What type of laser do I need to engrave metals?

There are many types and sizes of lazer engravers on the market today. They vary in size, wattage, and laser source style. Laser engraving machines can be purchased from several hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. This is why it is usually best to have your engraving work sent to the professionals. If you want to engrave metals, you will need a fiber laser. Fiber lasers are not very common. Many times if you have jewelry engraved at the store where you purchase it, they will use “old school” style rotary engraving machines.

Rotary (Mechanical) Engraving machine

rotary engraver

A rotary engraver like this one pictured is a type of engraver that uses an electric cylinder software-controlled marking needle that moves according to a specific guide rail in the X, Y two-dimensional plane. The marking needle performs high-frequency impact motion under the action of electric power, thereby engraving a mark with a certain depth on your product surface.

A rotary engraver like the one pictured sells for about $3400 online. This is fine for engraving simple text but does have some limitations. Clamping your item prior to engraving is required, and delicate items could be damaged by a clamp. Also there is a limited level of detail and font choices with this type of engraver. You are limited to simple text or numbers and cannot engrave images with fine details and many customers are looking for more detail and artwork.

Laser (Fiber) Engraving Machine

With a laser engraving machine, a laser engraving machine with a fiber laser source can handle much more detail and graphics.  A MOPA fiber laser source it allows you to select pulse durations, which translates into a wider range of laser marking parameters and more marking options. Because it offers such a wide range of pulse durations, the MOPA is one of the most flexible lasers on the market. It can simulate the properties of conventional fiber laser markers and those of classical solid state lasers (shorter pulses). Font choices are virtually unlimited with a laser engraver.

fiber laser engraver

A fiber laser such as this Boss fiber laser pictured here can ranges from 20 to 50 watts and a 4.33″ to 11.81″ bed surface for engraving. The price is around $9000 for a laser engraver like this one. It has the capability to produce sharp graphics and fine detail on all types of metals including jewelry, firearms, tools, watches, and much more.

Gas (Co2) Laser Engraving Machine

With a gas or Co2 power source engraving machine, you can engrave many materials such as leather, glass, wood, acrylics, and coated metals. The Co2 laser will remove the coating from metals such as coated stainless steel tumblers. If you want to etch bare metals (without coating) you will need an extra step such as a cermark spray. Cermark spray take some preparation, but when done properly it will spray a light, even coat that resembles spray paint on the metal surface. This will then react with the laser and etch the surface of the metal. The remaining cermark spray can be removed from the surface of the item leaving only the engraving.

gravotech laser

A good example of a desktop Co2 laser engraver is one like this Gravotech LS100 which uses CAD/CAM software and an RF laser source. According to Gravotech it features Autofocus automatic vertical adjustment,
Embedded dashboard allows modifying the job and fine-tune the settings and
Point and shoot for easy positioning and job set-up. This machine will sell for about $20,000.

Check out this comparison video from Boss Laser

We hope this guide helps you to choose a laser engraving machine for metals. As you can see, there are many things to consider such as what types of items you will be engraving, what size the items are, and keep your budget in mind.