Laser Engraving vs. Laser Marking: What’s the Difference?

Laser engraving and laser marking are very similar technologies. Both rely on the use of lasers to leave a permanent mark on items and materials.

Because of how similar they are, many people who are unfamiliar with the standard industry terms may even mistakenly assume they are the same thing. However, in actual fact, laser engraving and laser marking are terms to describe two different types of processes that are unique in their own way.

What is Laser Engraving?

Laser engraving is a process that uses a high-powered laser to vaporize a layer of the surface material and completely remove it. Once it is removed the cavity that is formed will be an easily noticeable mark that can be seen or felt.

Technically there are three types of laser engraving: Deep laser engraving, laser etching, and laser ablation. The main difference between these types of engraving is the depth of the cavity that is formed.

Nowadays laser engraving is one of the most popular ways to mark materials or items with a laser. It is generally faster than other options, and the marks that it leaves are more durable due to the fact that they are deep.

Because of its durability, laser engraving is often the preferred option when items or materials are expected to go through heavy wear. However, it may not be the best choice for safety-critical parts as there is a small chance that the removal of material will affect its structure, damage it, or cause deformations.

What is Laser Marking?

Unlike laser engraving, laser marking does not remove any part of the material. Instead, it uses a laser to alter the properties of the surface material and leave a permanent mark on it.

There are several types of laser marking methods that are used nowadays. The four most common are annealing, discoloration, carbon migration, and foaming. Each of these methods is slightly different and may be used on different materials, but achieves the same overall result – a permanent mark without removing any material.

In most cases laser marking is slower than engraving, however, it is still popular in its own right. The main reason why it is widely used is that it has a lower risk of damaging the material, and produces markings that are smooth. This makes it very suitable for marking items in the medical industry, or other industries that use safety-critical parts.

Another benefit of laser marking is that it produces less waste. In part that is because there is no removal of material, and also because the processes involved are less likely to produce by-products such as toxic gas that may be present when engraving certain materials.

Which is Better?

As you have probably noticed by this juncture, laser engraving and laser marking both have advantages as well as disadvantages of their own. Neither of them is ‘better than the other, and the most suitable option will depend on your requirements.

Generally speaking, if you want a fast and durable option that is also cost-effective, then laser engraving is the way to go. On the other hand, if you want to mark materials without affecting their structure or creating any new edges then laser marking is the better choice. Additionally, some industries may have regulations on the use of laser engraving and laser marking.

Now that you’re aware of the differences between these two methods and know what makes them unique, it should be easy enough to figure out which one you need. If you have any doubts you can consult a laser engraving service and ask them what they’d recommend.

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