5 Leather Laser Engraving Tips Every Hobbyist Should Know

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Leather has a longstanding reputation for being associated with luxury, quality, and timeless beauty. With the proper leather laser engraving settings on your machine, you can create items with exceptional detail, contrast, and intricacy. For hobbyists, the versatility of leather laser engraving lends itself to many projects, such as keychains, wallets, belts, jewelry, and so much more. Leather's strength, flexibility, and wide range of applications make it an ideal medium for fabricating with your laser engraver.

Leather Laser Engraving Tips

The 5 Keys Tips for Engraving on Leather Items

When considering how to laser engrave leather, there are unique factors to evaluate. These five tips can help you create gorgeous leather items to be treasured for years. 

1. You Need High Contrast and Depth

One of leather's greatest attributes when it comes to engraving is the striking contrast it can produce. High contrast is essential for any project where you want to see elaborate details like small text or complex patterns. To achieve the greatest contrast, you must be sure to utilize deep engraving. Deep engraving delivers very dark etching, making any design look clean and vivid, especially when working with light-colored leather.

The file types you use will also impact your project's contrast. Raster and vector files are two file types you should familiarize yourself with in this regard. The principal difference between raster and vector images is that raster graphics are pixelated, while vector graphics are composed of lines and paths. Because raster images are pixelated, scaling negatively affects their image quality. Vector files can be scaled without distortion and are desirable for most leather laser engraving. However, raster engraving is ideal for projects that require extreme depth and detail, such as photographs.  

2. Use Masking Tape To Prevent Smoke Discoloration on Surface

Imagine: you've painstakingly chosen your image and file type, perfected your settings, and embossed a gorgeous graphic onto a piece of quality leather, only to have the surface stained in the process. Nothing is more frustrating than investing time, money, and effort into something that is not up to your standards. The high temperature and smoke produced by a laser beam during the engraving process can stain the edges of your design on leather, giving your product a halo effect. While this can sometimes be the desired outcome, you usually want the edges to be clean and well-defined. 

Surface staining is one of the most irritating risks when working with leather. The good news is you can easily prevent smoke discoloration on your workpiece by applying masking tape to your project before engraving. Be sure to smooth out any bubbles or wrinkles, as these can let in smoke, damaging the material. Properly applied, masking tape provides a layer of protection to the leather and won't adversely affect the appearance of the end product. You simply peel the tape off after the laser completes the engraving process to reveal your new work of art.

3. Don’t Oversaturate the Leather Piece When Wetting It

Dry leather is not an optimal material for laser engraving. Without adequate moisture, leather will not lay flat on your work surface and will also be susceptible to undesirable charring. Not to mention the smell! Moisturized leather is more flexible, which makes the etching process much easier and more effective. Therefore, you must get your leather wet before introducing it to your laser engraver. 

However, you should only get your leather wet enough to render it pliable. Oversaturated leather, when etched upon, will create an image with muddled details and unclean lines. Get your leather just moist enough to lay flat, then dry the surface layer. The added moisture will expand the fibers in the material, relaxing them to a state perfect for engraving without over burning.  

4. Perform a Test Run First to Ensure You Have the Right Settings

Even the slightest deviation from the proper laser settings can ruin a design. The last thing you want is to waste precious time and materials on forging an item only to find that the settings need to be corrected.

As with any material, you should always do some preliminary testing before making that first cut on your project. Even if you have used the same material before and have established presets saved to your software, it is wise to perform a test run. Using a scrap piece of material, set your machine to the desired power setting and etch out a simple shape. With a visual inspection of the outcome, you can determine if your settings are correct or need to be adjusted. Remember to save the new presets if you have to alter the settings.

Laser engraved leather, etch leather

5. Know the Respective Settings for Genuine Leather vs. Synthetic Leather

When laser etching leather, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the different types of leather available to you. Full-grain leather is a popular choice for laser engraving due to its intrinsic strength and flexibility. Composed of the top layer of animal skin, this type of leather is also highly durable, moisture-resistant, and aesthetically pleasing. What's even better is, because it is a natural material, all these positive qualities of full-grain leather improve over time.    

It may be tempting to cut costs and invest in faux leather for your engraving needs. Be cautioned that many synthetic leather materials contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride). When heated by an element such as a laser, PVC generates toxic fumes that can damage both your health and the health of your laser machine. That said, some types of faux leather are safe to use with a laser engraver, so make sure you do your research before using anything other than genuine leather.  Be aware that the settings for full-grain leather will be very different from the settings for synthetic leather.

Choose the Best Laser Engraving Machine for Your Next Project

When choosing a laser engraving machine for your leather craft needs, you should ask yourself some critical questions. First, will you only want to engrave leather or work with other materials? For example, if you also want to cut through materials such as wood or tile, you will need a machine with a higher wattage, as etching requires less power.

Second, how big will your projects be? The size of your work bed will determine how large of an item you can create, so you should get a slightly larger engraver than you think you will need.

Finally, what is your budget? How much money you can feasibly spend is an important factor to ponder. 

No matter how you answered these questions, OMTech has got you covered. Our impressive line of laser engravers and cutters will ensure that you find the perfect machine for your leather forging journey.