Laser engraving is a special type of laser marking that produces similar results when compared to traditional engraving methods, but without the use of inks or tool bits that contact the surface material. Laser engraving is best understood in contrast with its sister technologies–laser etching and laser marking.
In laser marking, a low-powered laser beam is moved slowly across the target material. The beam slightly discolors the material, creating high-contrast, permanent markings without damaging or compromising the structural integrity of the material. Laser marking is often referred to as laser coloration or laser dark marking, nomenclature which emphasizes the fact that the material is unaffected by the application of the marking.
Laser engraving uses a high-powered laser beam to vaporize the surface of the target material, leaving a cavity whose depth can range from one fiftieth to one eighth of an inch. Laser engraving works with a variety of materials, including plastic, wood, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and glass surfaces. Laser engraving is especially useful for marking parts that are expected to experience high levels of wear throughout their useful life, as the deep penetration of the laser in the engraving process assures the permanence of markings.
A third application, laser etching, takes place when a high-powered laser beam is used to melt the surface of the target material, causing it to expand and leaving a visible, raised mark on the material surface. Laser etching can be applied to a variety of surfaces and materials and typically removes less than one thousandth inch of the material surface.
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