Can you Laser Etch Aluminum?

Aluminum is a common metal used in both domestic and industrial applications due to its corrosion resistance, reflectivity, impermeability, electrical conductivity, and lightweight quality. Aluminum comes in two main forms – natural aluminum and anodized aluminum.

Fiber lasers are the best machines for etching natural and anodized aluminum. Diode Lasers and CO2 Lasers can etch natural aluminum when it is coated with a paint or a marking spray like Cermark. A 10W Diode Laser and a 60W CO2 Laser can directly etch anodized aluminum.

For more information on how to use a marking spray when engraving metals with a CO2 Laser read the following article.

Difference between Laser Etching and Laser Engraving:

Laser etching is a subset of laser engraving. In laser etching, heat from the laser causes the material to melt at the focal point. As the melted material expands, a raised mark is created.

The laser etching depth cannot exceed 0.001″. Unlike marking and engraving, laser etching changes the surface finish of the material. When done correctly, it can improve contrast.

The process of laser engraving involves the use of a laser beam to remove some material from a surface, leaving behind a cavity that reveals an image to the eye. The engraved image can also be felt by hand.

A deeper mark can be achieved by repeating the passes. Laser engraving is viewed as a subset of laser marking, but it is the most ideal option for those looking to create some personalized or custom items for sentimental or commercial reasons.

What Laser is best for Laser Etching Natural and Anodized Aluminum

Fiber laser is the best option for laser etching both natural and anodized aluminum. Fiber laser engravers are among the most advanced tools available today. They can work on inorganic (metal) and organic (non-metal) materials to create engravings and other markings that meet any aesthetic, practical, or commercial need.

What Laser is best for Etching Anodized Aluminum

If your main application is etching anodized aluminum then you have two options to consider. Either a Diode Laser or a CO2 Laser. Let’s discuss each one below.

Semiconductor lasers are diode lasers. When a current is passed through a semiconductor, light is emitted, which can be used for various purposes. They are more cost effective than a CO2 Laser.

CO2 Laser engraving machines use a gas-filled tube with mirrors on either end. One mirror is reflective, and the other lets plenty of light through. Light is generated by passing electric current through nitrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and Hydrogen.

So which one should you get?

The choice between the two is rather easy. Diode lasers are more affordable, smaller, more robust, and much easier to use than fiber lasers. This makes them ideal for part time use or if you just want to take up laser engraving as a hobby. That being said it would be possible to run a small business with a high end diode laser like the Makeblock xTool.

Using a CO2 laser is more appropriate for professional purposes. CO2 lasers can be expensive to own and operate, so one should only use a CO2 laser if you are looking at running a full time laser engraving business.

Final thoughts

Etching on aluminum is a fun and versatile process. The key is knowing the type of material you are working with, choosing the correct type of laser and adjusting your laser parameters appropriately. If you have good material and the correct laser engraver, you will get the best results.