HackSpace magazine

5 Unusual Materials for Laser Etching

By Poppy Mosbacher. Posted

The first time I saw someone laser etch a photo onto a glass mirror I was so impressed I started exploring different materials to etch in a laser cutter. From chocolate to cutlery, laser etching can be done on a whole range of materials*. It’s an ideal process for creating personalised gifts or adding decorative features to your projects.

Here are links to a selection of how-to guides for different materials to help broaden the use of laser etching:

1. Chocolate Bars

Michiexile has been experimenting with laser etching chocolate and found it’s effective with greyscale photos but says to avoid any subtle images. “The most important insight when working with chocolate is that the etching works more by melting and re-settling the top layer of the chocolate than by vaporizing it.” says Michiexile. “Pick a design with lots of contrast” to have the highest chance of success.

Step by step instructions available here.

2. Slate Coasters

When you laser engrave slate the area turns white, creating a striking contrast.

Instructions available here.

3. Glass

“Traditionally laser engraving photos on glass wasn’t easy” says Mike Clarke. “The secret is using a mask” such as transfer tape. Mike shares the technique in the video below:

With the rotary attachment, you can also laser etch glass bottles and champagne flutes. There's a how-to section dedicted to glass on the Trotec website.

4. Stainless Steel Cutlery

Customise your cutlery with initials or graphics using LEGO® bricks to align the cutlery in the laser cutter. This solves the issue of varying heights and angles, as shown in these instructions.

Laser etching cutlery (image from Trotec)

Custom cutlery (image from Trotec)

5. Wooden Beads

Adam Watters uses the laser cutter's rotary attachment and makes a simple jig to hold beads in place. “I made a laser etched baseball, and ever since I've been sort of hung up on the idea of lasering into other spherical objects.” says Adam. Full details are available here.

Adapting the machine with a purpose built jig (image from Adam Watters)

A wooden bead becomes a minuture globe (image from Adam Watters)

*Safety Note Reflective surfaces can be dangerous in laser cutters if proper precautions are not taken. Make sure you understand, and properly mitigate, any risks before putting any new materials in your laser cutter

If you want to improve the quality of your engravings, check out this guide from Geordie_h, who's shared tips learnt at a Portland makerspace.

What have you made with laser etching? Let us know in the comments below.