Answered on this page:
- How is metal used for laser etching projects?
- Is laser etching better than chemical etching for metals?
- How does laser etching metal work?
- What metals work with laser etching?
If you’re looking to etch a unique marking onto any kind of metal in 2018, you need to make laser etching your number-one choice to get the best results. While other etching methods for metals do exist, laser etching promises to deliver high-quality markings on a versatile range of products. The process is also cost-efficient for small businesses and large manufacturers and can be done with minimal cost to the environment.
This article details the benefits of using a laser etching machine for metal – we’ll explain how laser etching metal works, how it differs from some other common methods of etching, and why it’s the best method on the market for getting the results that you want.
How Does Laser Etching Work?
Laser etching is very similar to laser engraving, a process where the laser beam actually removes the surface of the material to create an image that we can see. Laser engraving cuts deep into materials – between 2/100 and 1/8 of an inch deep in most cases – and is an excellent means of creating a marking on an object that will experience high wear-and-tear, as the deep engravings will not easily feed.
Laser etching is based on making shallower cuts – typically just 0.001 inches deep – that change the reflective properties of a surface and create contrasting text or images. Laser etching is effective for metals like stainless steel where the surface finish is readily distinguishable from the metal underneath. This ensures that even a shallow etching will provide enough contrast to yield a distinct marking, whether graphic or textual.
Metals are Highly Versatile for Laser Etching Applications
Manufacturers and artists that work with metals and the laser-etching process benefit from the huge possibilities for creativity that come with this versatile application. Laser etching can be used on all different types of metals, including brass, laser-etching anodized aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, and the list goes on. Makers also never find themselves limited by the size or shape of the object that they want to laser etch, as the process works with objects of all shapes and sizes – so long as they fit under a laser etching machine.
That means that even curved or completely round objects can be etched with the utmost precision and contrast.
The versatility of laser etching goes beyond just the materials available for use. Laser etching incorporates software-based designs, meaning that graphics and text of any size and shape can be transferred onto the metal. While other etching methods face limitations in terms of what kinds of designs can be used, laser-etched designs are only limited by your ability to create them in your chosen design software. If you’re not sure how to design effectively for laser etching, you can purchase a design from someone else, or have one created for you.
Versatility is so important for manufacturers that laser etching is the marking method of choice for industries like automobile manufacturing and aerospace. Even the banking sector, security companies, and government agencies are beginning to adopt laser etching as a means of marking inventory and providing an added layer of security and identification for key items.
Laser Etching Metal is Cost Effective
For manufacturers that are required to mark their products with individualized bar-codes for traceability, to communicate important information to the end user, or to satisfy other requirements, laser etching is one of the most cost-effective methods of consistently manufacturing precision parts. Let’s look at some other options for metal marking in an industrial context and see the differences:
Stamping – Manufacturers can use a metal press to create the desired markings in the parts that they manufacture. Unfortunately, stamping is always accompanied by significant tooling and machining costs, and once a stamp is created it can be difficult to change. This method could be cost-effective over the (very) long-term, but for most makers, it’s not versatile enough to justify the initial investment.
Water Jetting – This process uses a high-pressure jet of water, sometimes accompanied by a more abrasive substance, to cut markings into materials as strong as aluminum or even granite. Laser etching does the same job with better precision and versatility, and without the tooling and setup costs (or the water bill).
Chemical Etching – Chemical etching produces similar results to laser-etching but has quite a different cost profile. Etching parts with acidic chemicals means establishing a wastewater filtration system, creating stencils for each marking, and purchasing the required chemicals on an ongoing basis. Not only is the process less environmentally friendly than laser marking, but makers can face serious liability issues if anything goes wrong with disposing of the wasted chemicals into public water systems.
In contrast, laser etching typically yields the lowest-cost part marking option, requiring just a power outlet, space to put the laser, and the parts to be parked. That means no tooling, no machining, no expensive chemicals, and no liability issues.
Laser Etched Metals are Highly Durable
The best manufacturers understand that it isn’t just their products that need to withstand the test of time, it’s also their etched bar-codes and other features that ensure the products are easy to trace and identify through their life cycle. Many industrially manufactured parts will be put to the test during routine operation – they may be exposed to chemicals, wind and rain, or ultra-hot temperatures that would melt plastic.
When you use a laser-etching machine to mark metals, you can expect a high durable marking that can withstand the most extreme conditions and still be read by a bar-code scanner, RFID reader, or other inventory tracking tool.
Laser Etching Creates High-Quality Markings
The most important distinction between laser etching and other types of industrial marking methods is the consistent quality that manufacturers can expect with laser marking systems. A laser engraving machine is computer-controlled, meaning that it comes programmed to deliver extreme accuracy. While mechanical processes will always produce some errors and chemical etching relies on marking placement and variable absorption rate of the chemical solutions in use, laser etching technology can be relied on to deliver near-100% consistency in markings.
If you are using laser etching to affix markings to an expensive part, or on expensive materials like titanium alloy or stainless steel, there is nothing worse than having to throw out non-conforming items because they were marked incorrectly.
Laser Etching is Environmentally Friendly
If you’re looking for a way to mark your latest project that’s also environmentally friendly, you should look no further than laser etching for all of your needs – a process that gets the best results without using any consumables.
Our galvo laser systems simply plug into an electrical outlet, take input from design files stored in a computer, and etch high-precision text and images into a metal of your choice, generating little or no waste throughout the process. While other methods require extensive tooling and machining, or even dumping toxic chemicals down the drain, laser etching allows virtually anyone to design and mark metal objects of their choice with minimal environmental impact.
Laser etching is a futuristic technology, and it’s no wonder that representatives from every industry are lining up to find out how they can take advantage of laser etching to mark their products. From the banks, security companies and government agencies that want to mark their property with unique security features, to the medical device manufacturers that affix CE markings to show regulatory compliance and traceability, to artisans that use laser etching to create customized gifts, there are so very many reasons why you should use a laser etching machine for metal.