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One of the biggest advantages to using laser engraved parts is the precision and accuracy of laser cutters, and Ponoko services guarantee dimensional tolerances of ±0.13mm, and a laser kerf of 0-0.2mm. This level of precision is found in all parts we produce regardless of the order quantity, and to ensure that parts are cut & engraved to the highest standard, Ponoko stocks a diverse range of laser cutting technologies including CO2 and fiber. Furthermore, this dimensional accuracy and laser kerf also apply to all 200+ engineered materials we stock.
Ponoko offers laser engraving services for a wide range of materials. We offer laser engraving for two tone plastics for high contrast graphics, transparent plastics for edge lighting, and even metals. If you need to engrave your logo on a metal plate for the machine you're building, or some part marking text for your product packaging, you've come to the right place.
You design, we laser engrave: Ponoko provides the materials needed for the engraving process, allowing you to send in designs, and have your data plate, control panel, or faceplate both laser cut in the exact shape you require and laser engraved to have the features you need in the highest detail possible.
Ponoko's laser engraving services are available for anything from a single unit to a mass production lot purchase. So whether you need a single engraved sign or a batch of laser engraved enclosures, Ponoko has you covered!
Laser engraving is the process of marking a surface with the use of a laser beam, and is ideal for creating text and graphics during the laser cutting process.
While a laser cutter uses a laser beam to cut entirely through a piece of material, laser engraving only cuts at the surface of a material so that a permanent mark is left. Even though some material is removed, the depth of the cut is shallow enough that the mechanical properties of the material are virtually untouched to the point where two identical parts with one having laser engraved marks would be indistinguishable from a mechanical point of view.
To achieve laser engraving, a laser cutter has two options; either the output power of the laser can be reduced, or the machine can speed up each axis so the laser beam doesn't spend too much time in any one area. While speeding up the machine does result in a faster engraving, it can introduce issues with accuracy, and reducing the laser power can see engravings take a very long time to produce. As such, laser cutters often deploy a mix of both tactics by reducing the laser power and speeding up the individual axis.
When engraving patterns, it is important to understand the difference between vector and raster images. A vector image is one that consists of mathematical expressions describing curves and lines, while a raster image consists of an array of numbers each representing a pixel. Vector images are the easiest for laser cutters to work with as laser cutters naturally work with vectors, while raster images can create complex designs (such as photographs). At the same time, vector images are challenging to use on detailed images while raster images can take a very long time to produce (as they are engraved in a similar fashion to old dot matrix printers).
Ponoko is a laser cutting company that supports laser engraving on almost all 200+ materials stocked, and uploaded designs can combine both laser cutting and laser engraving lines. To keep the two different jobs separate, designs merely need to use two different colors to indicate which lines are for cutting, and which are for engraving.
Depending on the design, laser engraving can be one of the cheapest and most effective printing options for designs.
Laser engraving uses the same equipment in laser cutting, both cutting and engraving can be done in the same machining cycle. This means that parts do not need to be transferred, aligned, or manipulated in any way between cutting and engraving stages, therefore reducing additional manufacturing costs while also increasing manufacturing speeds (compared to using other marking techniques).
Another major benefit to laser engraving over other processes is that the position of the engraved designs relative to the part is highly precise due to the fact that the part is being engraved by the same machine performing the cutting, and that the part isn't moved for the entire production cycle. Furthermore, laser engraved designs are also far more resilient compared to printing designs using ink or stains as engraved designs physically remove material. This makes laser engraved designs extremely resilient to mechanical abrasion as well as caustic environments. As such, laser engraving often finds useful applications in the field of security and IDs for controlled and tracked parts.
For customers living in the Oakland Bay Area, Ponoko can manufacture and deliver custom laser cut and engraved parts the very same day of ordering (before 11AM), and next-day for customers elsewhere in the mainland US. This allows for engineers to speed up projects, reduce the time between design iterations, and save costs on expensive engineering downtime when waiting for parts.
One of the great benefits of the various laser cutting technologies in use is that they all support engraving. When it comes to laser engraving, the only fact that matters is that the material being engraved can indeed be cut with the laser technology being used.
Of the laser engraving technologies currently in mainstream use, by far the three most commonly available are LED, CO2, and Fiber. LED lasers are mostly found in DIY laser engravers and can be used to cut paper and cardboard. They are by far the cheapest technology, but their low power ratings and use of visible light make them challenging to use on materials stronger than cardboard.
CO2 lasers are commonly found in industrial laser cutters where speed and cost are critical. While CO2 lasers lack the ability to cut through thick sheets of metal, they are ideal for paper, cardboard, wood, and materials. Fiber lasers are one of the more expensive laser cutting technologies used in industrial cutters, but have the capability to go through thick sheets of metal.
To ensure the highest quality laser engravings, Ponoko has a curated list of over 200+ engineered materials that are matched with specific laser cutting technologies. As such, we not only ensure that the right laser engraving technologies are being used, but that every single part manufactured conforms to our strict standards of precision and quality as well as ensure that all parts are virtually identical.
The biggest difference between mechanical and laser engraving is that mechanical engraving uses a physical tool to remove material either through abrasion or cutting, and lasers use vaporization of the target material.
Because laser engraving utilizes the intense heat generated by a laser beam, it provides a significant advantage over traditional mechanical engravers in that it removes the need for tooling (thereby simplifying machine setup). At the same time, the lack of a tooling bit also effectively eliminates tool replacement due to the use of an optical beam instead of a blade or bit that can wear down over time.
Furthermore, the lack of a tooling bit also sees laser engraving apply no mechanical force to a part during the engraving stage. This means that sensitive parts can easily be marked without disrupting their position on a machine bed thus allowing for the smallest parts to be engraved.
However, as laser engravers use an intense beam to remove material, they can cause discoloration whether it's through carbonisation (for organics), or through oxidation (for metals reacting to oxygen). While this may be problematic for artistic designs, it also provides a strong contrast against the base material which can increase the visibility of the engraving.
When choosing a material for a laser-engraved part, it is imperative that only laser-safe materials are used, otherwise, toxic gasses can be released, the laser cutter can break, or the part can melt. Ponoko stocks over 200+ engineered materials that have been carefully curated to ensure they are laser safe. Furthermore, all materials stocked have been carefully categorized and documented to provide all the engineering data needed such as tensile strength, electrical conductivity, and density. During the ordering stage, different materials can be compared, and all materials are available regardless of the order quantity.
Despite their similarities, laser etching and laser engraving are different in that etching deforms the surface of a part while engraving physically removes a channel of material (albeit very shallow).
As laser etching merely deforms the very top surface of a part, it is significantly faster than laser etching and is therefore ideal for parts being mass produced. Furthermore, the lower energy requirements of laser etching also reduces operational costs, and this complements mass production well.
However, laser etching suffers from the disadvantage that it can be removed as material isn't being removed. As such, laser etching is ideal for serial numbers and tracking numbers for internal manufacturing processes, but should not be used for security identifiers or graphics that expect to be used in abrasive environments. Finally, laser etched designs are not as visible as laser engraved parts, and this is particularly problematic on shiny materials such as metal.
While Ponoko doesn't offer laser etching services, our photomechanical etching process can be used for creating parts that require extreme precision. Instead of using a laser cutter to remove material, a photoresist is used to protect areas of importance on a part, while unprotected areas are chemically etched away. Currently, this process is only available for copper, and is ideal for creating heat sinks, gears, actuators, and intricate artistic components.
One of the major benefits of laser-engraved designs is that they are extremely resistant to fading due to the removal of material. Unlike printed designs, an engraved design physically cuts out material from the surface, and this cannot be removed without the entirety of the part being ground down to the same depth.
Even though the depth of the cut is minimal, it is enough to reflect light differently compared to the rest of the surface, and this results in a strong contrast. As such, engraved designs are easy to see making them useful for all kinds of graphical applications including control panels, faceplates, security IDs, and patterns. In fact, laser engravings can even be used to improve adhesion of a surface, something which is often used on laser-engraved 3D resin printer beds.
As a laser cutting company, Ponoko has serviced over 33,000 customers and manufactured well over 2 million parts. Combined with the precision part quality of over 99.3%, it shows that our accuracy and precision is highly valued across numerous industries including aerospace, industrial, medical, and commercial electronics.
Just like with any machining process, the price of laser-engraved parts depends on the total area being engraved as well as if a vector or raster image is being engraved.
Simply put, the cost of an engraved part comes down to how much machine time is being used up, and therefore the smaller the design, the cheaper it will be to engrave. However, the biggest cost in laser cutting services from Ponoko is the material price as the running costs for laser cutters is far lower than other processes such as CNCs due to the lack of expendables.
If a design needs to minimize the cost of laser-engraved parts, it is best to avoid the use of raster graphics in favor of vector designs. As vector designs consist of mathematical expressions of lines (such as straight lines, circles, and curves), each line needing to be cut is natively understood by the laser engraver as a single action. This generates smooth tool paths for the laser engraver to follow which speeds up the engraving operation.
Raster graphics, on the other hand, consists of a bitmap that describes areas that should be engraved and areas that are not to be engraved, and this requires the laser cutter to scan over the part like a dot-matrix printer. Even though laser cutters are extremely fast, this is still a slow process, and can require multiple passes to produce a design.
Another advantage of vector designs is that because they are mathematical expressions, they can be scaled up and down without losing any image quality, while raster graphics become blurry as they are scaled up. As such, Ponoko recommends that engineers use vector graphics wherever possible, and the most appropriate file types that we accept include DXF, STEP, EPS, Ai, and SVG.
One of the major benefits of laser engraving is that it is done at the same time as laser cutting, and therefore a part can be cut and engraved in the same machine cycle.
As laser cutters are able to control both the laser power output and the speed of each axis, it is possible to perform numerous types of processes in a singular platform whether it is general etching of a surface for cleaning, engraving designs, or cutting out a part from a piece of material.
By keeping the part in the same machine throughout its entire fabrication, not only is the engraved design accurately positioned relative to the part, but it minimizes the amount of handling needed. This reduces the overall price of laser cut and engraved parts, and the lack of mechanical fixtures while being machined helps to prevent mechanical stress on the part.
This use of a singular machining platform also works hand-in-hand with our range of curated engineered materials as each material is matched to an ideal laser cutting station. Therefore, all of our parts are manufactured with the best technology at extremely fast speeds.
Just like how laser cutters can only be used on laser-safe materials, only materials that are laser-safe can be engraved.
Even though laser cutters have the capability to cut just about any material (assuming it has the energy to do so), some materials cannot be cut with a laser due to the release of toxic gasses, particulates, or reactivity. In the case of toxic gasses, materials such as PVC can very easily be cut with a CO2 laser, but the intense heat releases chlorine gas that is not only toxic to equipment, but to those nearby and the wider environment. Other materials can release particulates that can buildup on sensitive components such as reflectors which degrade the performance of the laser cutter. Finally, highly reflective materials can be outright difficult to cut as they reflect the vast majority of the laser energy, and this can reflect back into the laser cutter and damage it.
Despite the fact that laser engraving doesn't cut all the way through a part, it still vaporises the target material, and therefore has the potential to release said toxic gasses and/or particulates. Another challenge faced by laser cutters is that they cannot engrave onto uneven surfaces such as fabrics. However, this is due to the fact that fabrics can unweave themselves and fall apart which would outright destroy any pattern engraved onto them (not that it's impossible, but unsuitable for soft loose materials such as felt).
The versatility of engraving and its long-lasting nature makes it ideal for all kinds of applications including automotive, industrial, medical, security, and commercial environments.
One common use for laser-engraved parts is graphics and text on faceplates for equipment panels. The ability to resist mechanical abrasion makes laser-engraved faceplates extremely rugged for industrial environments, and using a material that naturally resists corrosion (such as stainless steel), further allows for the use of an engraved faceplate in corrosive environments.
Security applications can take advantage of the long-lasting nature of laser-engraved designs as well as the difficulty in removing them. By tagging parts with unique IDs, parts being used in a larger design can be tracked throughout the manufacturing processes. Furthermore, the use of unique IDs can help identify stolen goods as well as confirming that a product has been made with parts from the same batch (i.e. prevents products being built with old and new parts mixed together).
Laser engraving is also highly aesthetic on materials such as paper, cardboard, and wood due to the strong contrast formed by the charring of the material. As such, laser engraving is ideal for artistic products looking to add market-ready finishes to their design. Examples of products that commonly use laser engraving include jigsaws, 3D model cutouts, and personalized product packaging.
Finally, laser engraving can also be used to mark parts to aid automation. For example, parts being used in a larger product that need to be put together automatically can utilize QR codes read by a camera and then used for identification. As the QR code will always be in the same place on each part, it is easier for machinery to orient the part and quickly identify the part without having to rotate the captured image until a QR code is detected.
While laser engraving is an excellent method for graphics and text, it does have some disadvantages including its monochromatic nature, inability to be changed, and increased price.
As laser engraving only removes material, it cannot be used to create coloured graphics or text, and instead produces monochromatic designs (i.e. material and no material). In fact, laser engraving is not entirely capable of shading meaning that designs do face restrictions on their complexity and detail. Raster graphics can be used to mimic shading with patterning, but this can be seen when viewed closely, and thus is not appropriate for mass production.
Another challenge often faced with engraving is that by removing material, it is virtually impossible to make future changes to a design once engraved. While this is beneficial for some applications, it can be problematic for design updates. Additionally, the use of a laser engraver also increases the price of the final part due to the increased machining time.
Finally, laser engraving can burn the target material due to the intense energy thereby creating a strong contrast. In most cases, this is somewhat desirable as it makes designs easier to see, but discoloration can also degrade the appearance of a part.
In general, there is very little benefit in purchasing a laser engraver, and there are numerous reasons for this including the power available with small desktop engravers, the safety involved, and the overall cost.
The introduction of cheap LED laser technologies has seen numerous laser engravers hit the market, and while these are great for makers, they are not entirely applicable for engineers. The use of a visible UV beam combined with the low power makes them dangerous for those nearby while also limiting what materials can be worked with (typically, paper, cardboard, and wood).
In order to engrave metal, a laser cutter requires significantly higher powers than those offered by desktop laser engravers. Additionally, the price of industrial laser cutters capable of engraving metal are extremely expensive. Therefore, such a laser cutter is only ideal for those looking to manufacture parts on a daily basis.
Ponoko laser cutting and engraving services are perfect for engineers looking to get parts made as fast as possible while still retaining the high precision and accuracy offered by laser cutters. Not only can we turn out parts in a matter of hours, those in the Oakland Bay Area can get their parts the same day of placing their order if placed before 11AM. This allows for engineers to accelerate their projects by reducing the time between design iterations while also reducing the cost of engineering time spent waiting for prototypes to be manufactured.
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