Find out about the features and functions of laser engravers, what applications the machines support, and how they can be used alongside the screen-printing process.
By Jerry Loya
Laser engraving systems can be a valuable and profitable addition to any screen-printing shop, giving screen printers the opportunity to decorate materials and substrates that they might not have previously considered or that their existing equipment could not support. Laser cutting and engraving systems can be used on a variety of materials. However, identifying potential applications can be a challenge. This article will discuss how these devices work and the benefits that they can bring to screen-printing operations.
Most engravers use CO2-charged lasers to produce precise and detailed images at a very high speed. They are commonly referred to as XY laser systems or cabinet lasers, in reference to the X rail and Y rail assemblies along which the laser moves and the fact that the system is enclosed (Figure 1). The overall throughput of the machine greatly depends on the power output (wattage), the speed, which is measured in in./sec (IPS), and, most importantly, the acceleration of the engraving motion of the machine.
Some lasers on the market specialize in one function over another. For example, one system is specially designed to vector cut materials up to 1.5 in. thick and has a large table size, which makes it suitable for someone who mainly does a lot of cutting. For most businesses, it's important to have a machine that can handle as many different jobs as possible. Therefore, using a laser that can raster engrave on marble and then vector cut acrylic is vital to those who must maximize their resources.
The CO2 laser is the most common system in the engraving market because it can cut and engrave on acrylics, wood, marble, leather, fabrics, plastics, and even anodized or coated metals. Within the CO2 segment, there are metal and glass CO2 tubes; each with its own advantages.
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