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How To Laser Engrave On Metal

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Close up of a laser machine engraving in metal, with sparks flying

Laser engraving is a way of leaving a permanent mark on a material, often metals. Unlike other techniques, when laser engraving, the laser actually removes parts from the surface of the material being worked on. This means you can both see and physically feel the mark left by laser engraving. To find out more about laser engraving and the difference between it and other techniques, read our laser marking, engraving and etching article.

But what sort of things do you need to consider when thinking about laser engraving on metal?

In this article, we’ll explain some common uses of laser engraving, what metals can be laser engraved, and information on the machinery and laser power required for laser engraving.

Common Uses for Laser Engraving On Metal

Laser engraving has a range of uses in many different industries. These applications include:

  • 2D matrix codes
  • Bar codes
  • Branding
  • Designs
  • Graphics
  • Logos
  • Personalisation
  • Pictures
  • Product names/product information
  • Serial numbers/codes
  • UDI medical markings
    (identifiers for specific medical devices)

One industry that laser engraving is particularly useful for is the automotive industry. In the automotive industry, traceability of parts and components is hugely important, particularly parts related to safety.

Identifying marks can be engraved on the components, including product information, manufacturer information and where it was made. If there is a faulty component, the manufacturer or whoever is dealing with the issue can look at the identifiers on the parts, allowing them to find out the component’s identifying codes, when it was manufactured and where the part was produced. This helps with product recalls and warranty decisions.

What are the Benefits of Laser Engraving On Metal?

There are a number of benefits that come with using a laser engraving machine for engraving metal compared to other marking techniques, including:

  • Good looking, clear marking on your metal products and parts
  • Useful for identification and traceability, particularly in the automotive and medical industries
  • Only requires a laser engraving machine - no other tools, chemicals, ink, pastes, or dyes are required
  • Similarly, no tool changes or retooling is required, reducing the time it takes to complete the engraving thanks to the simplicity and speed of the laser engraving machine
  • Reducing tooling costs by reducing mould undercuts - Choosing to leave a flat surface on a moulded item to laser engrave at a later step in a manufacturing process (i.e. after a product has been de-moulded), can also help reduce tooling costs
  • Extremely durable, permanent marking on the metal that can withstand harsh environments, heat, acid and abrasion that might wear down other types of markings
  • An extremely accurate engraving on the metal thanks to the precision of the laser engraving machine
  • No treatment of the metal required before or after the engraving, unlike other marking techniques
  • Easy repeatability and replicability with the laser engraving machine. Perfect when engraving multiple metal parts with the same engraving

Another great benefit is the wide range of metals that can be engraved with a laser engraving machine.

What Type of Metals are Suitable for Laser Engraving?

Due to the nature of laser engraving, it can be used on a huge variety of metals, including:

  • Alloyed steels
  • Aluminium
  • Anodized aluminium
  • Brass
  • Carbides
  • Coated metals
  • Copper
  • Galvanised materials
  • Gold
  • Hardened metals
  • High-speed steels
  • Lead
  • Magnesium
  • Nickel-plated materials
  • Silver
  • Stainless steel
  • Steel (various grades)
  • Titanium
  • Zinc

What Type of Machinery Do You Need To Engrave Metals?

Laser engraving machines equipped with fibre lasers are the best suited laser type for laser engraving, compared to the likes of UV and CO2 lasers.

Fibre lasers are a type of solid-state laser (it uses a solid gain medium) that produces an extremely intense laser beam. This intensity is what makes fibre lasers so well-suited for metal engraving (including coated metals); the high intensity and small focal diameter give it an especially focused beam.

Plus, laser engraving machines that use fibre lasers are typically more compact than other laser machines, whilst offering a highly efficient and dependable laser, making it a great option for engraving metal.

What Power Laser Do You Need To Engrave Metal?

As discussed, you need a certain amount of intensity in order to laser engrave metal. What power laser is required to create this intensity?

The recommended power is at least 50 watts of fibre laser in order to reliably engrave metal, although 25-80 watts may be required depending on the circumstance and the metal being engraved.

Can You Use a Laser To Engrave Onto Round or Cylindrical Objects?

For obvious reasons, a flat surface is far easier to engrave on than a curved one. The laser beam can smoothly move across the flat metal surface evenly. Compare this to engraving on a stationary curved surface, and it may produce distortions and stretched text, lines and images.

Luckily there are attachments that you can add to your laser engraving machine that can combat this if you need to laser engrave on a curved, round, cylindrical or conical metal surface. By using a rotary engraving attachment, the curved object being engraved can be turned and rotated as it is lasered, allowing for engraving without distortions on round surfaces.

Rotary attachments make it relatively easy to engrave most metal objects, no matter the shape.

Laser Classifications and Safety

When laser engraving, it’s important to remember the laser classifications, what they entail and the safety precautions that come with them:

  • Class 1 – Either a low powered laser or a high powered laser that is enclosed for safety. Due to the operation occurring inside this enclosure, the safety risks are lower.
  • Class 4 – Lasers that aren’t enclosed or are integrated within a production line and are therefore more exposed. Due to the operation occurring in a more open environment, more caution is required to maintain safety.

Ink & More Can Help with Your Laser Engraving Needs

Ready to start laser engraving on metal? Get in touch with Inks & More to find out more about our laser engraving machines provided by Lasit and information on what machine is right for you and your needs. What’s more, we’re the sole UK distributor of Lasit laser engraving machinery, so you won’t be able to get their quality machines anywhere else!

Contact us today and start your laser engraving journey.

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