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A Step by Step Guide to Laser Engraving

A brief introduction to creating etched images using engraving machines.

If you want to get a idea of how laser etching is performed, what steps are required for it, as well as the very basics of operating a laser engraving machine, this guide will get you started.

1. Assuming that you already know the object that you wish to personalize through laser engraving (a plaque, a paperweight, a ring, a pendant, a picture frame, an iPod – what have you), the first stage requires that you come up with a suitable creative idea for an engraved text, a graphic or a combination of both. To get you started with inscriptions I might suggest some resources that I made available on this site:

· Ideas for Engraved Rings: Latin Quotes

· Ideas for Engraved RIngs: Traditional English Ring Poems

· Engraved Dedications for your Friends and Family. In Latin!

There are numerous sources of clip art on the Internet that can be used as graphical elements of your design.

2. Create a final graphic version of your design. You can do this in PhotoShop, PaintShop Pro or any other program you are familiar with. It is, of course, possible to scan an existing graphic so that it can be modified, resized etc. The important thing to keep in mind is that your design must be of the right size for the laser engraving equipment that you intend to use. This primarily involves using the correct resolution. Most laser engraving machines are capable of handling designs of up to 1200 dpi (that’s dots per inch for the uninitiated). Although you can choose a much lower setting for testing purposes, it is advised that your finished engraved product feature at least 300 dpi resolution. You also need to know what modes are available on your engraving machine. It may be able to handle vector graphics, bitmap graphics or their combination within a single pattern.

3. When your initial artwork is ready you need to convert the resulting files into a format that an engraving machine can use. There is a popular program that exists for this very purpose: PhotoGrav ($395 for a full version). Some software may also be provided with the engraving equipment that you have at your disposal, but PhotoGrav is particularly useful if you are etching photographs, as it takes into account specific property of more that 20 materials typically used in product engraving. If your design does not require such precision you can bypass this preprocessing step.

4. Now it’s time to buy, rent or otherwise gain access to an engraving machine 🙂 (If you are serious enough to buy one you will be happy to know out that just for a few thousand dollars you can get one that will likely do the job for you.) Modern manufacturers of engraving machines, such as Epilog Laser, are actively pursuing ways to make laser engraving as user friendly as possible. As a result, you may be surprised to find out that some laser engraving machines connect to your computer the same way as printers do. It is even conceivable to regard a laser engraving machine a very evolved laser printer! This means that you may be able to select your etching equipment in the printer dialog of your graphics package and send your picture directly to the machine. In reality, of course, you need to know a little bit more about laser engraving than you need to know about printing. Apart from resolution, you need to properly set the power of your laser, its speed and focus. This is quite natural, if you think about it. Because all materials have different properties you must be careful, otherwise the wine glass you wanted to engrave can become leaky! You can (and should!) make sure that the laser engraving system is set up to correctly represent the colors and shades in your design. This is typically achieved through software.

5. There are important safety precautions involved in using engraving equipment. Most importantly perhaps, if you thought that the fumes coming out of your printer are bad, you will be unpleasantly surprised that when the laser beam carves through most materials they are tend to evaporate creating gases that can make you seriously sick in no time. Therefore, it is essential that a proper exhaust system is in place.

6. When everything is ready the engraving process can begin. It can last from a few minutes up to several hours, because of the differences in materials’ properties and the size of engraved surfaces. Laser engravers resemble printers even in the way the operate. You will see that the laser head moves over the engraved surfaced similarly to a printer head in a typical ink-jet (sometimes, however, the material itself is set into motion or both the material and the laser are moving, especially when you have to engrave something on a circular surface). As you watch your engraving system do its job, it is the right time to ponder how long it would have taken you do perform the same task by hand. Also, don’t forget that laser systems do not require bits that tend to break or wear out, so everything should go quite smooth for you.

7. When the engraving is ready the material may be quite hot. Be careful handling it. Take a close look at your finished product. Looks good? That’s laser engraving for you!

I have a paperweight that bears a simple inscription:

I shall not be moved

This clearly refers to a number of Bible verses, particularly this one:

He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved (Ps. 62:6).

A wonderful combination of post-modern self-referentiality and traditional religious imagery. But I would much rather have the inscription be in Latin, but the Vulgate text of this verse is rather uninspiring:

quia ipse Deus meus et salvator meus adiutor meus non emigrabo

If I were to pick the engraving for a paperweight I would translate I shall not be moved as NON COMMOVEBOR.

In general, engraved paperweights make great gifts and great employee recognition awards. They are practical, but with plenty of style.

To an untrainted ear the words Claddagh Ring can easily seem like some sort of Hebrew reference. Well, actually Claddagh is a village in Ireland. An old magazine describes the population of this village in such words:

"They are an industrious and self-respecting people, those fisher folk, but somewhat as exclusive in their manners as were their old burgher neighbors, who invited no mere Irish within the doors over which were sculptured the trefoils of the Lynches, the chevron of the Frenches, the fret of the Blakes and the squirrels of the Skerretts.
This does not mean that they are inhospitable: the are as courteous as anywhere in Ireland; but for ages they had a king of their own, and they are a people among themselves, whose parents were married for far back generations with the Claddagh ring, bearing two hands grasping a heart, who lived the same, adventurous, sea-defying lives and let the changeful stream of outer events glide all unnoticed by."

It must be added that the Claddagh ring often becomes a family heirloom, and is handed down from mother to daughter. As a result, some women still posses rings that are very old and show traces of an even older design. In past times the villagers of Claddagh were known to acknowledge no other pattern for their wedding rings. The reason behind this probably lies in the fact that fishermen are often superstitions. Claddagh ring is most properly made out of gold. There is a slogan that is often linked with these rings: "Let Love and Friendship Reign".

Engraving material: find the medium for your personalized creations

Whatever the occasion may be, there is always a way to find a unique approach to engraving. If you want to digress from the usual objects that are often seen as prime candidates as being personalized by engraving them (rings, clocks, Bibles, coffee mugs, plaques, bottles, pens) perhaps the most logical solution would be to start look at materials that can be engraved using modern equipment and proper technology. That’s because today you can engrave a whole lot more than it used to be possible in the old days of hand-engraving! Let’s have a look at some of the materials, noting their specific properties and the technological nuances.

WOOD

This ancient material is often used due to its relative softness and ease in handling. It is affordable, in fact even the most expensive woods are can be very easily acquired in the amounts that one might need for a simple engraved object. Wood is probably the simplest choice if you intend to make an engraving yourself, without resorting to the help of a specialist. However, apart from hand-engraving wood responds well to laser-engraving tools. “Burning” images on wood demands the choice of hardwoods, such as walnut, mahogany, oak and maple.

METALS

It is obvious that metals (gold, silver, bronze) are good candidates for serving as engraving surfaces. A variation of this type of material can be found in coated metals. They are sometimes specifically manufactured for this exact purpose and provide a high level of contrast between the engraving and the background.

PLASTICS

Plastics come in a great number of varieties. While some are manufactured specifically to be engraved, many common plastic objects are not suited for this purpose. Often it is necessary to fill in the engraved area with paint and generally the effect cannot be compared with the more “noble” materials.

GLASS

Glass can be engraved using sandblasting, diamond bits and lasers. A process called “multi-stage glass sandblasting” can produce particularly stunning results. Glass engraving is often used in combination with glass staining.

Here I have a few ideas that might provide inspiration for creating customized engravings on a promise ring, a wedding ring or a purity ring. The first set I am publishing contains Latin quotes. What needs to be said at this point is that looking for Latin quotations on the internet can be a very dangerous thing. There is a lot of bad Latin out there, so to speak. Some translations are dubious to begin with, but after being copied multiple times, they become detached from their context. Eventually people who have no business dealing with Latin compile them and post them for everybody’s pleasure. To give you a vivid example a must quote a page entitled “Latin Love Quotes: Latin Proverbs on Love and Relationships”:

Each quotation offers words of wisdom in English followed by its Latin translation. Latin is the root of the romance languages and it shows. When people think of a Latin lover, they think of a red-hot lover.

The person who wrote this clearly has no idea what she was talking about. The term “romance” in its colloquial sense has very little to do with Romance languages. This usage stems from a literary term describing love stories that were popularized by medieval authors who wrote in a vernacular sometimes referred to as “Romance” (as in romanice scribere ). Similarly, Latin lovers have nothing to do with the language of Ancient Rome. But all this could be forgiven if the quotes cited were actually correct. But they are not! The original text of the famous quote from Virgil Love conquers all is given as Amor tussisque non celantur, actually meaning Love and cough are not concealed. I can only pity someone who used this phrase for their wedding rings or a tattoo! You have to always verify the quotation you are using for an engraving, using a few independent sources. Obviously, I have checked the phrases below the best I could.

  • Ab hinc From now on
  • Amor est vitae essentiaLove is the essence of life. (Robert B. Mackay)
  • Amoris vulnus idem sanat, qui facitThe same person who causes the wound of love, heals it. (Publilius Syrus)
  • Bona fortuna Good luck.
  • Da mihi basia mille – Kiss me with a thousand kisses
  • De die in diem – From day to day.
  • De novo Anew.
  • Deo adjuvante – With God’s help.
  • Deo favente – With God’s favor.
  • Domine, dirige nos – Lord, direct us
  • Dominus illuminatio mea – The Lord is my light
  • Dominus providebit – The Lord will provide
  • Dulcius ex asperis – Through difficulty, more sweet.
  • Esto perpetuo May it last forever.
  • Ex amore vitaFrom love, life
  • Finis amoris ut duo unum fiantIt is the goal of love that two shall become one.
  • In aeternumForever.
  • In omnia parati Prepared for everything (plural) .
  • Junctis viribus By united efforts.
  • Laus Deo Praise be to God.
  • Manus in manu Hand in hand.
  • Mirabile visu Wonderful to behold.
  • Ne cede malis Yield not to evils.
  • Nec mortem effugere quisquam nec amorem potestNo one is able to flee from death or love (Publilius Syrus)
  • Non est ei similis There is no one like him (her).
  • Oculi amorem incipiunt, consuetudo perficit. The eyes initiate love, habit completes it. (Publilius Syrus)
  • Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus amoriLove conquers all things; let us too surrender to love . (Virgil). The word order is sometimes changed to “Vincit omnia amor” and “Amor vincit omnia”.
  • Pactum servaPreserve the faith (the contract).
  • Pignus amoris– A token of love.
  • Puris omnia pura To the pure all things are pure.
  • Quod Deus iunxit homo non separetWhat God has joined together, let man not separate.
  • Quos amor verus tenuit, tenebitTrue love will hold on to those whom it has held. (Seneca)
  • Si vis amari, amaIf you wish to be loved, love . (Seneca)
  • Sine cura Without a care.
  • Spero melior I hope for better things.
  • Tamquam alter idem As if a second self. ( Cicero about a true friend)
  • Ubi amor, ibi oculusWhere there is desire, there is the eye
  • Ubi concordia, ibi victoria Where is the unity, there is the victory. ( Publilius Syrus )
  • Ut ameris, ama!To be loved, love! (Martial)
  • Velle est posse To be willing is to be able.

It must be noted that in ancient Rome there was no distinction between “U” and “V”, there was also no special letter for “J” (“I” was used). The distinction between lower-case and upper-case letters is also a relatively recent innovation. Consequently, it is customary to only use upper-case letters in modern Latin inscriptions and engravings, replacing u’s with V’s, and j’s with I’s. So, if you plan to order engraved rings with the inscription “Junctis viribus” it will look best like this: IVNCTIS VIRIBVS. However, these conventions have become more relaxed in modern times. You can choose the style of lettering based on the design of the wedding rings that you want to engrave. I may be able to provide an advice in some more complicated cases.

engravedring

See Also: Engraved Dedications for your Friends and Family. In Latin!