Answered on this page:
- What are the best practices for laser engraving on stainless steel?
- What are some common pitfalls when laser engraving on stainless steel?
- How do I configure a laser engraving machine for stainless steel?
- What are the best tips for laser engraving on stainless steel?
Laser engraving on stainless steel is a versatile process that produces useful and consistent results. This technology is most frequently applied to create deep markings on tough surfaces for a variety of industrial applications. Laser engraving is beneficial for parts and pieces that will experience high wear, such as medical devices, drill bits, automotive and aircraft parts, and many other industrial applications. Laser engraving is also a method used to customize and personalize gifts and treasured objects. Awards, plaques, trophies, watches, jewelry, and medals are all commonly engraved items.
While we’ve reviewed the steps for producing laser engraved items in the past, we wanted to offer our best tips and advice for laser engraving with stainless steel. From understanding when and how to calibrate your laser engraving machine to explaining how you can care for and polish your finished products, we’ve compiled our top 8 best practices that you can follow the next time you’re laser engraving on stainless steel.
1. Increase Laser Power, Decrease Marking Speed for Best Engraving Results
Laser engraving is a versatile technology because it creates markings that are deep enough to withstand the rigors of high-usage applications. While laser etching can be used to mark stainless steel just as well, the shallower cuts made in the laser etching process mean that the designs or markings won’t last long if the item comes under stress. To get the best cuts when laser engraving, increase the power of the laser and decrease the marking speed. This ensures that the laser cuts more deeply on each pass, and with greater intensity, producing laser engravings that can withstand wear and tear on the material surface.
2. Be Mindful of Biological Traps created by Laser Engraving on Stainless Steel
Medical devices are commonly made out of stainless steel, and engraving can be used to create extra-durable markings that allow manufacturers to trace their devices. For medical device manufacturers in the United States, traceability and post-production monitoring are legally mandated processes that can be facilitated by laser engraving, but it is important to understand the limitations of this technology. Laser engraving makes deep cuts into the surface of materials and the edges of those cuts can be abrasive to surgical gloves in the healthcare environment. If a medical device will be handled by someone with surgical gloves on, it is important to ensure that the engraved marking will not come into contact with any protective glove.
Some keyboards are manufactured with the letters engraved on the keys – these can also be abrasive to gloves or trap airborne particles that become modes of transmission for germs. Use shallower cuts for devices that will be used in healthcare environments to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
3. Use Many Laser Passes, Not Just One
You might be able to create laser engravings by slowing the laser down by a lot and programming it for just one pass over the design, but this method is not recommended. If you try to remove too much material at once using a laser, you’ll notice that a waste product known as slag accumulates in the razor-thin lines of the engraving. Not only is this dirty, but it ruins the contrast in the final product. To avoid this, make sure that each line of your design is engraved with multiple laser passes at a moderate power. You can still decrease the marking speed to help make cuts deeper.
4. Understand How to Design for Laser Engraving on Stainless Steel
Designing for a technical application like laser engraving requires unique considerations that may not be present in some of your other work as a graphic or product designer. When you open your preferred graphic design program, it is important that you “begin with the end in mind” and take steps from the outset to prepare your image or design for an accurate and aesthetic transfer to laser engraving. For starters, designers need to make use of vector files, a special file type that is used to communicate design features between a graphic design program and the laser engraving machine’s internal computer.
5. Use Less Expensive Materials for Testing
Whether you’re laser engraving jewelry for your art store, a gift for someone special, or for industrial applications, it is important that you test laser settings before creating an engraving on the desired materials. Testing allows you to experiment with different equipment settings for your laser cutting machine and determine what settings will produce the lines and markings that you want for the final piece. If you’re laser engraving an expensive stainless steel product like a powder-finished water bottle or a medical device, you can purchase cheaper sheets of stainless steel to do your material testing instead of wasting your expensive product on testing the laser.
6. Customize, Configure, Calibrate
All of the guides you could ever read online about laser engraving stainless steel would never prepare you for your first laser engraving project. That’s because every laser engraving machine is different. There are different types of lasers, different systems for directing the laser at the materials, different settings, and even different software used to program the many brands and types of laser engravers. You may read that a power setting of 100 should be used for a specific project, but never realize that on your machine, a setting of 65 actually produces a cleaner line. You should always assume that the person writing a guide has never used your specific machine before – that’s how important it is to test, configure and calibrate your laser engraving machine for each new project.
7. Be Aware of the Risks and Take Precautions
Like all industrial processes, there are inherent risks associated with laser engraving onto stainless steel. While laser etching with plastic or acrylics can produce harmful fumes, laser engraving typically will not produce fumes when working with stainless steel. A real concern, however, is what happens to steel particulate matter that is released into the air during engraving. The laser cuts material away from the surface of the steel, including chromium and nickel particles that can be measured in microns. Wearing a protective mask, using a fume hood, or using a laser engraver with a covered work area can help ensure that these particles are not inhaled.
8. Understand the Limits of Engraving on Stainless Steel
Laser engraving produces deeper and longer-lasting markings compared to laser etching, but the designs must typically be more linear and less detailed. If you are creating complex designs, it is best to set up your laser engraving machine for laser etching and use less laser power and more passes to produce a richer image with more contrasting elements. Laser engraving’s best applications with stainless steel are for serial numbers, date codes, manufacturing lots and batch numbers for industrial parts.
9. Use Rubbing Alcohol and a Bristle Brush to Remove any Residue
Once you’ve finished your laser engraving, you’ll want to spend some time going over the surface with simple materials to help ensure a polished finish. Use a small amount of rubbing alcohol and either a sponge or a plastic bristle brush to clean the freshly engraved surface, removing any imperfections or leftover slag from the surface.
We hope you enjoyed our compilation of tips and advice for laser engraving on stainless steel. This versatile material has some limitations but is highly suitable for many applications in both art and industry. Good luck with your next project!