Most people, however, are still either in the dark on these two technologies, think that the technologies are one and the same, or do not know how to differentiate or make use of these ground-breaking pieces of modern science.
But what is 3D printing? What can one do with a 3D printer both for recreational and business purposes? The same could be asked about 3D laser engraving, and that is exactly what we will set out to clarify in this article.
A lot is going on in the world of 3D printing and 3D engraving.
Understanding the technologies
Just what is 3D Printing?
3D printing is the scientific process that is used to place layers of select materials on top of each other in a highly precise sequence to create 3D objects of any shape from a digital file.
This technology is also referred to as additive manufacturing, and the material used to make these objects is predominantly plastic at current…
A lot of research is currently underway, funded by visionary conglomerates, to pioneer 3D printing with metal, glass, and eventually concrete.
Understanding 3D Laser Engraving
Laser engraving is a variant of laser technology. A good breakdown of how these technologies are working can be found here.
It is related to laser marking and etching.
Engraving involves the use of laser beams to create programmed indentations on objects of different materials, including wood, glass, plastic or even gems. This is mainly achieved with CO2 laser machines.
In laser technology, a beam of coherent light is projected on an object through an optical amplification process.
Laser machines comprise of a laser beam, a controller and a suitable surface.
The technology can either involve a moving laser optics beam or a mechanism that moves the object of engraving along X and Y axis as dictated by the controller to effect the desired engraving.
Models also exist that allow for synchronous movement of both the X and Y axis for better performance.
There are two main types of laser engraving, and the preference of their use is mainly dependent on the material being worked on, the type of engraver used and the intended purpose of the product…
Ablation is the process of chipping or vaporizing the surface of an object using a laser beam as a result of very high and extremely short energy pulses that produce minimum heat on the surface while instantaneously vaporizing the intended parts of a surface.
Different types of laser etching machines produce different types of grooves.
The engraving can be completed with a finishing material to protect the groove from oxidizing or corroding.
Subsurface laser engraving (SSLE)
This is the kind of etching that is done from the base of a solid block of material.
Due to its transparency, glass is the main material on which this technique is usually applied, and the pieces thus done end up being quite pricey due to the process’ sophisticated cooling process.
This technology has developed recently to the engraving of 3D images. There are very few machines deployed for SSLE, partly because of the cost of purchase, cooling and maintenance.
With both techniques, different types of machines are available, mostly in design, sophistication and model.
Applications where 3D printing and laser engravers are used
Let us look at some areas where each of these two technologies is being used.
Saving Coral Reefs
Because of its capability of detailed internal structure modelling, 3D printed coral is being pioneered by organizations like Boston Ceramics to mimic natural coral and reintroduce seed reefs where coral has been eroded in a bid to rejuvenate marine ecosystems.
From 3D printed implants for hip, heel, spinal and knee replacements, internal organs modelling for surgery practice, dental models to actual bio-printed organs, 3D printing is disrupting diagnostic processes in very many ways.
Preservation of pre-historic and archaeological heritage
Natural calamities, war and terrorist activities have the reputation of destroying priceless artefacts the world over. 3D scanning and printing has emerged as one of the best bets in restoration of these treasures.
Pioneering work has already been carried out with restoration of parts of the city of Palmyra in Syria after ISIS incursions.
Probably the biggest manifestation of the technology is in the toy market.
The technology is on the verge of impacting on the global $84 billion toy market because it is handing over the capability of printing toys to those who can get access to a printer.
Making Parts on the fly
Another interesting development is things like humanitarian aid and DIY spare parts. 3D printing has been used to make plumbing spare parts and other plastic spare parts in remote locations for such things as toilet plumbing and nut and bolts for equipment and even housing. It may look far-fetched for now, but it is not long until we can be able to actually print whole buildings.
3D Laser Engraving
The kind of flexibility, high precision, cost effectiveness and ease of engraving possible now with this technology has made most jewellers switch from other forms of engraving in hordes.
Nowadays, machines are available that can engrave and etch on curved surfaces, like the inside of a wedding ring or uneven surfaces as well as flat surfaces.
With the rising demand in personalized jewellery, this technology is a welcome relief.
It is now possible to create extremely appealing works of art by first engraving planar surfaces and then filling them with inks and other materials.
These techniques are being used on glass, wood, leather and other materials with very good results.
Photopolymer laser imaging
Laser engraving is also used in industrial applications, especially in making printable ready flexo plates for labelling and packaging a wide variety of products.
Industrial Marking Technologies
From aerospace industry marking, automotive part marking, to other use cases in the energy, electronics, military and medical equipment marking, laser marking and engraving technologies are crucial in things like part traceability and indelible labelling.
Comparing 3D printers and engravers
These two technologies, as can be seen, are not interchangeable, but are rather complementary in many ways. It would be possible to print an object and then subject it or 3D engraving to create truly amazing end products.
Some differences can be identified on the fly;
- 3D printing is additive and Laser engraving is subtractive
- 3D printing involves layering of select filaments while laser engraving works with various types of services.
- 3D printing has a wide range of use across many industries while engraving is mainly used in fine art and jewellery.
- 3D scanning followed with printing can be used to make replicas of existing items. Engraving usually alters the appearance of existing items.
Let us now examine some of the other things you need to know when plunging into these game changers.
Categories and purchase options
3D printers come with different features and levels of sophistication depending on the intended level of use. The prices can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $100k.
You will find entry level ($200-$400), hobbyist ($300-$1,500), enthusiast ($1,500-$3,500), professional ($3,500 – $6000),or industrial ($20,000-$100,000) printers with prices going up in that order.
（Above datas are from 3dinsider ）
Entry level printers can be noisy and slow, will mostly only allow you to use one filament and are mostly restricted to around 3-4” printing in any dimension. However, they are great for novices to learn how the technology works.
As you go up the sophistication level, the prices go up as the features improve.
Here is a comparative table for price, size, speed, quality, noise etc for a quick overview;
The industrial category is so prohibitive in terms of size, maintenance and price such that most industrial applications are being done with several high end professional printing machines with different properties to achieve the desired results.
3D printers are always being upgraded, and therefore we will see an increasing reduction in prices over time.
3D laser engravers
Engravers have two main categories as mentioned above. Their prices can range anywhere from $700 to >$50k, though there are some unbelievable offerings for some not industrial use models at even $600 in China
It is possible to find these machines at a very wide variety of prices depending on their models and uses.
There are very many models at amazon, eBay and Alibaba.
When buying equipment, it is of extreme importance to look at previous buyer reviews. What are other people saying about the same equipment? Do their concerns affect your intended use case? What is the brand ownership saying about the customer reviews?
Is there prompt feedback in case anything goes wrong, are there regular updates when upgrades occur? Are there after sale services?
All these are great pointers to purchasing a machine that suits you.
How to buy a 3D Laser engraver
Before you buy an engraver, the starting point is your intended use. Are you buying it for business? Are you a laser hobbyist? Do you intend to do heavy duty work with the equipment?
The second consideration, as with anything else, is your budget.
Several other considerations are also important…
- Do you want to upgrade your machine in the near future? Discuss any possibilities for upgrades with the seller.
- Is it easy to find replacements for the parts of your intended buy?
- How much capacity in terms of wattage are you looking for? Higher powered lasers are easier to use and cut deeper and faster than lighter wattage machines.
- What are your cutting needs? What is the size of the materials you intend to work on? This will have a bearing on the size of machine you are buying.
3D engraver brands
Apart from getting a lot of scientific information about the latest technologies in laser marking, you can try the CO2 laser engraver from HeatSign for all non-metal engraving, especially on organic surfaces like wood and leather.
An amazing addition to their engraving ensemble is the fiber laser machine, that use fiber optics to pump light-emitting diodes to the optical heads, thus achieving high intensity beams that give very high quality marking on all kinds of metal parts.
Trotec Laser is a company based in the US. They make high-precision laser engraving machines.
They also provide technical support through the troCare protection plan in case anything goes wrong.
Their machines are designed for cutting through acrylic, glass, leather, wood and even metal. Their machines are free of harmful substances like lead and arsenic.
You can also head over to Epilog Laser where you will find machines that are designed to fit different use cases and situations.
3D printing and 3D engraving are some of the exciting new technologies that are destined to make our lives interesting.
At current, they are not cheap hobbies, and prices for good quality machines are sometimes prohibitive.
But prices are not the only cost areas when working with these technologies. There is also the consideration of the cost of operation, maintenance, calibration, choice of filaments and also parts.
To find out more about 3D printing technology and where to start, click here.
To find out more about industrial 3D lasser engraving, you can visit here.