What’s the Difference between Laser Engraving and Laser Marking?
Lasers are narrow, highly concentrated beams of light. Whereas a torch, for example, emits light waves of various frequencies, laser light waves are identical and move in sync. That makes lasers ‘precise, powerful, and amazingly useful,’ as science writer Chris Woodford explains in his laser technology guide.
Lasers are particularly useful when you want to customise an object (this could be anything from an acrylic hotel room key fob to an automotive component). Laser engraving and laser marking are popular, effective methods of permanently adding text, images and other design elements to a tremendous range of materials. At Bay & Moor, we use laser engraving and marking to personalise gifts for customers’ loved ones. Many UK companies ask us to add their business logos to merchandise using the same techniques. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Harnessing the Power of Light
Laser engraving and laser marking both harness the power of light, but they work in different ways. Having a detailed understanding of the difference between them helps us to ensure that we choose the best, most appropriate technique for each project.
The most significant way laser engraving and laser marking differ is that only laser engraving removes part of the object’s surface, as we’ll explain.
How Laser Engraving Works
Imagine you want a bespoke sign featuring the name of your home or business. Thanks to laser engraving, this idea can quickly become a reality. (There are several beautiful examples of laser-engraved signage in our gallery.)
During the laser engraving process, a laser passes rapidly over the object being customised (such as a wooden sign). The laser adds the desired design (for example, attractive lettering) to the object’s surface by means of raster engraving, vector engraving or a combination of these two techniques.
- Raster engraving: the laser passes horizontally over the object, heating up and vaporising parts of its surface in order to engrave the design on it. Tonal variation can be achieved by engraving a mixture of deep and shallow lines.
- Vector engraving: the laser moves more freely, either scoring lines on the object’s surface to produce the design or scoring over existing laser-engraved lines to highlight them and draw attention to certain details. Industrial laser engraving projects also use vector engraving to add serial numbers, etc. to components.
Laser engraving is suitable for virtually any material, including delicate ones – wood, paper, coated metals, plastic laminates, glass, ceramics, stone and more. It can produce even highly detailed designs. The objects don’t need to be flat; we engrave bottles, tumblers, pens, etc. (this is called rotary engraving).
Laser-engraved awards and trophies, branded items, gifts, prototypes, signage, mechanical parts and more are all in demand. If you can imagine it, we can almost certainly laser engrave it!
How Laser Marking Works
Laser marking is similar to raster engraving, except the laser doesn’t remove parts of the object’s surface. A marking compound (typically CerMark or TherMark) is applied to the surface. The laser passes over this special coating, bonding it to the surface and producing a permanent black to dark grey finish. Like laser engraving, laser marking works on flat and curved surfaces, and is suitable for even complex designs.
The technique is ideal for adding industrial marks to metal objects, such as serial numbers, barcodes and QR codes, which play a vital role in many companies’ traceability processes. Laser marking can add decorative elements to items too (we particularly enjoyed customising a Harley Davidson clutch cover!). Almost any metal substrate can be laser marked; for example, aluminium, stainless steel or brass. Our laser marking equipment even works with very thin material.
Because laser marking doesn’t remove parts of the surface, the object retains its ability to withstand corrosion. That’s why laser marking is frequently used to mark components designed for the aerospace, automotive, electronics and medical industries.
Both Processes are Highly Accurate and Adaptable
Laser engraving and laser marking are both extremely precise, reliable, versatile processes which produce stunning results that stand the test of time.
While laser engraving arguably has a wider range of applications, laser marking is invaluable if the object’s surface needs to remain intact.
UK Laser Engraving and Laser Marking
At Bay & Moor, we bring together technical skills, creativity and a passion for all things laser.