Laser engraving and etching are laser marking processes that involve the removal of a material to achieve a contrast. These practices exist in the same spectrum, but etching refers to a process that creates a mark by removing the outer oxide layer. Laser engraving, on the other hand, produces marks that are deeper. As the depth of the mark increases, “etching” becomes “engraving” or even “deep engraving.” Laser engraving and etching are processes that can be used on nearly any material, making them extremely versatile. These processes can commonly be seen in applications that require barcodes, serial numbers, logos, and especially deep engraving for firearms manufacturers to achieve the required depth for FFL compliance. There are also specialized laser engraving marking machines that can provide colored laser etching and engraving markings.
Laser engraving and etching are similar processes in that they both remove material from a surface in order to create a depth or contrast change. But they differ in terms of the depth of the mark they create. Laser etching, for example, creates a surface blemish, changing the reflective properties of a material. Adversely, laser engraving is a controlled process that involves achieving the required depth of a cut with minimal surface plasma redeposition of the molten material.
During both the laser engraving and etching process, the high heat that’s produced by the laser allows manufacturers to create a cavity in order to produce its mark. Both of these processes are quick and efficient. And the desired result is created by changing the material. In order to create the desired effect, lasers have to channel a tremendous amount of energy into a very specific region. And when they do, the heat that they produce causes material vaporization. Laser engraving is a great process to consider if the end user expects to expose their materials to external wear (like in the automotive industry). Laser etching is much faster than laser engraving, but it isn’t quite as robust as engraving. And this process takes multiple passes with a focused laser.