Discovered in 1791 in Great Britain, Titanium was named after the Titans of Greek mythology presumably because of its unique robust and yet aesthetically appealing qualities. Its excellent thermal and mechanical properties make it useful for a number of applications in aerospace, sports, medical, and jewelry industries.
As the use of titanium for aesthetic purposes continues to rise, the question that most laser engraving enthusiasts are asking is, Can you laser etch black titanium? And the answer is yes you can! However, you will need a good laser machine that was specially made for handling tough metals like titanium. I recommend the fiber laser marker (Amazon link) because it was built to handle metals with high melting points and high hardness.
What is titanium?
Titanium or Ti is a silver-gray metal that belongs to Group 4 (IVb) on the periodic table. It is strong, lightweight, and has a low-corrosion index. This is why it is widely used as an alloy for many aircraft parts. 0.44% of the Earth’s crust actually contains titanium. For this reason, it is distributed practically everywhere – in rocks, clay, sand, plants and animals, meteorites, deep-sea dredgings, natural water, and stars.
Even though titanium was discovered in the 1700s, it wasn’t until 1910 that the pure form of titanium was prepared in the laboratory by Mathew A. Hunter. He achieved this by using sodium to reduce titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4) in an airtight steel cylinder. This paved way for more experiments that led to the commercial production of pure titanium available to the world now.
Pure titanium is less dense than both aluminum and iron. This means it is ductile and can be polished to give off a high luster. It also has considerably low thermal and electrical conductivity. Unlike iron and steel which are highly paramagnetic, titanium isn’t strongly attracted to magnets.
Commercial uses of titanium
Aside from jewelry application, titanium is mainly used as an alloy to other metal and non-metals. The reason for this is that it is corrosion-resistant. Even after three years of being immersed in a body of water, this one-of-a-kind metal will not catch any rust. This is because it forms a passive oxide film that protects the metal from the elements. It is also hard and refractory, much like transition metals – nickel and iron. All these properties combine to make titanium a powerful metal utilized in the manufacture of spacecraft, aircraft, ships, and missiles. Because it doesn’t react with bone and tissue, it is also used to make prosthetic devices. Further, titanium is used to dioxide steel and also reduce the carbon content in stainless steel, refine grain size in aluminum, and produce hardening in copper.
Titanium for jewelry
Jewelers love titanium because of three things- durability, strength, and beauty. If you are shopping for a beautiful wedding or engagement ring, this metal fits the bill. It is also quite affordable compared to its gold and diamond counterparts. I have rounded up a few reasons that make titanium a super metal for jewelry applications.
- Appearance: in its natural form, titanium is light grey. When polished, the result is a stunning shine that is eye-catching and sleek. You can also have it textured or go for a matte finish. In general, titanium rings are lighter than tungsten and steel rings, and they are also more matte than gold and platinum rings.
- It can be resized: when shopping for a ring, it is important to buy one that allows for resizing. Over time, your finger grow smaller or larger. To keep your lovely ring, you will want it resized. Most titanium rings, especially grade 2 pure titanium can easily be enlarged. A certified titanium manufacturer should be able to machine the ring and create a larger bore size.
- Durability: Titanium does not break, bend, or melt no matter the conditions exposed to it.
- Engraving possibilities: what is a jewelry piece if it can’t be etched or engraved to make it more custom and personal? Titanium has all it takes to be laser engraved. Sure, engraving it is not as easy as it is on gold but it is very possible. As a matter of fact, the end result will blow your mind.
- It can be cut off: because of its high tensile properties, many people are of the opinion that titanium cannot be cut off from the finger. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In case of an emergency, your ring will be carefully cut off using standard emergency equipment without harming your finger.
- Low-maintenance: titanium rings are the easiest to care for. All you have to do is regularly clean your ring with soap and water at home. You can also go ahead and polish it with a soft cloth.
- Style variations: when it comes to styling titanium rings, the options are endless. You can choose plain or intricate designs; those decorated with gold; bands with gemstone settings and diamond embellishments; or add color to make them pop (purple, blue, pink, green, red, and black colors are available). If you don’t fancy a round design, you can opt for a square shape.
- It doesn’t scratch easily: gold and silver are soft metals that easily scratch off quite easily. This is why messages engraved on them fade over time. Titanium, on the other hand, is incredibly tough and hard to scratch.
- Comfort: being lightweight, putting on a titanium band doesn’t compromise on comfort. If you are not accustomed to putting on jewelry, this metal will put a smile on your face.
- No green finger: developing a green patch around the finger after wearing a ring for long periods of time is a real nightmare. This always happens if you purchase rings made from inexpensive metals that react with the acids in your skin to create the green stains. Thankfully, titanium is a high-quality metal that doesn’t react with the skin no matter how long you put your ring on.
How to laser etch black titanium
The laser etching technology has given jewelers a chance to add personal messages, symbols, names, and images in both the exterior and interior of a titanium ring. The messages often bear a dark grey hue if the metal has a light grey color and light gray hue if etching on black titanium. In most instances, the engraving is applied on the inside of the ring to keep the message both hidden and close. Compared to other marking techniques, laser marking is an advanced technology that ensures high-repeatability, non-contact working, high automation, and high flexibility.
Laser etching essentially melts the surface of the material using a laser beam. As soon as the material re-solidifies, the visible markings applied will become visible.
Requirements for laser etching titanium
As mentioned before, titanium is a great material for making rings. Whether you are looking for a wedding band, engagement ring, or a casual beauty ring, this metal never disappoints. If you have a knack for the laser, perhaps you can experiment with titanium. Here are some of the things you’ll need:
- A laser machine: as is the case with other laser etching projects, you need a quality laser machine. Since the markings don’t run deep, a low-power laser will get the job done. As a rule of thumb, choose one with a power rating of at least 60W. Anything less than that may leave an unpleasant shadow on your result. Here is a list of the 6 best laser engravers that would work well with titanium.
- Editing software: to create your image, you’ll need editing software of some sort. This can be something as simple as Adobe Photoshop or CorelDraw. If you are pressed for money, take advantage of the free alternatives including Gimp and Inkscape.
- Physical supplies: the job won’t be complete without a few supplies such as an etching spray, rubbing alcohol, goggles, gloves, masking tape, and a cloth.
The laser engraving process
Before you roll up your sleeves, be sure to check your machine to guarantee it is closed. You don’t want the beam to jump to the wrong place and cause fires or injuries. Additionally, the spray coating should be dry prior to working with the laser.
- The design phase
First and foremost, you need to create the image to be etched on your ring. This can be a vector image or photo. It should be grayscale or black and white depending on your laser. The editing software should give you an idea of how the outcome will be. Make any changes as desired on the software. When satisfied, proceed to save the work on using software that is friendly to your laser.
- Metal preparation
The next step is the preparation of the titanium for etching. First, put on your gloves and clean the material using rubbing alcohol and a cloth. If you do not have rubbing alcohol, you get it on Amazon for less than $20. Here is a link to a good one (Amazon link). This step will help you to get rid of any grease and dirt from the surface which could greatly reduce the quality of your work. When the metal is clean and dry, go ahead and apply etching spray. Use masking tape to mark the ring’s borders then evenly apply the spray twice or thrice. For the best results, ensure the previous layer is completely dry before applying the next one.
- Laser etching titanium
Power your laser in preparation for etching. Wear your safety goggles for this step. Refer to this article to see why this is important. Once you have turned the laser on, place your titanium material, and adjust the laser’s height and focus as needed. If you are working with a curved material, it is going to be a little tricky but doable. All you have to do is find both the highest and lowest points and adjust the laser in the middle. Here is a more detailed guide on how to laser engrave uneven surfaces
After adjusting the focus of the laser comes the exciting part of the process – etching. Begin by loading your image to the laser’s software. Set the speed of the laser to the lowest mark and the power, to the maximum and run the laser. You can test it on a different material to make sure your settings are perfect before you do it on your titanium.
With the laser etching phase done, remove your titanium from the laser and clean it using rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth.
To sum it up, laser etching titanium is very possible as long as you do it right. Start by getting a reliable laser engraver and then make sure to follow the manufacturer guidelines when setting up the engraving job and you should be good.