Laser Engraving 101

In case you were wondering how the laser engraving decoration process actually works, read this, and you’ll practically be an expert at all things laser.

What is CO2 laser engraving?

In a CO2 laser, electricity shoots through a gas-filled tube which produces infrared light. Its then reflected through lenses and mirrors to guide the light to the workspace of the item being processed. As a result, these reflections from the mirrors increase the power of the light allowing the beam to mark, scorch, or cut through objects.

Marking vs Engraving vs Etching

When it comes to CO2 lasers, compatible materials can be marked, etched, or engraved. The difference between them is what the laser process does to the surface being processed. Mainly, how the appearance of the item changes and the depth of the laser engraving.

Laser marking discolors the surface of a material. This typically occurs from using a lower powered beam to create marks on the surface without changing the material.

Laser etching & engraving remove a portion of the surface area being marked by vaporizing the surface of the material with infrared light. The difference between etching and engraving is the amount of material being removed.

The process used will depend on the substrate, application, and desired appearance of the finished product.

Advantages of Engraving


Accurate and clean cuts

Custom die-cut shapes

Non-contact process

Wide variety of applications


No minimum quantities

Limitations of Laser Engraving

Size: Our engraver has a 24”w x 18”h x 9”d working area. Depending on the item, larger items may or may not fit. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to reach out to us so we can figure out a solution or point you in the right direction.

Materials: Some materials can be engraved or marked, some can also be cut, and some are not compatible with CO2 lasers at all. Check the spreadsheet below for a quick (but not all inclusive) list of materials.

Color: There is often no way to tell what color an engraving will be after it is engraved. Wood will also vary by type and grain. Sometimes there is a high contrast in appearance and other times it is very subtle. Color filling is sometimes an option depending on material, design, and engraving depth.

Table of engraving vs. cutting basics

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