10 Most Common Laser Engraving Mistakes

This is an image of names engraved in metal

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  • What are the most common laser engraving mistakes?
  • How can I avoid the most common mistakes in laser engraving?
  • How can I fix laser engraving mistakes?

Laser cutting and laser engraving are two of the most popular modern manufacturing techniques. Although this technology has existed for a long time, it’s only recently that it has entered the mainstream, giving artisans, designers and creatives more opportunities than ever before to bring their dreams to life – first by designing them, then by manufacturing them at a low cost with minimal equipment and readily available materials.

Laser engraving is still an art though, and although the process is largely facilitated by computers, it still takes a skilled technician to produce the desired end product. This article talks about some of the most common laser engraving mistakes, including popular misconceptions that prevent folks from actualizing the projects they want to complete. 

Keep reading to find out about the most common careless errors made during laser engraving, popular misconceptions about laser engraving that just aren’t true, and what techniques you can use to avoid common pitfalls and make your visionary products come to life.

Take Care – Avoid the Most Common Careless Errors

Misspelled Names – Laser engraving is often used to create namesake goods. Items like coasters or key chains can be mass produced with different names on them, for sale in gift shops or online shops like Etsy. Names are one of the most commonly engraved things because they connect a person’s identity to a special gift, and as a result, it’s very common to misspell names during the design and engraving process. Always make sure you get the name in writing and double-check the spelling before you start engraving.

Incorrect Dates – If you’re doing custom engraving, dates are always a tricky point of discussion. Engraving a date might seem like a straightforward process, but dates can be expressed in a number of different formats, and there is always the potential for a misspelling or a misunderstanding to yield an unintended result that leads to wasted time, energy and materials. 

Laser in the Incorrect Location – Between uses, it’s important to “Zero” the laser engraving machine. This means resetting the laser to the correct initial position, so it starts working at the edge of the material where it’s supposed to be – not somewhere in the middle. 

Forgetting to Save Preset Conditions – Later in this article, we’ll explain why it’s so important to sample test and find the correct preset conditions for the material you’re working on. The laser engraving machine doesn’t know what material you’re using, and it comes with hundreds of settings that produce thousands of combinations. When you find a combination of settings that work well with your material, it’s important that you save it! Otherwise, you’ll have to re-discover what works, wasting your own time and sacrificing continuity in your products. 

Make a Great Impression by Avoiding these Common Misconceptions

All Metal Surfaces Can Be Engraved – This actually isn’t true at all. Most metal surfaces can be engraved, but any metal with a rough surface won’t engrave properly at all. Laser engraving works by melting the top layer of material with a high level of precision. The problem with rough-surfaced metals is that the surface isn’t uniform – you won’t be able to read the engraving at all. Metal plated gifts also don’t engrave well sometimes – bad plating may peel up when exposed to high temperatures, ruining your item. Be careful!

Metals can be Buffed and Re-Engraved – This dangerous misconception has led to a lot of damaged jewelry, so let’s be very clear about unpacking this one. It is true that you can sometimes buff out an engraving that isn’t very deep and potentially engrave the item again, even over the same place. Unfortunately, plated metal doesn’t work like this at all – you’ll just buff the plating off and reveal the metal underneath the plating, essentially destroying the item. Solid gold and silver with 10k or 14k markings can be buffed and re-done, but most other metals can’t be.

Some Materials Cannot be Engraved – If you’ve had an engraver tell you that the material you want can’t be engraved, they probably implied that nobody could do it. In reality, a great laser engraving machine can work with almost any material. Don’t make assumptions about what will or won’t work – ask an expert with access to the best equipment, or test the material yourself if possible.

Improve Your Technique to Avoid These Common Mistakes

Smoke Stains on Wood Substrate from Scorching – Wood is one of the most common and popular engraving materials, but one of the worst culprits when it comes to scorching stains. Laser engraving produces a lot of heat, and the smoke from the process can potentially yield unwanted stains that darken the surface of your materials. This is common when working with wood, but also a concern with some other materials. To mitigate this effect, place masking tape over the material that you’re looking to engrave. The laser will still cut through it, but other surfaces will be protected from scorching and you’ll get a cleaner end product.

Lines Too Dark/Too Light/Not as Expected – Regardless of what material you’re working with, it’s important to fully test the material first to determine what settings produce results that are both desirable and repeatable. Experiment with different speeds, cut depths, line thickness settings, and laser intensity settings to find a combination that consistently produces the results you want. Once you’ve done so, save those settings and clearly label them so you know what project they were used for. 

Creating the design you want, only to ruin several sheets of material because you don’t like the laser settings is pointless and frustrating, and there’s nothing more redundant than having to rediscover the exact settings that you like because you forgot to record them the first time. Running sample testing also helps you build an understanding of how the laser engraving machine works, building your expertise and informing future design decisions.

Acrylic Does Not Produce “Frosty” Texture – Acrylic is a popular and diverse material for use in laser cutting, engraving, and etching. It’s especially valued for the frosty texture you can create with laser engraving, making it the perfect material for creating images of mountains, snowflakes, and clouds. If you’re having trouble recreating that frosty texture on your own though, it could be because you’re using the wrong type of acrylic. 

If you’re looking to create a frosty texture with your next acrylic engraving project, make sure you use Cast Acrylic – a special kind that’s made by pouring liquid acrylic into a sheet mold and waiting for it to solidify. Extruded Acrylic is made by pushing acrylic material through a form, forcing it into the desired shape without allowing it to set on its own. This type of acrylic won’t frost the way you’d like, so make sure you choose the right one!

Conclusion

Laser engraving is as close to plug-and-play as it gets with modern technology, but it’s important to realize that there is a learning curve. Be diligent about testing samples and recording your favorites, learn a few tricks of the trade, and with a little mindfulness and attention to detail, you’ll be producing incredible results in no time!