How the Laser Machine Works

A laser cutting machine uses a computer controlled laser beam to achieve very fine detailed cutting and engraving in a range of materials. It is essentially like a fancy printer, but instead of using ink cartridges it uses a combination of power and speed settings to engrave and cut flat materials.

At Vector Etch, we use leading laser machines that are able to quickly achieve very fine and precise details – giving you the best results in the quickest time possible. We can cut and engrave a variety of materials.

The laser cutting machine can be used to create a variety of different outcomes such as jewellery pieces, accessories, homewares, signage and more – you are only limited by your imagination!

In order to run a project through the laser cutter machine it must ultimately be converted to a particular type of file that the laser cutter can understand, known as a vector file. We offer file set-up as an inclusive service for any products ordered from our shop.  However, if you’re familiar with creating vector artworks, you can order by material sheet at a discounted rate. Check out our vector guide for more info.


Engraving

Engraving with the laser is a method used to cut into a material surface to a specified depth. Engraving is most commonly used to add decorative elements to a design and can be done on a variety of flat materials.

The way that the laser engraves is most similar to how a normal inkjet printer works – except instead of ink, it uses a laser beam with specified power and speed settings for the material being used. In order to engrave, the laser starts at the top of the piece, and proceeds left-to-right, top-to-bottom over the entire area. The laser turns on and off in rapid succession where areas of black and/or grey occur in the design. Any areas in white are left unmarked. The laser vaporises the material where it engraves, leaving an un-burnt indentation. On some materials, like wood, the engraved areas darken slightly. Because of the way that the laser head has to move over the entire surface being etched, it is generally slower than cutting.

Engraving can be done from any type of black and white image (created traditionally or digitally) and creates best results with solid black and solid white areas. The laser can etch at a very high resolution and works best with images at least 300dpi. While very fine details are possible, very thin lines don’t always show up well on different materials. To ensure that all of your details show up well, we recommend a minimum width of 0.2mm or 0.5mm if inverted.

Etching greyscale images such as a black and white photograph is possible, but is difficult to perfect because of the variation that happens between different images and materials. For most materials we use a protective tape on the surface of the material, so lighter greys may not etch through the tape at all. We recommend doing sample cuts of the same image in varying levels of contrast to see which works best. Our robot below demonstrates grey scale engraving in wood.

The robots below use black lines to demonstrate areas that have been engraved. The red line around the robot indicates lines that have been cut.

 

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Cutting

Cutting is quite different to engraving. In order to cut, the laser head starts at a point on the image and traces freely along the line. The laser cutter can only cut from a particular type of file known as a vector file; the laser head is guided by the vector points in the digital file.

When cutting, the laser head moves quickly along the line, leaving a smooth, un-burnt edge on most materials. The thickness of the cut line is very fine and precise and will cut exactly how your design appears on the computer. If you would like to design interlocking parts, you do not need to account for the thickness of the laser beam – just make the shapes the same size. The laser essentially vapourises the material where it cuts, and on some materials, like wood, can darken slightly.

While cutting very fine details are possible, it’s important to make sure that your design does not contain parts that are too thin, which might break when handled. To ensure that your design will be nice and strong, we recommend a minimum width of 2mm. We are not responsible for ensuring that your design does not contain parts that are too thin; if you are unsure about whether or not your design will work, we recommend ordering a sample cut of your design.

We can cut materials from our materials gallery.

The robots below use red lines to demonstrate areas that have been cut. You can see how multiple cut lines can be used.

 

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Line Engraving

Line engraving is essentially the same method as cutting, but it uses a reduced power that lightly engraves the material (instead of cutting straight through it). With line engraving, the laser head starts at a point on the image and traces freely along the line – guided by the vector points in the digital file. Because the thickness of the laser is so fine, line engraving works best for thin linework. Line engraving can only be done by using a blue vector line, such as what you would create in a vector graphics program such as Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator. We recommend only using line engraving for making simple, thin lines. If you have many areas in your design that you would like line engraving (such as in the second robot example below), it can work out faster to use the standard engraving method.

We can engrave materials from our materials gallery.

The robots below use blue lines to demonstrate areas using line engraving.
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