Laser Engraving is the process of passing a laser partway through a material, to burn or engrave a pattern into its surface. This is a useful tool for producing text, images, or graphic patterns on your parts. Engraving is often paired with a laser cut afterwards, to produce an object that is cut and engraved precisely. To see how to do this, check out our <engrave and cut> tutorial. This will just cover the process for running an engrave.
Step 0: Should I use Laser Engraving?
Laser Engraving is mostly useful for adding text and graphics to a laser cut, not for precise machining of your part. Take a look at a few considerations below before going down the engraving path.
- This process will likely burn your material (if you are using plywood, this results in a dark, charred surface). if you want to just remove material without burning it, take a look at our CNC router.
- Laser Engraving doesn’t work well for very thin (<1/16″) materials, they will often burn all the way through.
- Some materials can be both cut and engraved, but others can only be engraved. See our list for more details.
- Engraving will not produce a perfectly uniform cut thickness. for hardwood and plywood, the cut depth will vary with the wood grain.
Step 1: Locate your image
Choose the file that you want to raster engrave. The following files are compatible for engraving:
- most common image formats (.jpeg, .bmp, .png)
- vector images (.pdf, .svg, .ai)
save your image to a flash drive and bring it to the laser you plan to use.
Step 2: prepare your engrave and run
Important: if you are not trained/do not have swipe to the laser cutter, get a lab manager to perform this step. This guide only covers this step as an aid to the user.
Swipe in, and make sure the printer is on and all necessary cooling peripherals and air filters are running. Check to ensure that RetinaEngrave is running in the background. Open your design into Inkscape, and move and scale as necessary. when you are ready to go, hit Print and select “Full Spectrum Engineering Driver”. You should now see it in RetinaEngrave. Move over to the Raster Engrave tab at the top of the window to put the software in engrave mode. Set the power and speed levels to match the type of material you are engraving, and the desired cut depth. See our Master List to get these values, or speak to a lab manager. If using Dithering to produce multiple shades of engraving, select the mode you want to use (either simple dither or halftone dither. Halftone produces better results but is not recommended for large jobs).
Now we need to home the laser, by hitting the home button in the top toolbar. This step is only required for the P48-36 cutter, the hobby laser does not need to be homed. When the laser is homed, use the fast and slow jog commands to move the laser to the top left corner of your cut. This is where the laser cutter thinks the “origin” is. On the hobby laser, you can also hit Unlock, and move the laser by hand to the start location. remember to lock it afterwards!
Check the dimensions of your cut in RetinaEngrave to make sure they will fit within the printer, and are what you expect them to be. Click on Run Perimeter to make sure your lasercut stays on your material. The laser will perform four linear moves, following a bounding box of your print. As long as the box stays on your material, you are good to go. If necessary, you can also place some weights on your material to prevent it from bowing/shifting around during the cut. make sure they don’t get in the way of the laser, though.
On the P48-36, use the slow Z jog commands to raise and lower the bed until the focus meter touches the focus bar and the top of your material. On the Hobby laser, use the same process, but move the bed manually, via the adjustment disk under the cutter.
Now that all of these steps have been completed, you are ready to cut! hit the Run Job button, and watch the laser cutter do its magic. Make sure to stay by the lasercutter for the entire job, and watch for any issues. if there is a non-crical error (paths missing, wrong speed/power, hit Cancel Job to stop and try again. If anything bad happens (fire, crashing into a weight/edge of the table, etc), hit the E-STOP button!
If you are doing an engrave and cut job, don’t move the part after the engrave is finished! It will be very hard to get the material lined up again.