Laser engraving on metal or acrylic is relatively easy but laser engraving on wood is a whole new ball game. Wood, a natural material, has a unique organic composition. This explains why you will get different results on different types of wood when laser engraving. In fact, you can get different results when engraving the same type of wood because of the inconsistencies in the composition of wood. One of the challenges of laser engraving on wood is the inability to create visual contrast. Many a time, the engraved parts bear the same contrast with the rest of the wood. This doesn’t do justice to the engraved parts. Thankfully, you can darken your engraving and have desirable results in the end.
How to darken laser engraving on wood
The standard approach to darkening laser engraving on wood is using a paint or color fill. People have used this strategy for centuries with some level of success. However, over time, the paint or color migrates to the wood veins and canals creating a hot graphic mess. To counter this challenge, darkening projects utilize liquid shoe polish. This is awesome if you need a higher contrast. Simply apply the polish using a foam applicator over the wood surface. If you have a lighter-colored wood such as bamboo, hickory, alder, maple, and ash, the best thing to do would be to run the laser out of the focus. This minimizes the vaporization of the wooden material and leaves greater results behind. If these methods aren’t forthcoming, use a color-filling method where you spray a clear paint to block the veins then spray a darker paint afterward.
Best methods to darken laser engraving on wood
There are three main strategies that are used to darken laser engraving on wood. These are;
- Paint filling
- Using liquid or shoe polish
Let us have a look at each of these in greater detail.
Paint filling is as straightforward as it sounds. It involves the application of color or paint to darken engraved parts on the wood. Here is a detailed instruction of doing this:
- To avoid a messy and unattractive job, begin by sealing the entire wood surface with masking tape.
- Proceed to laser engrave on your wood. Adjust the laser settings to get the right depth of the engraving. Don’t be afraid to engrave one piece over and over again until you get the perfect result.
- Apply varnish of the same color to the gutter and let it dry well. You can skip this step if your tape becomes too wet.
- Using a small brush, fill the laser engraving with color or paint filling. Any acrylic paint will get you home.
- Finally, peel the masking tape to reveal a dark engraving. Please note that the paint might still bleed at this point. If it does, sand the surface with fine sandpaper for better outlines.
As mentioned before, color or paint filling is slowly taking a backseat in many laser engraving projects done on wood. The canals and veins of solid products always get in the way. Even if you are an expert in using sandpaper, you might never really achieve a good outcome.
Use of liquid shoe polish
If you are working with darker wood types such as walnut, liquid shoe polish works like charm. This is because it gives a darker contrast despite the deep color of the wood. Plus, it is pretty easy on your wallet. Needless to say, less-expensive liquid shoe polish is actually the very best for this project as it is easier to clean up. Use a foam applicator to spread your polish on the surface of the wood. Even if the polish migrates, it is less likely to show. If you don’t have the liquid polish, go ahead and use the paste. It will achieve the same results only that it is a real challenge cleaning it with a towel or rag.
A good trick to get a good job when darkening laser engraving on lighter-colored wood is to run the laser out of focus. Even with the same batch of wood plaques, you are bound to get different results. For example, if you embark on engraving ten plaques of maple, bamboo, maple, or alert, only five of them might turn out well. What then will you do about the rest of them? This is where running the laser out of focus comes in.
Essentially, when you run your laser off the focus, you minimize the vaporization of your material and leave sufficient residue behind. You also increase the size of the laser dot and ultimately have more overlap in your graphics. Furthermore, when you run an additional pass on your laser, you improve its legibility.
This is often the last card to pull when all others have failed. Back in the day, people masked the surface of the wood (usually light-colored) using a transfer tape or paper premask. They would then proceed to engrave into the wood past the mask after which they would spray paint with dark brown or black paint. Once the paint was dry, they would then remove the masking. Although the method worked, it still presented the challenge of paint migration. To avoid this, the current technologies spray clear paint before applying the darker one.
Tips and tricks to darken laser engraving on wood
If you are interested in creating contrast when engraving on wood, there are a few things you should do to achieve top-notch results.
- Go for lighter-colored wood
Dark wood is good for a number of projects but when it comes to laser engraving, lighter wood always carries the day. The truth is that the base color of wood goes a long way in determining the end-result of the wood. It is therefore important to consider the color of your wooden material for a good outcome. Basically, darker wood obscures the laser engraving marks making text or photos hard to recognize. Lighter wood, on the other hand, develops an attractive deep and dark etching giving the appearance of well-defined engravings for better visibility.
- Consider the resin content
The resin or sap content is a wood parameter that determines if your wood will burn darker or lighter. If you want a dark burn, go for wood with a high resin content. Examples include Alder or Cherry wood. Otherwise, if you want to go light for a certain application, stick with wood with a lower resin content. The simplest way to know the resin content of your wood is to use a wood laser machine. Engrave your company’s logo over a specific spot that won’t have an effect on the personalization of the product. This test lets you test your product and figure out the lightness or darkness of its burn.
- Avoid wood with too much streaking
Although streaks on wood look fantastic in furniture, they are not the best when it comes to laser engraving. This is because they steal attention away from the actual engraving. When looking for wood to laser engrave, your best bet is to go for the one with minimal streaks and those with a smooth and consistent grain.
- The best species
Finally, the choice of wood species to use matters. The market is filled with a vast collection of them. If you are a newbie in the industry, you might want to go for those that are easy to work with. The best is Alder because it ticks all the boxes. It has a light color, minimal streaking, and an awesome supple texture. Cherry comes at a close second being light-colored and high in resin content. However, it has quite a high level of streaking but still passes for good species for laser engraving projects. Maple is also excellent for starters since it is light in color and has a light streaking. Once you master your craft, you can switch to other species such as bamboo, plywood, pine, and hardwood.
Products you can make laser engraving projects on wood
Wood is an amazing décor item and there are endless possibilities when it comes to things you can engrave on wood for both aesthetical and functional purposes. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Photo engravings – a photoengraving is a creative and timeless idea of preserving memories. Engrave your family’s photos or memories or mahogany plaques and line them along your walls for a better commemoration of your past.
- Inlays – a laser system lets you cut and engrave into the wood for the creation of inlays for your awards, cabinets, guitars, just to mention a few.
- Personalization – if you are in business, laser engraving on wood can help you personalize your products to creates a personal and unique feel for your customers. These include phone cases, skateboards, knife handles, and more. You can even convert these into perfect gifts for your friends or family members.
- Signs/signage – coffee shop or boutique owners can also make use of laser engraved wood signs to attract customers into their shops.
- Key chains – if you have a knack for rectangular, engraved key chains, go ahead and make this a DIY project. Write your family’s name there and enjoy the personal feel it gives.
- Photo albums – apart from photo engraving, you can also create a wooden album with some type of text or photo on it.
- Photo frames – wooden photo frames are beautiful décor items in our homes. Set yourself apart by laser engraving your frames with some text or logo that reflects the beauty of family or friendship.
Unlike metal or acrylic, wood is a challenging material to create contrast on when doing laser engraving. It is characterized by inconsistencies not to mention the veins and canals that ever threaten to bleed the color out. However, there are a few strategies that bypass this obstacle and offer tremendous results in the end. If you choose the right wood species, the best laser engraver and follow the tips shared in this article, you should be able to create breathtaking wood laser engravings.