What is laser engraving, and exactly how precise is laser engraving? These may seem like basic questions, but the reality is that laser engravers are highly complex instruments with a rich history and myriad uses. Here, we’re going to go over a basic introduction spelling out what laser engravers are; then, we’ll discuss their uses; and finally, we’ll talk about their levels of precision and functionality.
Laser engraving is the process of cutting, etching, marking, or engraving hard materials using an extremely concentrated and powerful beam of light, a.k.a. a laser. The concentrated energy and the mechanisms within the laser engraving machine calibrate it to make precise incisions possible. Laser engravers can engrave many hard surfaces, including plastic, metal, wood, and glass (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list).
When it comes to a high precision laser, computer automation is what makes it viable. The laser itself needs a place to go, a compass, as it were, to guide it to make the correct patterns. Software with pre-programmed instructions and designs enables the laser engraver to engrave with precision.
Factors Affecting Precision
In addition to the automation component, there are several factors that can influence an engraver’s precision. They are:
- The focused beam spot size.
- The thermal control, the technology of the optical system, and its quality.
- How the laser power is transmitted through the laser engraving machine.
- The accelerative capacity of the CNC Laser Engraver. This part of the laser engraver is the computer numerical control component. This is the mechanical analog of the software that goes into the laser engraver’s functionality.
- The human factor: how proficient the technicians are when assembling the engraver.
- Different types of machines: Fiber laser engravers, CO2 Laser machines, and Diode Lasers are all very precise but of course, depend on the build quality of the machine.
There are also variations in precision according to the different laser engraving methods.
CO2 laser engraving, for instance, has several advantages and works highly efficiently and with a high beam quality. CO2 lasers are gas-powered, electronically engendering an impeccably concentrated gas mixture that leaves permanent markings on the different materials they engrave.
A fiber laser, on the other hand, uses compact beams of energy that are 100x more intense than those from CO2 engravers. They also have a smaller focal diameter. Both of these qualities, in essence, work together to make a more precise laser.
A fiber laser can etch incredibly detailed patterns into any metal in just ten seconds. The below YouTube Video explains everything we need to know about fiber lasers and how they work in slow motion.
Our Fiber Laser Engraver Buying Guide Can Be Found Here.
How Accurate is Laser Engraving
Laser engraving offers unparalleled precision and accuracy, making it possible to engrave intricate and detailed patterns on a variety of materials. The laser engraving software can exactly regulate the laser beam, which makes it perfect for engraving intricate and small designs. Even the smallest material surfaces can precisely be engraved with detailed graphics thanks to a resolution of up to 1,000 ppi (or 39 pixels per mm).
There are a few important methods you can use to improve the precision of your laser engraver.
The first one is the most intuitive: cut a sample piece first. This is the human element. You can recalibrate based on the results of your sample.
The second is to optimize the power of the laser, as power can affect precision. The higher the power of the laser, the deeper the engraving will be. This equation also applies for the speed of the laser. Higher speeds when laser cutting can induce more accurate results.
The third is upkeep and maintenance! Just like how we mentioned maintenance as being a key way to reduce the noise levels of laser engravers , maintenance keeps all of the parts – particularly those responsible for the engraver’s precision – in working order. This way, there won’t be any substantial variations to how effectively they cut.
To go more in-depth about how maintenance can affect the precision of laser engravers, we offer the following basic wisdom: preventative maintenance is the key to their success.
How to do this? Well, one particularly notable feature of most modern engravers is the maintenance options programmed into their controllers. Keep note of how many hours you use the engraver, and clean and maintain it in line with that frequency.
By its very nature, laser engraving is a precise art and science. That is because whatever method you use to engrave, you will be using a highly concentrated energetic beam of light whose precision is dictated by the internal mechanics and programming of the engraver. Highly concentrated energetic beams, particularly powerful and fast ones, will be precise.
There are several factors affecting the precision of laser engraving. These range from the beam size to the thermal controls of the optic mechanism and many others.
Measure the focal distance. The focal distance is the measurement between your engraving plane or the item you’re engraving and the laser lens. The difference between a sharp engraving and a blurry engraving can be determined by the offset between these spots.
You can improve the precision through the human element of recalibrating after cutting a sample piece, optimizing the power and speed of the engraver, and performing regular upkeep/maintenance.
The best precision when laser engraving will depend on the sort of material being processed and the appropriate laser power. E.g. Typically, paper can be engraved with less power than wood. With acrylic, low power can be used to engrave a surface that is consistently homogeneous and not overly deep. Higher power also enables quicker work when processing engraving materials.