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
Several laser engravers feature exclusive functions, such as 3D engraving, which allows the user to engrave deep into wood or acrylic, resulting in a multidimensional effect (Figure 3). Other functions include stamp mode for creating rubber stamps and rotary attachments to engrave on cylindrical objects such as mugs or vases. Also, systems designed with front and rear pass-through doors offer virtually unlimited height, enabling users to take on jobs that they might have otherwise turned away. This feature is ideal for those who wish to engrave on long objects, such as baseball bats, gun stocks, and wood paneling.
Screen printers should keep a few things in mind when investigating laser cutting or engraving systems for their shops. First, test the system's engraving or cutting quality. With so many laser engraving systems on the market, it can be difficult to choose the one that best fits your needs. Also, many people wish to shop around for the lowest price. Although buying a low-cost laser may be good for your wallet, it may not be the best decision in the long run. Keep in mind that not all machines are created equal, and as the old adage goes, "You get what you pay for."
The main things to consider when assessing a laser engraver include the motors, rail system, driver, and laser tube, as well as the technical service and warranty offered by the manufacturer. The motors on a laser engraving system are vital in making precise cuts. If a motor loses its place, it can ruin an engraving job, especially if a job requires multiple passes over the same area. DC servo motors are best and provide consistent and accurate cuts.
The rail system must provide smooth and frictionless movement. Some systems employ a low-maintenance motion linear bearing system to ensure effortless and smooth operation. The driver is another critical component that determines the flexibility and functionality of the equipment. The driver should be easy to navigate and operate. The more features it offers, the more options and control you have over your work. Finally, remember that the laser tube is the heart and soul of any laser engraver. Make sure that the tube is from a reputable source. Stay far way from off-brand tubes.
One of the most overlooked aspects of owning a laser engraver is technical support. Laser engravers are very complicated pieces of equipment. If a part were to fail, who would you turn to for assistance? Make sure your dealer will be able to assist you in case you are ever in need of service. Also check to see what kind of warranty the manufacturer offers. Some warranties are longer than others. Find out the length of the warranty and determine precisely what it covers. Wear-and-tear items usually are not included in the warranty, so be sure to check the price of replacement parts.
Considerations should focus on more than just price, features, and warranty. Also ask yourself the following questions: Is the output precise enough to be used for producing stencils? Do we need better output quality? Is the output quality consistent? Are there any hidden costs for training and maintenance? Will there be any chemical reactions with the materials that we plan to process? Harmful chemical byproducts may damage the machine and harm the operator. These byproducts can be created when working with materials such as PVC or Teflon.
In the end, just be sure to research and do your homework. A laser engraving system is one of the best investments you can make for your business. As long as you know what your needs are and understand what the system can and cannot do, you'll be on your way to a future of profitable laser cutting and engraving.
About the authors
Jerry Loya is the North American laser sales representative for GCC America, a manufacturer of laser-engraving systems with offices in Walnut, CA.
William Chai started as a laser technician for GCC at the company's Taiwan headquarters in 2002. He now handles marketing for GCC's laser division in Taiwan.
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