The two most popular types of engraving are laser and diamond cutter (also known as retro) engraving. Both methods can engrave a wide range of materials and are capable of producing beautiful, customized products, such as engraved wedding rings, plaques, pens and signs. Each method is performed differently; one method uses a laser to create the engraved work while the other uses a cutting tool. While most engraving shops use both methods, each engraving method has its advantages and limitations.
Laser engravers work with light amplification by emission of radiation. Light is amplified by mirrors and then is directed toward the item ready to be engraved. The laser then vaporizes the area and removes material from its path. The machinery never comes in direct contact with the item being engraved. There are many different types of laser engravers and the type of engraver needed is dictated by the type of material to be engraved. Laser engravers are perfect for use on small items, such as pens because of their accuracy and ability to be set for thousands of repetitions.
Diamond Cutter Engraver
Diamond cutter (or rotary) engravers have two main parts --- a spindle and a cutting tool. They work together to cut into the metal and engrave images or text onto the metal. In most modern diamond cutter engraving machines, the image or text to be engraved is usually entered into a computer software program. The software program reads the image or text, transmits the data to the machine and the engraving process begins. Diamond cutter engravers are usually smaller machines made to engrave small jewelry items or pieces of metal, but there are larger engravers available as well.
Laser engraving is extremely fast and leaves a clean, permanent mark. Laser engravers are easy to maintain and are user-friendly. Lasers can also engrave the largest variety of materials. Diamond cutter engravers can be used to engrave coated and noncoated metals, can make deep cuts into many materials from plastic to stainless steel and create that unique look you can feel when your run your fingers over it. Diamond cutters can also engrave specialized items, such as the inside of a ring or the beveled edges of a badge. These engravers are typically less expensive than laser engravers.
Laser engraving is more expensive than diamond cutter engraving. Lasers are beams of light that emit radiation and can lead to safety issues. There are also health hazards when using a laser from electricity and exhaust. Laser engravers are also limited in terms of size capabilities and removing large areas of work. Diamond cutter engravers do not have the ability to do as many repetitions as a laser engraver. Diamond cutter engraving is also a slower and more-complicated process than laser engraving. Diamond cutter machines also require special parts and equipment that need to be changed for each job, which can cost more time and money than laser engravers.
- "Engraver's Journal"; Rotary or Laser: Which Engraving Method Is Best?; Jackie Zack; April 2008
- SignIndustry.com; Laser: The Basics; Diane Bosworth
- Quality Logo Products, Why Does Laser Engraving Look the Color It Does?
- CNC Engraving Machine, Rotary Engraving Machines -- How They Create Memories for a Lifetime
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images