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Aluminum Laser Engraving: All You Need to Know
Aluminum has been in great demand because of its exceptional properties, such as corrosion resistance, light weight, durability, and low cost. It is one of the widely used metals in almost every industry for making parts and products.
With the increase in the demand for aluminum, we also notice the massive demand for aluminum laser engraving that can be used for marking serial numbers, QR codes, logos, brand names, and other information.
The permanent laser marking helps in the identification and tracking of different parts, items, and components.
But the problem is that aluminum laser engraving is not as simple as engraving a piece of wood. It is a metal, and it requires the right type of laser machine and the proper engraving method.
If you are new to aluminum laser engraving or want to start this as a new business, you are in the right place.
In This Article
- How Does Laser Engraving Aluminum Work?
- What Kind of Laser can Engrave Aluminum?
- What is a Good Laser Engraver for Engraving Aluminum?
How Does Laser Engraving Aluminum Work?
Laser engraver throw powerful beams of laser that can quickly increase the temperature of the object on which they fall. The temperature of the objects increases rapidly, and within a fraction of a second, the temperature reaches the boiling temperature.
Thus, the material starts to vaporize. The particles that are present at the surface directly change from the solid to the gaseous state.
The sudden change of state from solid to gas without going through the intermediate state of liquid is called sublimation. This is the reason that you will never see materials melting under a laser machine.
The same happens with aluminum. When the laser beams fall on its surface, the particles start to vaporize and then the engraved area appears. If you touch the engraving, you can feel the depth of the cavity.
Aluminum is a metal with a much higher boiling point (2,470°C) compared to non-metals, but still, laser engraver can easily engrave it.
Laser engraving aluminum is much better than drilling as it does not affect the properties or appearance of the metal. It marks aluminum without removing the excess material from the surface.
What Kind of Laser can Engrave Aluminum?
You might have heard about different types of laser engravers, such as CO2 laser, fiber laser, and diode laser. All these types of lasers have different capabilities for working on various materials.
Therefore, if you want to do laser engraving on aluminum, you need to know which type of laser is suitable.
Before we dive into the kind of laser for aluminum engraving, we need to understand what bare aluminum, powder coated aluminum and anodized aluminum are. They are three types of aluminum available on the market based on the appearance of their surface.
3 Types of Aluminum
Bare aluminum refers to aluminum in its original state without any exterior coating. Secondly, anodized aluminum is a coated bare aluminum. An anodized exterior coating is applied on the bare aluminum through a process called anodizing.
Anodizing is an electrochemical process in which an anodic oxide finish is applied to the metal surface. Anodized aluminum also goes through the process to enhance corrosion and abrasion resistance. The coating is durable and appealing, and it never wears off from the surface
Anodized aluminum is available in various colors, such as red, pink, green, blue, yellow, etc. The user can choose the right one according to the requirement.
Powder-coated aluminum is also a coated bare aluminum, but the process used for coating the metal is different from anodizing. The coating is applied with the help of a spray gun.
Compared to anodizing, powder coating is a dry process because there is no electrolytic solution involved. The metal is grounded, but the powder has a negative electrostatic charge. This way, the powder is coated over bare aluminum.
The best part is that powder coating is more economical and environmentally friendly.
Almost any color can be applied through powder coating. It gives aluminum a appearance that looks appealing. Most importantly, it protects the bare aluminum.
Now that we have a clear idea of Bare aluminum, Anodized and Powder Coated, let’s look at the type of laser engraver suitable for their engraving.
Laser Engraving Bare Aluminum
For laser engraving bare aluminum, fiber laser machines can be used to engrave directly on the object, but if you want to use CO2 laser, a special pretreatment is needed.
Another option for engraving bare aluminum is the diode laser, but it requires special pretreatment and many passes to show good results, depending on the power.
Fiber laser does not require any pretreatment or coating because of its wavelength. It ranges from 780 nm to 2200 nm, and this wavelength is absorbed by most metals, including aluminum, which is why fiber lasers can engrave metals without any hassle or prerequisites.
On the other hand, a CO2 laser has a higher wavelength that is usually around 10,600 nm. This wavelength is reflected by bare aluminum and other metals; however, it reacts exceptionally well with non-metals.
Therefore, if you want to engrave bare aluminum using a CO2 laser, you need to apply a thin coating of metal marking compound. After applying the coating, the metal can be engraved with a CO2 laser. Once the engraving is done, you can wipe off the coating using water.
Similarly, you need to apply a metal marking compound to engrave using a diode laser.
The engraving will be very light and barely visible, so you must do a lot of passes, such as 10-12 passes with a 10W laser, to get visible results. It takes too much time due to the number of passes, so it is not a feasible option for engraving bare aluminum.
Thus, you can use fiber laser as well as CO2 laser to engrave bare aluminum. But in the case of a CO2 laser engraver, you need to apply a coat of metal marking spray.
Another important thing to notice is that bare aluminum requires a higher power of laser machine as compared to anodized aluminum.
Laser Engraving Anodized Aluminum
For anodized aluminum, CO2, diode, and fiber laser engravers are suitable. You can use any of them and get the best results without any hassle
Even in the case of CO2 and diode lasers, there is no need for pretreatment. The oxide layer that is due to the anodizing process can absorb the wavelength of CO2 and diode. Therefore, it allows these lasers to engrave on anodized aluminum directly.
If you want to engrave anodized aluminum, a diode laser is the most affordable option. The diode laser works exceptionally well, and you get excellent results in only one pass.
But keep in mind that the coating on anodized materials varies in terms of thickness. For a thicker coating, you need to increase the power of the laser.
Laser Engraving Powder Coated Aluminum
Powder-coated aluminum can be engraved by CO2, diode, and fiber lasers. As it already has a coating, there is no need for any pretreatment.
Due to the powder coating, the laser beams of CO2 and diode lasers are absorbed, which is why the material is easily engraved.
Fiber vs CO2 vs Diode Laser for Aluminum Engraving
Now, you might be thinking about which type of laser machine is suitable, as CO2, diode, and fiber lasers can engrave aluminum.
The upfront cost of fiber laser machines is 3 to 4 times the CO2 laser machine and 15-20 times the diode laser machine.
However, the operational cost of fiber lasers is much less. It also has a higher speed, more lifespan, and low electric power consumption.
But the problem with fiber lasers is that they cannot engrave different types of materials, such as a wide range of non-metals. Thus, if you need a laser machine only for marking metals and you can bear the upfront cost, you can go with a fiber laser.
For small laser engraving and cutting businesses, a CO2 machine is much better.
The first reason behind choosing a CO2 laser is the low upfront cost, which is usually around $3,500 to $5,000. More importantly, it's able to engrave and cut a wide range of materials.
Using a CO2 laser, you can engrave bare aluminum, anodized aluminum, and powder-coated aluminum. You also can engrave other metals, such as steel. On top of that, you can also engrave and cut wood, leather, plastic, acrylic, stone, rubber, etc.
Thus, you have the option to make a wide range of products and items by using different materials.
A diode laser is the most cost-effective solution for engraving anodized and powder-coated aluminum. You can easily get the machine for $800 to $1,500, depending on the features and other specifications
A diode laser can also engrave other materials, such as solid wood, plywood, acrylic, ceramics, glass, stone, metals, etc.
Most importantly, you can buy a DIY CO2 laser engraver or diode laser to get started with aluminum engraving along with engraving other materials.
Both machines are compact and can be used inside your home or garage. In contrast, fiber laser machines are bigger, and they are not for DIY and small businesses.
What is a Good Laser Engraver for Engraving Aluminum
xTool D1 Pro
xTool D1 Pro is a diode laser machine that can engrave powder-coated and anodized aluminum without any hassle.
The 20W laser module of the machine is the most powerful diode laser in the world. You can also get the infrared laser module, which is specifically made for metal and plastic engraving. It can engrave various metals, including aluminum and precious metals.
It can also do colored engraving on various metals, including aluminum. With that being said, you can get 340+ colors to make engraving more beautiful and eye-catching.
xTool Laserbox Rotary
xTool’s Laserbox Rotary is a CO2 laser engraving machine perfect for aluminum engraving. It is a compact machine that almost anyone can use, including small business owners, professionals, artists, DIYers, hobbyists, and students.
The output/optical power of the machine is 40W, which is more than enough for anodized aluminum as well as bare aluminum engraving. For bare aluminum engraving, you need to use laser marking spray.
The most important thing about the machine is its built-in smart smoke purifier. When you engrave coated metal, there are harmful fumes that can pollute your working area. But the purifier in this machine adjusts itself according to the smoke and filters the smoke on its own. It ensures eco-friendly ventilation.
The other notable features of the machine are live preview, AI focus, material recognition, image extraction, and a safety warning system. Moreover, you can also use the rotary attachment to engrave cylindrical objects, such as aluminum cylinders.
Laser engravers can engrave aluminum, and it can easily be engraved using a CO2, diode, or fiber laser.ost perfection.
If you are using a fiber laser, you can directly engrave bare, anodized aluminum, or powder-coated aluminum.
While using CO2 or diode lasers, you need to apply a laser marking spray on the bare aluminum; however, the anodized aluminum and powder coated can be engraved directly.
For small laser businesses, CO2 and diode laser machines are suitable as they can engrave a wide range of materials, including aluminum. It is a more affordable option, and we have also shared xTool Laserbox Rotary CO2 laser and xTool D1 Pro diode laser that can help you engrave aluminum with utmost perfection.