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Laser Engraving: Making a Good Impression
Laser-engraving machines can monogram rings, bracelets, or lockets in a fraction of the time it would take using more traditional methods. Check out Groupon's examination of how they accomplish this feat.
Engraving machines are made up of a computer, a laser, mirrors, and a cutting surface. Using an uploaded design as a blueprint, the laser beam engraves a piece in one of three ways:
1. Moving up and down or left to right to create the image—much like how an old-fashioned dot-matrix printer would print out Shakespeare's rough drafts.
2. Staying still while the cutting surface shuttles the object under it.
3. Dancing across the material as if it is drawing the design freehand. As this happens, mirrors magnify the intensity of the laser beam so it can engrave the object at the right time.
In each case, the engraving happens via the process of ablation, which removes material through evaporation—as opposed to physically cutting the material (abrasion). Because the laser is so concentrated, a high proportion of the light's energy is converted into heat, effectively vaporizing the surface.
What's to Like About Lasers
Besides speed, there are a few advantages laser engravers have over traditional machines. First, unlike other methods, lasers can be used on a wide variety of materials, from wood and leather to soap bars and peanut-butter cups. Lasers are also strong enough to cut through hard metals such as tungsten carbide and titanium. Second, ablation leaves little to no shavings behind, making it a more environmentally friendly process. And finally, the computer's precision means inspiration can come from anywhere. A machine can engrave words in almost any font and also render pictures in great detail, making it possible to etch a photo of a loved one onto a gold locket or an enemy onto the bottom of a trashcan.