Metal Engraving: The Ultimate Guide of 2023

by Winnie Li Posted in May 23, 2023

Metal engraving is an age-old art that has been transformed and revolutionized by modern technology. It involves the precise and detailed marking of metal surfaces, creating stunning designs and etchings that stand the test of time. From personalized jewelry and awards to industrial components and signage, metal engraving serves a wide range of applications for both individual users and businesses. 

Choosing the right engraving method and equipment is essential to ensure the quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of your metal engraving projects. In this ultimate guide, we will delve into the world of metal engraving, exploring the different engraving methods such as laser engraving, laser etching, and laser marking. We will also discuss the various types of laser engravers suitable for metal and help you determine the best option for your needs. Moreover, this guide will cover the different metals you can engrave and provide ideas for creative applications. We will also provide a buyer's guide to assist you in selecting the best laser engraver for metal. Whether you are a hobbyist looking to venture into metal engraving for personal projects or a small business owner seeking to expand your offerings, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and insights to get started on your metal engraving journey.

In This Article

  • Metal Engraving Methods: Difference Explained
  • The Versatility of Metal Laser Engraving
  • What Types of Laser Engraver Can Engrave Metal?
  • What Metals Can You Laser Engrave?
  • Top 10 Metal Laser Engraving Projects and Ideas
  • How to Engrave Metal with a Laser Engraver?
  • Best DIY Laser Engraver for Metal
  • Best Mini Portable Laser Engraver for Metal
  • Conclusion

Metal Engraving Methods: Difference Explained

In the realm of metal engraving, there are three primary methods to choose from: laser engraving, laser etching, and laser marking. Beginners usually get confused because these words are used interchangeably. Each technique has its advantages and limitations, making it essential to understand their differences before selecting the most suitable method for your specific application.

Laser Engraving Metal

Laser engraving involves using a high-power laser beam to increase the metal surface's temperature beyond its boiling point, causing the material to change from a solid state directly to a gas through a process called sublimation. As the surface material evaporates, it leaves a cavity, creating a deep, visible engraving with a 3D surface that can be seen and felt. This method provides excellent precision and accuracy, making it ideal for intricate designs, small text, and detailed graphics. Laser engraving is widely used for various applications, such as personalizing jewelry, creating custom awards, and marking industrial components. 

However, metals have high boiling points due to their tightly packed molecules, with melting temperatures often exceeding 1000ºC and boiling points surpassing 4000ºC. To laser engrave metal, a powerful laser engraving machine specifically designed for this purpose is required. These machines utilize high-energy pulses to rapidly increase the metal's temperature. Low-energy, hobbyist, or DIY laser engravers cannot directly engrave metal, but they can be used for metal etching.

Advantages:

  • High precision and accuracy
  • Permanent and durable marks
  • Suitable for intricate designs and small text

Limitations:

  • May require a coating or pre-treatment for certain metals

Laser Etching Metal

Laser etching differs from laser engraving as it does not vaporize the metal. Instead, it melts the upper microsurface of the material, causing oxidation and a change in the original color. Laser etching metal can be done with laser engravers of lower power level at 5w~15w. 

Advantages:

  • Faster process compared to laser engraving
  • Can be done with less powerful laser engravers
  • Suitable for creating high-contrast marks

Limitations:

  • Less durable than laser engraving
  • Marks may fade over time

Laser Marking Metal

Laser marking is similar to laser engraving in that it creates permanent marks on the metal's surface. However, some experts differentiate between laser marking and laser engraving based on penetration depth. In laser marking, the penetration is not as deep as in laser engraving.

Advantages:

  • Creates permanent marks
  • Suitable for various applications like logos, ID numbers, and QR codes

Limitations:

  • Penetration is not as deep as laser engraving
  • Not as suitable for creating depth or texture

The Versatility of Metal Laser Engraving

We have explored the concept of metal laser engraving, which involves removing particles from a metal surface through the use of high-energy pulsed lasers. These powerful laser pulses are capable of rapidly increasing the metal's temperature to its boiling point, causing the material to evaporate and leave behind a permanent cavity known as an engraving.

A metal laser engraver that can produce such high-energy pulsed laser is the most versatile and efficient method for metal engraving. In contrast, continuous-wave laser engravers do not have the peak power necessary for this purpose. Laser etching, on the other hand, relies on continuous-wave lasers to provide just enough energy to oxidize the metal surface. The laser beams are absorbed by the metal, increasing the surface temperature and creating an oxide layer in the presence of oxygen. This oxide layer has a different color, resulting in a distinguishable mark on the surface.

One of the key advantages of laser etching metal is the ability to achieve multiple colors on the metal surface. The color outcome depends on both the metal type and the applied laser beam wattage. By adjusting the wattage, various colors can be obtained, making laser etching an attractive option for decorative purposes.

color laser engraving on metal

What Types of Laser Engraver Can Engrave Metal?

When it comes to engraving metals, several types of laser engravers are available, each differing in terms of laser source, power, wavelength, and other factors. Let's explore the key characteristics of the four main types of metal laser engravers: fiber, CO2, diode, and infrared.

1. Fiber Laser Engravers

Fiber laser engravers are considered the best for metal engraving due to their high power and ability to create cavities by removing particles from the metal surface. These engravers have a special core that amplifies the laser beams, resulting in a high-energy output. Fiber lasers are designed for various applications, including metal cutting and cleaning, with each type doped accordingly. These machines work at high speeds, quickly engraving different metals, making them suitable for industrial purposes. However, they are not ideal for DIY projects or small businesses due to their size, power, and expense. The cost of a fiber laser engraver ranges from $3,000 to $20,000, depending on the optical power, features, and specifications.

2.  CO2 Laser Engravers

co2 laser engraver- xtool p2

CO2 laser engravers are a popular choice for various engraving applications, including metal etching. These versatile machines use a carbon dioxide gas mixture, which is electrically stimulated to produce a laser beam. The laser emitted by CO2 engravers falls in the infrared spectrum with a wavelength of around 10.6 micrometers, making it suitable for working on non-metallic materials and some metals with the help of a special coating. In addition to metal etching, CO2 laser engravers can work on various materials, such as wood, acrylic, leather, glass, ceramics, rubber, and certain plastics. This versatility makes them ideal for businesses that require engraving, cutting, or marking on multiple types of materials. 

Compared to fiber laser engravers, CO2 laser machines are more affordable, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. While they may have some limitations when it comes to engraving metals, their overall capabilities and cost-effectiveness make them an attractive choice for many users.

3. Diode Laser Engravers

diode laser engraver - xtool d1 pro

Diode laser engravers are also designed for metal etching, offering less power than CO2 lasers but still capable of completing the task. Some diode lasers, such as xTool D1 pro, can achieve engraving various colors on metals at different power levels, making metal etching more visually appealing. These compact, affordable, and beginner-friendly machines are ideal for small businesses, with prices ranging from $500 to $1,200, depending on power, features, and specifications. When purchasing a diode laser for metal etching, choose one with at least 15W of power for faster speeds and better results.

4. Infrared Laser Engravers

Infrared laser engravers operate with a wavelength in the infrared region, making them suitable for certain materials, such as metals and plastics. With a typical wavelength of 1064nm, these lasers are well-absorbed by metal and plastic surfaces, resulting in exceptional engraving results.

What Metals Can You Laser Engrave?

Stainless steel is a popular choice for various applications, including bottles, kitchen utensils, tools, and surgical equipment. This durable material can be engraved using fiber, diode, infrared, or CO2 lasers, however you need to apply a coating to stainless steel if you use CO2 laser to engrave it. 

1. Stainless steel

Stainless steel is one of the most preferred options these days. It is used to make bottles, kitchen utensils, tools, surgical equipment, and a lot more. All these things can be engraved or etched using a laser engraving machine. Stainless steel can be etched by a diode laser, IR laser, and CO2 laser. For stainless steel engraving, you need a special fiber laser engraver.

2.  Steel

There is no question about the usage of steel in our daily lives. It is used to make tons of products and items. Steel can also be laser engraved or etched. The permanent marks are usually made for identification of the manufacturer or part.

3. Aluminum

Aluminum is another common material used for making various items we use in our daily lives, such as kitchen utensils, business cards, electronic products, etc. It can be engraved for personalization or identification. You might have seen aluminum in smartphones and LEDs. They also have something written on it. It is written using a laser machine.

4. Titanium

Titanium is another useful material for jewelry, prosthetics, surgical tools, airplanes, and many other things. Most of the time, it is engraved for identification and personalization. For instance, prosthetics can be given a special identification number or rating using laser engraving.

5. Copper

Laser engraving machines can also engrave or etch copper. Copper pipes, wires, automobile parts, cooking pots, and other products can be engraved or etched for identification.

6. Gold

Jewelry items, trophies, and medals made of gold can be engraved and etched using a laser engraving machine. Jewelry items are engraved for personalization or gifting, while it is a must to engrave the medals and trophies.

7. Silver

Similar to gold, silver can also be engraved or etched with a laser engraver. It is done on precious jewelry items, trophies, medals, etc.

Top 10 Metal Laser Engraving Projects and Ideas

Laser engraving has opened up a world of possibilities for personalization and customization across various industries. Here are ten creative projects that showcase the versatility of laser engraving on metal:

Custom Engraved Jewelry

Laser engraving adds a personal touch to jewelry items such as rings, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. From initials and names to intricate designs and patterns, custom engraved jewelry makes for unique and memorable gifts or keepsakes.

custom engraved rings
custom engraved necklaces
custom engraved bracelet

Engraved Metal Plates

Metal plates can be laser engraved with logos, text, or images to create identification tags, commemorative plaques, or product labels. These plates serve both decorative and functional purposes in homes, offices, and various industries.

Engraved Metal Plaques

Engraved metal plaques are a timeless way to celebrate achievements, milestones, or special events. They can be customized with names, dates, quotes, or images and used for various purposes, such as award ceremonies.

Engraved Metal Pet Tags

Ensure your pet's safety and identification with laser engraved metal pet tags. These tags can include your pet's name, your contact information, and even a small design, making it easier for someone to return your pet to you if they become lost.

engraved metal pet tag

Engraved Metal Name Tags

Professionalism and personal branding are essential in today's business world. Laser engraved metal name tags add a touch of elegance to your employees' uniforms, making them easily identifiable and enhancing your company's image.

Engraved Metal Business Cards

Make a lasting impression with engraved metal business cards. These unique cards showcase your contact information and logo in a durable and stylish format, helping you stand out from the competition.

custon laser engraved metal business card

Engraved Metal Luggage Tags

Travel in style and keep your luggage easily identifiable with laser engraved metal luggage tags. Include your name, address, and contact information to ensure a safe return if your luggage gets misplaced.

custom laser engraved metal luggage tags

Engraved Metal Guitar Picks

For musicians and music enthusiasts, laser engraved metal guitar picks make excellent personalized gifts or promotional items. Customize them with names, initials, band logos, or unique designs to create a memorable and functional keepsake.

custom laser engraved metal guitar pick

Engraved Metal Keychains

Personalized metal keychains are both practical and stylish accessories. Engrave them with names, initials, logos, or custom designs to create thoughtful gifts or promotional items for your business.

custom laser engraved metal keychain

Engraved Metal Signs

Durable and weather-resistant, engraved metal signs are perfect for outdoor or indoor use. They can be customized with business names, directional information, or decorative designs for a professional and long-lasting display.

These examples demonstrate the vast potential of metal laser engraving for personalization and customization across various industries. By exploring these ideas and more, you can enhance your laser engraving business or bring your creative projects to life.

How to Engrave Metal with a Laser Engraver?

Step 1: Choose the right laser engraver

Select a laser engraver suitable for metal engraving, such as a fiber laser, diode laser with sufficient power, or an infrared laser engraver. Each type has its specific advantages and capabilities, so choose the one that best fits your needs and budget.

Shop Metal Laser Engravers

Step 2: Prepare the metal surface

Clean the metal surface thoroughly to remove any dirt, grease, or debris. This ensures that the engraving process will be smooth, and the final result will be clear and precise.

Step 3: Secure the metal piece

Position the metal piece on the engraver's worktable and secure it to prevent movement during the engraving process. This is crucial for maintaining accuracy and precision.

Step 4: Set up the laser engraver

Configure the laser engraver settings according to the specific metal you are working with. This includes selecting the appropriate power and speed settings. Consult the manufacturer's guidelines or experiment with test pieces to find the optimal settings for your project.

Step 5: Create or import the design

Using the laser engraver software to create your design or import an existing image or text file. Ensure the design is properly scaled and positioned according to your desired outcome.

Step 6: Preview the design

Use the engraver's preview feature to check the design placement on the metal surface. Make any necessary adjustments to avoid errors and waste of material.

Step 7: Start the engraving process

Once you are satisfied with the design and settings, initiate the engraving process. Monitor the process to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

Step 8: Inspect the final result

After the engraving process is complete, carefully inspect the engraved metal piece for quality and accuracy. If necessary, make adjustments to the engraver's settings and repeat the process.

Step 9: Clean and finish the engraved metal

Remove any debris or residue from the engraving area using a soft brush or cloth. You may also apply a protective coating or polish to the engraved surface to enhance its appearance and protect it from wear and tear.

Best DIY Laser Engraver for Metal

xTool D1 Pro(2-in-1 kit) is a diode and Infrared Laser engraving machine, which makes engraving various metals and non-metals a lot easier. It comes with a diode and an IR laser module, so you can switch between them easily according to your needs. The infrared laser is excellent for metal engraving. It can engrave precious metals, such as gold, silver, and platinum, and non-precious metals, such as copper, aluminum, stainless steel, etc. Thus, you can engrave a wide range of metal objects and make personalized jewelry items as well. Moreover, it is also good for plastic cutting and engraving, and the results are better than a diode laser.

There are two versions of the diode laser module, 10w and 20w.  The 20w laser module can engrave various colors on different metals, giving you 340+ vivid colors according to the metal you are engraving. It makes the engraving exceptionally beautiful. Other than metal engraving, you can engrave and cut various materials, such as wood, acrylic, and leather.

xTool D1 Pro offers an incredible speed of up to 400mm/s. The precision is also commendable. You get fine details and optimal accuracy that makes your metal projects eye-catching. In addition, you can upgrade it and change the laser modules. There are also accessories available, such as rotary attachment, extension, enclosure, etc., that give you more possiblity for your metal proejcts. You can add new parts and attachments with time to keep your machine up to date.

xtool d1 pro and rotary attachment engraving a metal tumbler

Beginners can also use xTool D1 Pro. It is a desktop laser machine that comes with specialized easy-to-use software. It is also equipped with modern safety features to prevent accidents. It is a complete package that makes engraving, cutting, and etching of a wide range of materials quicker and easier.

xTool D1 Pro 2-in-1 Kit
(Diode + IR)

best diy laser engraving machine for metal

Price:

£1,219.00
£2,049.00
Learn More

Best Mini Portable Laser Engraver for Metal

If you prefer a mini and portable laser engraver for metal, the xTool F1 stands out as a top choice. It's also a diode and infrared 2-in-1 laser engraver that combines speed, accuracy, and portability with a user-friendly design to deliver outstanding performance.

2-in-1 Handheld Laser Engraver

xTool F1 is equipped with both a 10W diode laser module and a 2W infrared laser module, making it suitable for engraving and cutting over 300 types of materials. The IR laser is perfect for engraving metals and plastics, while the diode laser works well on materials like wood, leather, acrylic, glass, and ceramics.

Handheld and Portable

Designed to be compact and portable, xTool F1 can be used as a handheld or desktop laser engraver. The dedicated software, xTool Creative Space, is compatible with Windows, macOS, iPadOS, iOS, and Android, allowing users to process engravings even on mobile devices.

using xtool f1 on a moblie device

Exceptionally Fast and Accurate

Thanks to the advanced industrial-grade galvanometer technology, xTool F1's engraving speed is up to 4,000m/s. This makes it nearly as fast as powerful and expensive fiber lasers, greatly enhancing productivity and saving time. The engraver also boasts an impressive 0.00199mm accuracy, 5-10 times better than other diode and IR laser machines, ensuring flawless results.

how fast xtool f1 engraves

Easy to Use

xTool F1 is an excellent option for beginners, offering a simple operating and focusing process. The machine automatically adjusts focus based on the material's thickness entered in the software. Besides, with xTool F1's preview technology, users can see a live preview of graphics on the object before engraving. This feature ensures perfect positioning and eliminates material waste.

xtool f1's graphic outline preview

Safe Design

Safety is a priority with xTool F1. The laser is fully enclosed to prevent laser beams and debris from escaping, ensuring user safety. A built-in exhaust with a high-speed fan removes smoke, and an optional desktop smoke purifier can be attached for indoor use.

xtool f1 and smoke purifier

xTool F1 Portable Laser Enraver

best mini portable laser engraving machine for metal

Price:

£1,599.00
£1,699.00
Learn More

Conclusion

Laser engraving on metal offers a world of possibilities for businesses, hobbyists, and artists alike. With the ability to create intricate designs, permanent markings, and personalized items, metal laser engravers have become an essential tool in various industries. By understanding the different types of laser engravers, such as fiber, CO2, diode, and infrared lasers, you can choose the right machine for your specific needs and applications.

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