Skip to main content

Laser Marking vs. Laser Engraving

Often the terminology is gets mixed in conversation, but there really is a difference between Laser Engraving and Laser Marking.  

 The term “Laser” is an acronym, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.  

If you think about the key word amplification, you will understand what a laser is doing.  A beam of light is being amplified in some manner to produce a very small and intense focal light point.  There are different methods to amplify the light which gets to the types of lasers that exist in the market today.  Common examples of laser are CO2, YAG, and Fiber.
Each of these laser types can perform Laser Marking, Laser Engraving or Laser Etching.  Each of these types have attributes that allow them to work better with some materials and not so great with others. As result, the material type to work on will drive most decisions on the type of laser to use.
Very often, laser marking and engraving are used as synonyms, but they actually refer to two different processes. They both imprint an indelible mark on a material by means of a laser beam, but while the engraving vaporizes it, the marking dissolves it. The melted surface from the marking expands, creating grooves up to 100 µm deep, altering the roughness of the material and creating a black and white, or coloured contrast, depending on the material and the laser parameters used.

Industrial marking laser

Laser Marking

  • Laser Marking is where the beam is interacting with the surface of the material and slightly altering its properties or appearance.  The 4 common types of Laser Marking are annealing, carbon migration, foaming and coloring. 
    • Laser Annealing is a surface heat-tempering mark. The heat effect of the laser beam causes an oxidation process underneath the material surface, resulting in a color change on the metal surface. This dark, permanent mark is ideal for medical device applications where material removal is prohibited to ensure part integrity and performance.
    • Carbon migration is another type of laser marking in which a metal or metal alloy is heated, causing said metal to chemically bond with its carbon molecules. This bonding brings the carbon properties to the surface of your material. When this occurs, it will often result in a dark laser marking that can even be black.
    • Foam laser marking is not used on metal, it is used only when a plastic is darker and the desired end result is a lighter color. This change in color occurs by creating a molten burn on the surface that is both contained and controlled. When the surface is melted, it creates an atmosphere of foaming gas bubbles. These bubbles change the light refraction properties of the material, making foaming a desirable process when light effects, lettering, symbols and more are requested for a product’s surface.
    • Surface colouring: Under the laser irradiation, physical or chemical effects usually occur on the substrate surface. The effects lead to the modification of optical properties in the visible range; as a result, various colors are created on the surface. Generally, laser color marking is mainly achieved through three approaches: thin film interference effect of the surface oxide layer, laser induced periodic surface structures (LIPSSs), and plasmonic colors excited from metallic nanoparticles and nanostructures.

Industrial engraving laser

Laser Engraving

  • Laser Engraving is where the laser’s beam is physically removing the surface material to expose a cavity which at eye level reveals an image.  There are 3 types of Laser Engraving:  etching, deep laser engraving and laser ablation.  Each type is removing or vaporizing the surface material, the only difference is what’s being removed and the depth you are going down into the material.
    • Laser Etching is a more shallow type mark, 0.02 mm deep for example.  
    • Deep Laser Engraving is a deep mark, often a requirement for either regulatory reasons or for parts that will be exposed to harsh conditions either physically or environmental, for example identification marks on parts exposed to corrosive chemicals.  
    • Laser Ablation is engraving where we remove a surface coat, like paint or anodizing, to expose either another layer underneath or the bare surface material.  This is a process common on ID Tags and Plates, automotive parts, switches, knobs and backlit buttons.

Two principles for guiding a laser beam

Cartesian control Vs Galvanometer mirror control

The control of the laser beam can be achieved in a number of ways and falls into two categories.

Cartesian control means that the laser beam is fixed in a head and the object to be marked or the laser head moves in the x and y coordinates with a so-called XY table. Switching the beam and controling the movement of the material with the XY table is made by means of laser software and electronics. This principle is mostly used in laser cutting.

Galvanometer mirror control utilizes a pair of strategically placed live mirrors just before the focusing lens. These mirrors are attached to small, yet extremely quick analog or digital electric motors, also referred to as "galvos". By altering the angle of the mirrors using the galvos, the beam can be guided within a limited area, through an F-theta lens and onto the surface of the material.  Controlling the laser beam with the Galvanometer principle means that the marked object doesn't have to be moving unless it is outside of the lens range.

Majority of our marking and engraving machines are Galvo based. 


Our Machine Models

Industrial marking laser - Industrial engraving laser - Perfect for metal and more

Desktop Compact Model

MINI All-in-one type laser engraving machine with small size design

Desktop Model

Mini type Laser Marking Machine with small size and detached type design, you can choose 20W 30W 50W 60W

Handheld Dual Model

Dual use Portable handheld laser marking machine

Floor Type Model

for big surfaces

Full Closed Desk Model

Continue Production Model

Business Solution Laser Machines

Custom-Built Laser Machines

Laser marking and engraving machines for metal and more

CO2 Laser Machine Versus UV-Laser Machine Versus Fiber laser Machine

Fiber laser marking and engraving machines

Fiber laser, our speciality and best solution for metal surfaces

The most important advantage of the fiber laser engraving machine is its capacity to engrave and mark all metals at high speed. The fiber laser can also mark different non-metals, but the result on these materials will often be less qualitative than with a UV laser machine. The higher power makes it practically impossible to neatly engrave plastics such as ABS and PLA, making edges ragged and you feel the engraving when you rub it. 

At present, there are two types of pulsed fiber laser source used in fiber laser marking and engraving:

Q-Switched pulsed fiber laser 

MOPA pulsed fiber laser.

Q-Switched pulsed fiber laser was introduced already many years ago, so they currently occupy a large processing market but losing heavily now against the newer MOPA technology. The much more high tech MOPA fiber laser has only gradually developed in recent years. The MOPA system can do all the work that can be done with a Q-switch fiber machine but it allows greater adjustment of parameters with a larger scale of processable materials and with better results like choosing a narrower pulse width, high frequency rate with short duration of heat and other parameters that can be adjusted to achieve the most desired effect, for example black marking in aluminum.  

MOPA presents two major advantages when compared to the Q-switch:

  • Color marking in stainless steel.  The Q-switch fiber laser marking machine can also mark colors in stainless steel, but its color is not bright and the range of colors quite limited. With MOPA fiber laser, it is possible to record in color only by adjusting parameters of speed, power, pulse width and frequency. It's a lot easier than on the Q-switch machine!
  • Black marking in anodized aluminum.  The Q-switch can only make a colorless mark on all types of aluminum. Only MOPA can mark black anodized aluminum. In addition, we know that marking in plastics is complex and some types of plastics can not be laser-marked. Very malleable plastics can usually only be marked with MOPA. It is worth remembering that all work with plastics must undergo tests to confirm the final quality of the marking.

CO2 Laser marking and engraving Machines

CO2 laser machines can directly mark a variety of coated metals such as anodized aluminum or powder coated stainless steel. However, bare metals reflect the wavelength of a CO2 laser, meaning direct marking typically requires a fiber laser source. Fortunately for CO2 laser owners, there's another great option. Bare metals like titanium or nickel plating can be pre-treated with a metal marking compound prior to engraving with a CO2 laser.  Operators simply apply the marking solution allow it to dry, and then perform the engraving as normal. The heat from the laser bonds the solution to the metal, resulting in a permanent black, silver, or sparkle-type mark from a CO2 laser machine.  Laser CO2 can engrave different materials, such as wood, garments, paper, leather, acrylic and other plastics.

Lasermach does NOT work with CO2 lasers.

UV laser marking and engraving machines

The most important advantage of UV laser technology is the multifunctional usability for marking and engraving of a large number of materials including non-metals and in particular plastics. UV lasers are perfectly suited to mark plastics such as ABS and PLA with high resolution and extremely durable, certainly in comparison with tampon printing techniques. Ideal for placing product, certification information and unique serial numbers and bar codes.  The major disadvantage of UV laser technology is the VERY weak engraving in metals, if you are looking for a machine that can engrave metals, then the fiber laser engraving machine is a MUCH better option.  Therefor Lasermach do concentrate only on the fiber laser machines.

Lasermach does NOT work with UV Lasers

Our choice: MOPA Fiber Laser

1.06 µm wavelength - Class IV laser

The fiber laser is the most recent development in laser marking technology. Fiber laser marking machine uses a low maintenance solid-state laser source. Because of its effective cooling system, it is proving very popular among the existing laser marking systems. There are no consumable materials required and you don’t have to worry about maintenance, either. Ultimately, fiber laser marking tools are very reliable, safe, and good for the environment. These fiber laser marking machines are ideal for marking on various metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, and some plastics, etc.