(Cookie engraving with the OMTech Polar)
When you think of fiber CO2 laser cutting or engraving, you likely think of projects like personalized jewelry, home decor items, signs, or tumblers. Food engraving is probably not something that immediately pops into your head. However, laser engraving on food has become very popular recently, especially within social media. Websites are filled with individuals showcasing their homemade designs on food items, bakeries displaying fun images of their goodies, and people showing how they use their lasers on food just for fun.
Precautions to Take
The most important precaution to take with food engraving is ensuring that your machine is free of contaminants. Because fiber and CO2 laser dust are generated at such a high heat, the particulates are submicron in size. They can get into every nook and cranny of your laser etching machine. Dust from every material you have ever worked on with your machine will likely be within some of its intricate parts.
Even the most detailed cleaning will never remove every single particle of debris. For this reason, if you plan on eating the food you engrave, you should only laser etch on food with a machine that has never been used with nonfood materials. Some hobbyists who are serious about their food engraving purchase a device specifically for that purpose. That said, if you don't plan on eating the food, feel free to engrave away!
Even if you heed this warning and plan on consuming what you engrave, remember that you are eating extremely burnt food for all intents and purposes.
What Foods Can I Engrave?
You can etch a design on any solid food item. People have engraved on baked goods, fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and even a grain of rice! Foods that wouldn't work well include anything runny or creamy. Things that can melt quickly, like chocolate, can definitely be engraved. Still, the settings have to be exactly right to avoid a soupy mess. Usually, using a lower setting will produce just the right amount of heat to create a design without melting the chocolate. Foods that are soft with a really high-fat content, like butter, do not have the stability required to withstand a laser beam without completely melting.
How to Engrave on Food
The first step to food engraving is choosing the correct lens and settings. This can be tricky, but there are some basic guidelines to follow. Your focal length will determine the sharpness of your design and is contingent upon the surface profile of the food. For example, a food item with a flat surface profile will do well with the short focal length typically used for engraving materials. However, suppose your food item has an uneven surface profile. In that case, you will want to use a longer focal length or even an attached rotary system to have a more evenly etched design with sharper details.
The proper settings for food engraving will depend entirely on the fabricated product. For instance, a slice of bread will require a power setting of 1.5 W at a speed set to 375 mm/min; a banana peel will need the same power setting but with a rate of 425 mm/min. Finding the correct parameters can be fun, so enjoy the process! Once you have these settings figured out, you can begin prepping your design in your software. The key here is simplicity. Especially at first, try to make your design as basic as possible, keep word fonts thicker, and avoid anything too intricate in the beginning.
Food Engraving Project Ideas
There are many different types of consumable and non-consumable projects you can create with food engraving:
Baked Goods for Bakeries: You can etch logos or other branding materials into the products.
Valentine's Day Cookies: Customize these treats with names, important dates, or special messages.
- Laser-engraved Jack-O'-Lanterns: Think of the incredible designs you can create on pumpkins for Halloween!
Wedding Day Confections: Send your guests home with a custom reminder of your big day with personalized treats detailing your names and wedding date.
Thanksgiving Pies: Many laser machine users took to social media to share their engraved pie designs this past Thanksgiving. The flat surface of a pumpkin pie makes it a perfect candidate for food engraving. Include what you're thankful for or an image of a turkey to personalize your Thanksgiving dessert.
Stencils or Decorations: If you don't want to use a laser directly on a food item, you can use it to create a stencil for decorating purposes.
- Supports or Toppers: For cakes or cupcake towers, you can create beautiful accompanying pieces that accentuate their designs.