Does laser engraving wear off?

The introduction of laser engravers has made it possible to engrave almost any type of material with custom designs. Almost everyone nowadays owns a piece of jewelry or some decor item that has been laser engraved. Polishing of rings and other jewelry items is common practice but the question now is – will cleaning engraved items affect the engraved patterns?

Does laser engraving wear off with normal use and washing? The answer is yes and no. Laser engraving makes indelible marks on the item through the production of a lot of energy targeted at a very small area. This focused energy leaves a permanent mark by melting, heating, vaporizing or burning the top layer of the material. However, the permanence of laser engraving depends on the material used, the depth of the engraving, what the engraved item is used for and how often the items are polished.

In other words, it is possible to have one laser engraved item that lasts a lifetime while another loses the engraved patterns after a couple of years. Let us look at the factors that influence the longevity of laser engravings on jewelry. 

Factors that determine if laser engraving will wear off with normal use

Ring Engraving
  • The material used

Laser engraving can be done on different kinds of materials and the material used will obviously have a significant impact on the longevity of the engravings. For instance, engravings on gold and other softer metals will wear off faster than on tougher metals like tungsten.

Even if you make deep cuts into the material in a bid to make them more durable, the engravings cannot outlast the material itself. It is okay to use softer metals for jewelry and other accessories but if the item will be subjected to lots of friction, then it is best to go with tougher metals.

  • The depth of the engraving

The deeper the engraving, the more durable it will be. However, how deep the laser engraving goes varies based on the material used and the customization needs of a customer. For instance, if you are using acrylic, the laser engravings can go to a depth of 0.25mm. Wood engravings can go deeper like say 0.5mm deep. Going too deep than the material can handle will damage it.

That said, some materials like wood can handle deeper engravings but specialized hardware might be required for that. When buying a laser engraver the manufacturer will have recommended settings and guidelines on how deep you should go on different materials.

If your application is wood and acrylic engraving then check out this article I wrote on the best laser engravers under $500.00.
If you intend engraving metals and not sure what machine would be best then here is a link to a article I wrote on the best fiber laser engravers.
  • what the engraved item is used for

If your engraved item is exposed to lots of friction, it will wear off quicker than if it wasn’t as much exposed to friction. For instance, an engraving on the inner part of the ring will not wear off irrespective of the type of metal used.

The only way for the engravings on the inside to wear off easily is if your finger was rougher and tougher than the metal used to make your ring. Since that is unheard of, engravings on the inside of a ring will last as long as the ring does.  But if you were to wear the ring as a pendant on your necklace, the engravings could wear off over the years due to the friction between the chain and the ring.

Related Post: A Complete Guide On Learning How To Engrave Jewelry
  • Cleaning and polishing

Polishing and cleaning of jewelry and other engraved items can also affect the longevity of the engravings. There are two important tips for cleaning and polishing without causing too much damage to your engravings.

Firstly, do not polish jewelry items too frequently. Only polish and clean your items when it is really necessary rather than doing it as a pastime activity. Secondly, do not use an abrasive polish. The reason why jewelers do a great job of polishing their client’s rings without damaging the engravings is that they only use nonabrasive polish.

Mistakes to avoid when making laser engraved items

As we have seen, laser engraved items can last a lifetime if done the right way and if the items are handled properly. Additionally, there are some mistakes that you can make which will impact the quality and longevity of your engraved items. The following are some common mistakes in laser engraving and how best to avoid them. 

  • Burning through fabric

Before you start engraving fabric, make sure you know which fabric is best for engraving as well as how much temperature it can withstand. Canvas and denim can withstand the greatest temperatures and would, therefore, be ideal for engraving. It would be a gross mistake to start engraving canvas and then switch to another less hearty fabric without changing the settings on your laser engraver.

Before engraving on delicate fabrics, set your engraver at almost 100% speed and use very low power (10% or less). In fact, you can run several tests until you get the settings that produce the best results for your fabric. 

If you are doing a direct-to-garment engraving, make sure to reduce the dots per inch (DPI) because a higher DPI will result in the removal of more material. Engraving at a lower DPI will ensure that the laser only vaporizes the top layer without necessarily burning through the fabric. On average, fabrics can be engraved at 150-300 DPI.

  • Using the wrong acrylic

If you use the wrong acrylic, you will not get the characteristic of frosty white engraving. What most beginners do not realize is that there are actually two types of acrylics that should never be used interchangeably.

Cast Acrylic is a derivative of liquid acrylic. It is cast by pouring molten acrylic into a mold. This is the best type of acrylic to use for plaques, signs, and other related products because it easily achieves the frosty white engraving acrylic effect.

The second type of Acrylic is extruded acrylic. This acrylic usually comes in sheet form. Unlike cast acrylic, machines make the sheets so it doesn’t go through a mold. As a result, it can easily be mass-produced and is, therefore, less expensive. When laser engraved, this acrylic will cut very smoothly and yield a flame-polished edge. Extruded acrylic is not a good choice for laser engraving but you can use it for laser cutting.

Cast acrylic is more durable and that is another reason why it’s good for plaques and signs. Choosing the right acrylic to use therefore depends on what kind of finish you want to have and what purpose your finish product will serve.

Using the same settings for different woods

Wood is the most user-friendly material for laser engraving because it not only works well for laser cutting but laser engraving as well. However, some people make the rooky mistake of assuming that all types of wood can be engraved using the same laser engraver settings. Just like when engraving any other material, use a stronger laser when engraving thicker wood and a less powerful laser when engraving lighter wood.

Different types of woods have different grain densities. For instance, Oaks and other types of hardwoods have large veins while maple and other types of softwoods have smaller veins. This is why softwoods produce a more uniform appearance as opposed to hardwoods.  It is, therefore, a good idea to stick to softwoods when laser engraving. Common softwoods for engraving include maple, walnut, alder, and cherry.

RELATED POST: The best laser engraver for wood
  • Not cleaning your laser engraving machine

A clean laser engraver will produce better results than one that is not cleaned regularly. Start by going through the user manual of your laser engraver because the manufacturers typically include important maintenance tips and instructions. As a rule of thumb, check the laser optics regularly and clean any debris as the need arises.

Obviously, how regularly you clean the optics will be determined by how often you use the laser. The optics should be bright and shiny when clean so if you inspect them and find that they are cloudy or have debris on them, it is a telltale sign that it’s time to clean them. A clean laser engraver will help you to achieve better laser engravings which will, in turn, be more durable over time.

For more information on how to clean a laser cutter with a honeycomb bed then check out this article I wrote.

Final Thoughts

So in summary, the longevity of any laser engraving will hugely be determined by the materials used, the technique used as well as the kind of exposure the item gets on the day-to-day usage. Also, avoiding the common mistakes highlighted above can help improve the quality and longevity of the laser engravings.

For best results, always match the best materials with the best laser engraving machines. For more on this, check out our guide on the best laser engravers for small business.

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