What is fiber laser engraving? Everything you need to know

Fiber Laser Engraving is used to create permanent marks on metals and some industrial plastics. In the engraving process with a Fiber Laser Engraver, a focussed beam of light is supplied through a fiber optic cable and utilized to engrave the surface of the material.

So exactly how does fiber laser engraving work? Well, if you have ever used a lens to start a fire, you probably know that the lens focuses light from the sun and turns it into heat that can cause combustion. Similarly, a fiber laser engraver pumps intense light at the end of the fiber optic cables which then gives a powerful laser beam. This light beam is then used to engrave patterns on different materials.

Read on to find out what a fiber laser engraver can do, what materials are compatible, and how to choose between a Fiber Laser Engraver and a CO2 Laser Engraver.

What is fiber laser engraving

What Can A Fiber Laser Engraver Do?

Fiber laser engravers are well-known for their ability to mark a variety of materials, from metals to industrial plastics, fast and easily. With high-grade industrial fiber laser markers, you may create serial numbers, bar codes, 2D Data Matrix, artwork, and personalization.

A fiber laser has a variety of applications. In fact, most people who buy fiber laser engravers buy them with one use in mind but then eventually branch out into different applications. Here are the 3 most popular uses for fiber lasers.

  • Serializing and barcoding
Fiber Laser Serializing and barcoding

Engraving barcodes and serial numbers directly onto tools and parts is one of the common uses for fiber lasers. Fiber lasers provide high-quality marks which can be read by a barcode scanner. You can use a variety of code structures for serializing including UPC codes, one-dimensional codes, and data matrix codes.

When serializing several parts, you can use the laser engraver with a jig for holding the various parts on the laser bed and then simultaneously serializing them. This eliminates the need for a dedicated operator for switching out of parts.

  • Placing logos on products
Placing Logos on products with fiber laser

If you have a company that is producing high-end products, etching your company logo can help ensure your brand will always be visible to the customer. Laser-engraved logos are better than printed labels because the labels can be removed voluntarily and involuntarily by the customer.

  • Making custom products

Customizing products is another popular use for fiber laser engravers. You can run a very successful business as a laser engraver specializing in custom items. On the industrial level, you can help companies and startups to engrave their logos on their products. Alternatively, you can offer to engrave custom products like wall hangings, jewelry, watches, etc.

You can also cut some thin metals with a 50W Fiber Laser, more information can be found on this link.

How Does A Fiber Laser Engraver Work?

The fiber laser engraver produces a laser beam by pumping very intense light through the fiber optic cables. These fiber optic cables are doped with ytterbium which helps to release the energy in the form of photons. The photons then create a laser beam as they are exiting the fiber optic cable.

The Three Essential Components of a Fiber Laser Engraver:

A fiber laser generates a laser beam that travels via a “doped” fiber optic cable to the beam head using a low-maintenance laser source. Ions from rare earth elements such as ytterbium are present in a doped fiber optic cable. These features improve the fiber’s efficiency and performance. A beam is contained within the beam head.

Fiber Laser marking machines use a low-powered laser beam that does not affect the material’s properties, but instead uses a process called laser coloring on the surface to create high-contrast marks. Fiber laser marking machines can create elaborate text, graphics, or patterns using software such as EzCad.

Which materials are compatible with fiber laser engraving?

Not every material is a good match for fiber laser engraving. For instance, most transparent materials will not work with fiber laser engraving techniques. Instead of engraving them, the beam passes through and engraves the table. You can still work with plastics but must look for ones with some pigmentation and not transparent ones.

Additionally, organic materials are not well suited for fiber laser engraving. Wood, clear glass, leather, clear acrylic, and other fabrics are also transparent to the 1064nm wavelength and would therefore not be ideal for fiber laser engraving. But they can still be engraved – you just need to find the right engraver.

Best materials for fiber laser engraving
Best Materials For Fiber Laser Engraving

The following is a list of materials that are commonly used with fiber laser engravers:

  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Carbide
  • Carbon fiber
  • Carbon Steel
  • Chrome
  • Coated Metals
  • Copper
  • Fiberglass
  • Gold
  • Inconel Metals
  • Metal Plated Ceramics
  • Magnesium
  • Molybdenum
  • Nickel
  • Non-Semiconductor Ceramics
  • Nylon
  • Plastics & Polymers: Such as ABS, Nylon, Delrin, Polypropylene and Polyethylene
  • Rubber
  • Silver
  • Stainless Steel
  • Synthetic Leather
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten

How to use a Fiber Laser Engraver on Non-Compatible Materials

Engraving Glass With Fiber Laser Using Aluminum Backing Plate
Engraving Glass With Fiber Laser Engraver Using Aluminum Backing Plate

Even though not every material is ideal for fiber laser engraving, you can still pull it off with a couple of hacks. Here are some hacks worth trying.

  • To enhance a mark, use oxidizers, foils and paint fills.
  • If you place a metal plate under a transparent material, you will get a mark on it. This is because the fiber wavelength passes through the material and marks the metal plate and then reflects the beam right back to the bottom side of the transparent material.
  • Use a marker to temporarily color a transparent polymer and then do the engraving. You can then use a cleaning agent to remove the coloring and you should have your nicely engraved transparent material.
  • Alternatively, just use an alternative material that is compatible with fiber laser engravers

Types of marks that can be made on a surface

In order to avoid confusion, let’s look at the different types of marks that are typically made on a surface.

  • Ablation

The process by which a surface is removed from an object through vaporization is referred to as ablation. Ablation is usually associated with the etching of anodized metals.

  • Annealing

Annealing is when steel is heated to extreme temperatures and thereafter creating a permanent oxide layer on its surface. Annealing is used when you want to create a high contrast mark on steel without changing the surface finish of the steel. 

  • Color changing

Laser radiation can penetrate some plastics and then get absorbed by the color pigments. The pigments are then modified chemically which leads to a change in the color of the plastic. This technique is often used to modify the colors of plastics without damaging their surfaces.

  • Foaming

Foaming is the process through which the material melts thereby forming gas bubbles that get trapped as the material cools down. This results in the formation of an elevated pattern. Foaming is common with plastics and stainless steel.

  • Engraving

This is the process of making incisions into a surface like silver, gold, steel, etc. Laser engraving is a preferred method of making engraved objects. Engraving is usually done for industrial purposes (e.g. barcodes and serial numbers) or for aesthetics (e.g. customized jewelry).

How to engrave with a Fiber Laser Engraving Machine

Fiber laser Engraving Machines

To use a fiber laser system to make marks on your material of choice, you need a fiber laser engraver, a computer, and the software. There are two kinds of software that you can use with your fiber laser engraver; proprietary and open architecture.

Proprietary software refers to the software that you get from the manufacturer of your laser engraving machine. The main advantage of this software is you are guaranteed that it will work with your laser machine.

This is mainly because the software was specially designed for the fiber laser engraver and will, therefore, work even after the installation of updates. The main disadvantage of proprietary software is you will have to spend a lot of time to learn it and any bug fixes and updates to the software are 100% reliant on the company.

You could also just go with your favorite open architecture software like Photoshop, Illustrator, AutoCAD, etc. Since these software are specifically designed for graphic manipulation, they will have lots of reliable features.

They also have an awesome community of creatives so you can always ask for help if you need it. As long as your device is compatible with Windows print drivers, you can send the image to the fiber laser engraver through the usual print command.

How to “print” using a Fiber Laser Engraver

Printing your design is as easy as executing the normal print command and selecting your fiber laser engraver from the list in the printers dialog box. Once you have selected the laser engraver as the default printing device, make sure you have set the properties correctly.

Important settings include resolution power, speed, focus, and frequency. The manufacturer usually has a manual/chart with recommended settings for the different materials so make sure to check the chart first.

If printing more than one design on the same material at a go, just modify your page size settings accordingly and then duplicate the file size across the page. You can then click on the print command and let the fiber laser engraver do its magic.

How to Choose Between A Fiber Laser Engraver and A CO2 Laser Engraver?

The Advantages of Fiber Laser Engravers and CO2 Laser Engravers:

Advantages of Fiber Laser EngraversAdvantages of CO2 Laser Engravers
Low Maintenance CostsNumerous bed sizes and power wattages
Extremely Energy EfficientNumerous price options
All types of Metals Can Be EngravedCan Engrave most types of organic materials
Engravings with High Contrast and PrecisionExcellent Safety Features
No surface damage at allNo contact process

When To Choose a Fiber Laser Engraver

  • The materials you will be working with is mostly metal, stone and industrial plastics
  • You will have a large volume of engraving on any of the above mentioned materials
  • Your application is only marking and engraving with no cutting processes

When To Choose a CO2 Laser Engraver

  • You will be working with a wider variety of materials, including glass, plastic, leather, wood, and stone, among others. Note: Bare metal engraving will require a laser marking spray or paste which is rather expensive and time consuming to apply.
  • If you intend to cut materials such as wood, acrylic, leather, paper, cardboard, fabrics and rubber among others.

So to recap the choice between a fiber laser and a CO2 laser will be determined by the following:

  • The material you intend engraving
  • The thickness of the material you intend cutting
  • The volume of engraving you will be doing
  • If you intend to predominantly work with metals, industrial plastics, or stone, a fiber laser machine may be the best option.

Fiber Laser Engraving: Related Questions

How much does a Fiber Laser Engraving Machine Cost?

The cost of fiber laser engraving machines varies substantially depending on the fiber laser source. We recommend the following Fiber Laser Sources:

  • Raycus
  • JPT
  • Max

Many high-end systems are in the 4000 – 8000 thousand dollars range. While it is feasible to purchase inexpensive fiber laser machines, they are frequently of poor quality and will either not operate well or will not last long. For detailed information on our recommendations it would be helpful to read our fiber laser engraver buying guide here.

Can a Fiber Laser Marker Engrave Glass?

You can engrave on glass surfaces by laying the glass on top of a stainless steel or aluminum plate and marking it with a fiber laser. The fiber laser beam engraves the stainless steel or aluminum plate as it passes through the transparent glass. The engraving from the steel plate leaves a black engraved mark on the glass surface. Mirror glass can also be engraved using a fiber laser system by removing only the reflective coating on the back.

Can a Fiber Laser Marker Engrave Wood?

A fiber laser is not recommended to engrave or mark wood. Because of its shorter wavelength, a fiber laser’s 1064nm wavelength only travels partially through the wood which will result in a poor quality mark as well as a high risk of fire. This reaction is induced by variations in the wood substance and as heat builds up the wood will eventually catch fire.

Final Thoughts

Fiber Laser Engravers employ a laser beam to permanently mark or engrave various types of materials. Because they can mark small objects and engrave brand identities, fiber lasers are utilized in a variety of industries, including the jewelry and electronics sectors.

They can be applied to a variety of materials, including industrial plastics, carbon fiber, and metals (steel, aluminum, copper, etc.). Fiber laser marking machines provide some difficulties because they are not the ideal choice for transparent materials and engraving on non-metals like wood and acrylic.

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