laser cutting process.

Some materials are to be avoided entirely. PVC, for example, releases chlorine when cut, which can be toxic. Polystyrene can catch fire, while ABS plastics can emit hydrogen cyanide – another big no-no.

However, there are plenty of safe materials where laser engravers can achieve incredible results. Woods with low oil content are ideal, as are acrylic plastics, paper and cardboard, vinyl magnetic sheets, ceramic tiles, glass, stainless steel, aluminum, and most kinds of stone.

Read also: How to weld stainless steel

So there’s no shortage of suitable materials to work with.

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Potential uses for a laser engraving machine

Assuming you have the right materials, what can be achieved with a modern laser engraver? Well, plenty, if you have imagination and the desire to master the techniques involved.

Add individual designs to things you already own

Lock with laser engraving

In fact, smartphone cases are a very popular application for engraving enthusiasts, as you can also create some stunning custom designs.

Another practical use is to mark your possessions for security purposes. If you imprint your name or another distinctive marking on bicycle bodies, mobile phone casings or other valuables, they will be easier to trace if they are stolen.

Create your own crafts

If you work in craft or fashion, engraving has an endless variety of uses. Engravers can be used to monogram leather products, mark beer glasses or coffee mugs with the names of their owners, create intricate wooden puzzles, or to cut patterns into felt panels for interior decorations.

Laser engraved sign

The sky’s the limit regarding craft applications, so if you have an artistic side, it’s well worth learning how to laser engrave. You could even start selling your own crafts on Etsy.

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How to maintain a laser engraving machine

High-quality CNC laser engraving units tend to cost over $2,000, while mobile devices are slightly less expensive. So it really makes sense to keep them in good condition for as long as possible.

Avoid flammable materials

Firstly, avoiding flammable materials is a must, so read up on materials that are safe to cut. Always being close to the machine while cutting as well. If materials catch fire or become snagged in some way, it’s easy to damage a cutting unit, so don’t leave it unattended.

Keep the laser optics clean

Keeping the lens and mirror in your unit clean is also essential, and it’s advisable to clean both after every cutting session. When you clean the unit, remember to use specialist cleaners approved by your machine’s manufacturer. Standard alcohol-based cleaners can damage lenses, leaving your cutter inoperable.

Clean the filters regularly

Aside from that, be sure to clean the filter to remove waste particles from the materials you cut. Replacing the inner filter every couple of weeks is a good idea, and you’ll probably need to replenish your charcoal filter every few months.

Maintain the geardrive and guidings

Moreover, make sure to regularly clean and oil the geardrive, guidings and bearings to provide a smooth movement of the CNC head.

Follow those maintenance tips, use the right materials and engage your imagination. In no time, you’ll become a laser engraving wizard, turning your design dreams into reality.

Image Credits: Pixabay / 905513, Pixabay / Hans

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