Getting Started Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard surface by cutting grooves into it. In its simplest form engraving has been going on almost since civilization began.
Jump ahead to the 1970's and we have the advent of the mechanical engraver. This process involves using either a rotating cutter in a motorized spindle or fine point diamond-tipped cutter in a non-motorized spindle to cut (engrave) into material. The engraving can be completely through the substrate to create cut out shapes or holes, or at a predetermined depth to create engraved grooves that form characters and graphics.
Getting Started Mechanical Engravers
There are two types of mechanical engraving machines; pantographs and computerized. With a pantograph you manually lower a cutter onto a piece of material and, using a stylus, hand trace a master template or a row of letters thus creating a duplicate of what you are tracing.
Every Computerized engraving machine is made up of the PC, the controller, and the table. the PC requires software, sophisticated electronic controls and steppers motors to mechanically lower the cutter, (Z axis) and move it left and right, and top to bottom, (X and Y axis) to engrave.
Engraving machines can have an engraving area as small as 4"x3" or as large as 25"x50". They are typically used for items like jewelry, award and trophy plates, gift items, signs, (plastic and metal), and industrial plates.
The "brain" of the computerized system is the engraving controller. It takes the information from your layout software located in you PC and translates it into a form your engraving machine can understand. The controller tells the machine where to move the engraving tool for each engraving job. The controller also allows manipulation of all of the important factors including the home position, speed, depth, if and when to pause and other important features. A high quality engraving controller affects the number of options, variations and possible actions your engraver table can perform and can affect the accuracy of your engraving system as well.
Spindles are precision mechanical components that operate at variable speeds during rotary engraving. Spindles hold cutters, the most crucial piece of equipment that has the greatest affect on the outcome of the job. Cutters come in various shank sizes and different cutters are used with various types of material to achieve the desired look.
There is a definite learning curve associated with rotary engraving in the use of cutters, learning correct depth and choosing the correct speed. If you are thinking about purchasing a rotary engraving machine we recommend attending a trade show and do some comparison shopping by asking each machine manufacturer to engrave the same job. Compare the results, how long it took to engrave and the quality of the finished product. Industry trade shows are an excellent place to network with fellow engravers and learn more about the industry and the many different products that are available.
Another great read for the beginning engraver is the Engraver's Bible.
Getting Started in Laser Engraving
Present day laser engraving came on the scene in the early 1990's. Most engravers in the awards and recognition industry now us a CO2 laser, although there still may be a few using a YAG laser. In its most basic form, the laser engraver is a tube with precisely positioned mirrors and a lens for directing a beam of light. The tube is filled with gasses including nitrogen and helium. When electric energy is applied to the gas filled tube, it excites the gas molecules which vibrate and emit light that bounces back and forth between the mirrors. To use this energy, some of the light is allowed to escape at one end of the tube. This focused pinpoint beam of light is so intense it vaporizes portions of the material it touches leaving an engraved image. The beam can also be used for cutting directly through material when in a vector mode. In general, CO2 lasers work well for engraving materials that are poor conductors of heat and electricity. Bare metal can only be engraved with either a very high wattage laser or if a chemical (Cermark) is applied prior to engraving.
Most lasers are driven by a PC with a windows operating software. Besides software, like CorelDraw, a laser machine will need compressed air and an exhaust fan. An exhaust fan is necessary to filter the fumes and dust created during the laser engraving process. The fan not only keeps the work environment safe and clean, it also reduces wear and tear on your equipment by exhausting the residue out of the engraving area.
There are thousands of products available specifically for laser engraving. Some of these include sheet stock for signage, awards, name plates, name badges, legend plates, metal and wooden gift items, colored brass and aluminum, and crystal. Laser engravers can also be used for cutting cloth appliques for embroidery.
To learn more about laser engraving we recommend attending an industry trade show where many different manufacturers of equipment would be represented.
Engraving Machine Manufacturers
Epilog Laser - Manufacturer of Laser Engravers and Cutting Technology for Over 20 Years.
Universal Laser Systems - Manufacturer of unique computer peripherals used for laser engraving, marking and cutting.
Vision Engraving Systems - Manufacturer of computerized engraving, routing and marking systems for over 28 years.
Xenetech USA Inc - Xenetech supplies engraving systems, related products and comprehensive support.