Laser engraving is not as hard as one might think. It is a crafty hobby to pick up and you could even consider starting your own small laser engraving business when you get comfortable with operating a machine. The OMTech Beginner’s Guide to Laser Engraving Guide will give you a thorough introduction to the world of laser engraving and laser cutting machines. We’ll point you towards many other helpful resources so you can feel confident about starting your laser journey.
In this laser etching article, we will advise you on:
- How laser engraving works and simple tutorial steps
- Things to know before buying a laser machine
- The best laser engraving machines for beginners and entry-level engravers
- Comprehensive laser safety tips
- Starting your own laser engraving business
- Engraving project ideas
- Customer success stories
How Does Laser Engraving and Cutting Work?
Laser machines produce tiny but powerful laser beams to superheat acute areas of a material surface. The laser beam melts or dissolves layers off the material surface to etch a permanent mark onto the material. Laser engraving is highly precise as it only heats the areas touched by the acute laser beam.
You are able to control the image you want to etch on computer software like Lightburn, Cypcut or RDWorks. The software gives laser engraver operators complete control of the image being produced without worrying about their own ability to keep their hands steady during the process. Whether you want to laser cut, engrave or mark, wood, acrylic, metal or plastic materials, simply upload the image to be produced, set the right parameters, and let the computer guide the laser to create exactly what you are looking for.
The Basics: How to use Lightburn?
LightBurn can be installed from the official website as a trial, and is both Mac and Windows compatible. In order to use the program for more than 30 days, you will need a special license code which can be purchased from either LightBurn's site, or the OMTech site.
In LightBurn, there are a couple of options to choose from. You can design from scratch using simple shapes and fonts within the software, or you can choose to import a file such as an .SVG or .Ai from another software like Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator. We recommend doing design work in Adobe or Canva and then bring it into LightBurn for final edits and touches.
To import a design into LightBurn that you downloaded or saved from another program, simply go to File and then click Import, like the graphic shows below.
Differences Between Line, Fill, Fill + Line and Offset Fill
These are the four options you can mix and match when setting up and designing.
Line: is primarily used when you want to cut something, but can also be used as a quick score for simple lines and text as well, if you reduce the power enough.
Fill: is a simple term for engraving
Fill + line: engraves and outlines the design.
Offset fill: is best used with borders and will outline the actual design. It will follow the outline of the shape VS a left to right engrave
Below are some examples of a design set up for each option so you can have an idea of how it looks:
Things to Consider Before You Purchase a Machine
Whether you are using a CO2 laser, home desktop laser machine, Fiber laser marker or cutter, here are some key factors to consider before beginning your laser etching process:
1) Material Type — which materials will I work with?
You need to know what materials you want to work with as different materials are compatible with different laser machines and require varying parameter settings. For example MOPA Fiber Marker Machines are best used for colorizing metal markings, or you may need extra ventilation systems installed alongside your laser machines for leather engravings as it might get quite smelly. The trick is to plan ahead and determine which material you would like to use for your laser engraving ideas and projects.
2) Laser Power/Wattage and Speed — how deep do I need to laser cut/engrave?
Determining what laser power you need is important as it determines the maximum thickness you can cut and engrave for your engraving materials. The higher the power, the thicker it can cut. Laser speed setting is also important as it will affect the level of precision for your laser cuts. Here is a parameter chart example of laser power in correlation to max cut thickness:
3) Overall Machine Dimensions — can the machine fit in my workspace?
Laser engraving machines vary in sizes. A compact CO2 machine like the OMTech Polar Home Desktop Laser Engraving machine can easily fit on your office table at home. Whereas higher powered CO2 machines such as the AF 150W CO2 machine might need its own dedicated workshop or garage with a fully equipped ventilation system to properly function. Map out how much space you have to accommodate your laser machines before purchasing one.
4) Your Budget — how much can I spend?
Just like varying sizes and laser power, budget is a big thing to consider before purchasing a laser cutting machine. Laser machines are a big investment and you need to have a clear picture of what you are planning to do with your laser to know what kinds of features you’d need. No laser has to be out of your budget range as machine financing options provided by OMTech will tremendously decrease financial burden and pressure.
Why You Should Start Your Laser Journey with OMTech:
- You get 1 free Virtual Tech Support session with an OMTech Laser Specialist to help you set up your new laser machines.
- Get all your resources and laser knowledge from OMTech’s Youtube Channel. With accessory installation guides, laser engraving project ideas and live demo sessions, you can learn to laser engrave very quickly after subscribing to our Youtube page.
- OMTech’s resource hub has all the information you need to know about laser engraving. It includes easy educational blogs, training videos, machine user manuals and other online training courses to help you get laser ready before operating your laser machines.
- Can’t figure out what designs to engrave? You can easily download and laser engrave free SVG project files from OMTech’s DIY Craft Kit library.
- Lightburn is an easy to learn design software perfectly compatible with all OMTech laser machines for limitless etching and engraving projects. We have partnered with Make or Break shop to provide the best Lightburn course for laser beginners so anyone can become a laser design pro right away.
The Best Laser Cutter Engraver Machines For Beginners
As a novice learning more about how to start laser engraving, you don’t necessarily have to purchase the most powerful laser machine available. A beginner laser engraver like the OMTech K40 laser, or the new OMTech Polar Desktop Laser Engraver is ideal for a hobbyist or someone looking to set up a small laser engraving business. The best laser engraver for beginners should provide you with ease of access, versatility to engrave any material you desire and user-friendly laser functions.
Marketed as a much cheaper and better valued Glowforge alternative, the OMTech Polar CO2 home laser device is small enough to fit on your office desk space and light enough to be easily transportable if you are constantly on the go.
Notable features include:
- Powerful 50W laser with engraving speed up to 600mm/s
- 360 degree built-In panoramic camera
- Includes 2 roller rotary attachments and remote controlled inline duct fan
- Single button user-friendly function
One of the most desirable mid-range CO2 laser machines out there today, the OMTech 60W is perfect for starting a small laser design etching or cutting business. It is a great stepping stone upgrade device before seriously venturing into high-powered 150W CO2 machines or even fiber laser metal cutting machines.
Notable features include:
- Huge work area with 2-way door passthrough system
- Maximum enclosed safety measurements
- Convenient Ruida Digital Controller
- Roller wheels for convenient transportation
K40 laser engravers are generally considered the most affordable and best laser engraver for beginners who have no prior experience handling a laser machine. K40 laser engravers are consistently the best-selling laser machines for home hobbyists and small businesses.
Notable features include:
- Easy portability, light and convenient to carry around
- User-friendly function
- Red dot pointer guidance for easy path marking
- Comprehensive 2-year warranty program on machine parts
OMTech Home Laser Safety Precautions
Best Practices to Operate Laser Safely at home:
- Always keep your work area clean and tidy to avoid mishaps
- Keep at a stable, level, dry area with ambient temperature of 40-75℉
- Check that your ventilation fans are cleaned every 6 months
- Ensure that your laser is serviced and maintained regularly
- Check and replace your cooling system water every month
- Educate those around you about the importance of laser safety
- If you have small children or pets, keep laser machine behind locked doors
- Always keep the magic key that unlocks your laser machine locked away safely
- Keep fire extinguisher nearby your laser etching machine
- Never be too complacent and cut corners or bypass safety features
The CO2 laser cutter works with extremely high voltages, some in excess of 25,000 volts, and these voltages are lethal. These high-voltage areas are protected by cabinet doors and these must remain closed whenever the laser is switched on. An emergency stop button is provided to immediately isolate any voltages but if you plan on working inside the electronics cabinet, it is highly recommended that you disconnect the laser from the mains.
It is possible for your laser engraver or engraving materials to catch fire. Your CO2 laser fires its focused laser beam onto the workpiece which then vaporizes the material. At low power or high speed, this can just engrave the surface, or with some materials, a higher power or slower speed will actually cut through it. On flammable materials such as wood, cardboard, etc, the edges of the cut may burn rather than vaporize.
Laser cutter fumes and even the smoke produced by CO2 laser engravers can be toxic to your health. Even laser engraving and cutting the basic materials like wood and acrylic produces noxious fumes and carbon monoxide. However, most laser engravers are equipped with ventilation systems that remove the fumes to the outdoors where they will quickly dissipate. As long as your ventilation system is set up correctly, any laser cutting odors you might experience do not contain any airborne toxins.
Very Important Note: Do not stare directly into the laser beam when engraving is in progress. If you do, it may result in permanent eye damage. Safety goggles are recommended when operating a laser machine.
Starting Your Own Laser Cutting and Engraving Business
For anyone wanting to start a business, it is essential to consider what consumers need and want to buy. The secret to making money with your laser engraving machine is PERSONALIZATION.
In recent years, there has been a high demand for merchandise featuring customizable laser engravings, such as personalized keychains, engraved drinkware, home decor, trophy awards and jewelry. Laser engraving cutting machines allow you to create these items and more from the comfort of your home with low investment and minimal risk.
OMTech offers highly affordable laser cutters that are suitable for small businesses. You can get a great 50-60W CO2 laser machine for well under $3000. Our machines are highly versatile, you are able to laser etch through glass, acrylic, wood, leather and even metal with a fiber laser or the right marking spray.
Laser engravers and cutters give you access to a huge variety of possibilities. To stand out, find out what other laser businesses in your area are not doing or find niche laser engraving segments within the market that lacks competition.
Is a small laser cutting business profitable and worth the investment?
The laser cutting and engraving business can be very profitable if you deliver quality merchandise, come up with innovative products, and have some marketing skills to keep orders coming in. Much of the business involves finding products that are already in high demand, adding customization to the client’s specifications, and charging a significant markup for the laser engraving. Most professionals use websites and social media platforms like Etsy, Instagram, Facebook, and even Shopify to showcase and sell their products.
Running a laser engraving business is no walk in the park. It takes experience and dedication to execute projects correctly on the first try, which is a key to keeping material costs low. Delivering quality products with impressive engravings on time is the first key to success. The best thing about running a laser cutting business is that you get to be your own boss.
Laser Engraving Project Designs and Ideas
Laser engraving and cutting customized jewelry is one of the most popular projects for gift giving season. You can make each piece unique by engraving initials, quotes, dates, or names onto the jewelry item. You could really use any material for jewelry cutting, acrylic and leather are highly popular choices. No matter where you get your inspiration, laser cutting jewelry can be a fun hobby or great side hustle.
Check out this free jewelry laser cut file made from acrylic materials!
Laser Cut Clocks
Making a clock is one of our favorite laser engraver projects because it’s a functional piece of home decor that can show off your individuality or the perfect gift to impress a loved one. You can also learn step by step on how to laser cut a clock on OMTech’s Youtube channel!
In order to make a clock, you will need to purchase a few things.
You can get a DIY clock mechanism kit at nearly any craft or hobby store, or you can order it online. You will also need a pair of calipers or something to measure the thickness of the wood.
You will want at least ¼ inch thick material in order to prevent warping and bending, but you also may need to build up your clock a bit depending on how thick the mechanism may be. There are more details shown in the DIY laser projects video.
PS: Batteries are also needed for the clock to work*
Laser Engraved Kitchenware
For the aspiring chef in your family, there are many kitchenware objects you could customize in a multitude of materials. You could etch personalized names and images onto mixing spoons, chefs' knives, cutting boards, grilling sets, serving trays, even metal utensils, and more. You could also get a larger item like a pie pan and engrave a favorite recipe or ingredient substitutions.
Check out all the free laser engraving SVG files available for download on the OMTech DIY shop and all the wonderful DIY laser project tutorials on the OMTech Youtube channel — these come with step-by-step instructions. Anytime you utilize a free laser engraving project file, you should personalize it to make it unique! Once you sign up to join the OMTech Monthly Newsletter, you can download all the free laser design files you want!
Customer Success Stories
Meet Stephanie Costa from COSTA CREATIONS & CO:
“My name is Stephanie Costa, and I am the founder of Costa Creations & Co. When I first started my business in 2019, I didn’t have many goals. By April 2020, I couldn’t keep up with the demand with only my scroll saw, so I got my first laser. Thanks to OMTech, I was able to propel my business!
Although I was initially intimidated by the setup, OMTech was able to help me figure it out and help me increase my revenue. It also allowed me to connect to a new community of people. We share our successes, failures and support each other. There is a place for everyone here! For anyone starting out, take a chance because you have nothing to lose! It could be the best decision that truly changes your life for the better! You don’t know until you start!”
Meet Max from LASER BEAST LABS:
Listen to the owner of Laser Beast Lab, Max, and his OMTech user testimonial! Learn more on how he left his day job to go full time in laser engraving:
Contact Us Today
We hope you found this beginner’s guide helpful! If you have any more questions and enquiries, feel free to book a complimentary sales consultation call with one of our Southern California technical representatives from today!