Starting your laser engraving journey
A laser engraver can be used with a vast variety of project materials, ranging from wood, acrylic, and leather all the way up to things like powder coated mugs or glasses. Laser engraver project ideas don’t stop there. You can combine materials and elements to make one-of-a-kind, custom creations. The only limit on laser engraving ideas is your imagination.
What kind of materials can I use with my laser engraver?
While my main interest area was wood, I quickly found myself trying out a variety of materials such as acrylic, faux leather, glasses, and powder coated mugs. My goal was to purchase many different materials to test out because I wasn’t sure where my passions would lie when I started. I tried everything that I could because the best way to learn is through trial and error. My laser engraving ideas and projects all contain various types of woods, specialty acrylics, and anything that has different finishes on it.
Even if I didn’t have a project in mind right away, I would keep a spreadsheet of all the different suppliers, materials, thicknesses, and prices so if I liked something (or wanted to try something else), I knew exactly where to get more of it. This is very helpful if you have a lot of ideas for your laser cutter projects and don’t know where to start.
For some basic information on the different settings and materials that I use, you can actually view my spreadsheet here! Please keep in mind materials like wood and acrylic are very limited in my location, so I mostly purchase online.
The initial libraries I started with are available in the OMTech Facebook group. I simply searched my machine and downloaded the different libraries available and used them to test out scrap material. I specifically used Brandt’s library as the foundation for when I started, so the credit for finding some of my settings goes to him!
Another thing you can do is run test cards on new materials to find the ideal laser settings. There are also test card files available in the Facebook group as well.
Some materials to look into for your laser engraving ideas:
Wood (I often use 1/8, 5/32 and .25)
- I purchase from a variety of small businesses online, Lowes and Home Depot
- ⅛” is great for all top layers! I don't usually use it as a base because I like a thicker base. I love the ⅛” for word cutouts, jewelry, and ornaments, which make great laser engraved gifts.
- 5/32 I use the bottom layers of signs and decor and often use the scraps for earrings, keychains, and other smaller projects that make great laser engraved gifts.
- .25 is great for the bottoms of bases and signs!
Whiteboard (5/32 and .25)
- I started getting this at Lowe’s, and it’s been great for white designs with clean engraves. You do need to mask it though, and it is messy!
Acrylic (I often use 1/16 and 1/8)
- I use the 1/16 for my double-layered designs that go with mirror acrylic! Especially if the mirror design has a 3M-backed adhesive.
- I use the ⅛ for my layered designs and jewelry
Laser safe Leather
- Great for custom patches on hats and clothing! I haven't had much experience with this yet, but I have some sheets in my inventory to try.
- Great for jigs, testing designs, and more! I often save my scraps and prototype designs with cardboard as it is easy to comeby. Just rip up some of your boxes and use them for testing
- If you make custom packaging, LightBurn has a print and cut feature! You can also make layered paper designs if you so choose.
- You’ll need a laser rotary attachment to engrave mugs and bottles. Adding customized mugs are great because the design doesn't get washed off as it would with stickers or vinyl.
- I have done powder coated mugs on both my CO2 laser and Fiber laser.
You can also view some of my laser settings in a spreadsheet here.
Where can I get laser engraving ideas?
If you are looking for some laser engraving ideas for your next project, the internet is a great place to start. Join various groups and start to network with other individuals in the industry. Social media is a great way to see other products and get ideas for your own laser engraved projects. Pinterest has some great ideas as well. I actually have a folder on my desktop that I keep inspirational photos in, but never copy directly when you seek inspiration! Designers work hard, and many sell files for very affordable prices that include commercial licenses. If you really like a file or a design, show your support and purchase it from a designer. Remember to be unique and creative and add your own spin if you seek an idea for inspiration. For example, if you see a cat design you like, maybe try and draw your own cat in your style to make laser engraved gifts. I do this a lot because I feel more connected to my laser engraver project ideas when I draw them and create them myself.
If you have a lot of hobbies, you can join hobbyist groups and communities. I’m in a lot of niche groups myself, especially since I have two axolotls and a Goldendoodle pup. I've always had a soft spot for weird and unusual animals and am also in various bug/ insect groups, exotic pet groups, and places where there isn’t a lot of products available for certain animals or creatures. People often want keychains or products customized with their pets, and meeting this desire is a great way to offer laser engraved gifts.
Brainstorm and think of all the laser engraving ideas you might have and put them somewhere, whether it be on your computer or in a notebook. I have a special notebook I take with me everywhere that I put all my ideas and doodles in.
Some laser engraving ideas and designs that make great laser engraved projects:
- Sports (golf, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc.)
- Animals & Pets
- Cars/ Automotive
Occasions & Holidays
- Valentines/ Wedding/ Anniversary
- 4th of July/ Patriotic
- Medical (nurse, doctor, vet, dental, etc.)
- First responders (police, dispatch, EMT, fire, etc.)
- Technology (gamers, tech accessories, etc.)
- Trades (electrical, machining, carpentry, plumbing, etc.)
Food & Beverage
- Bar & drinks
- Coffee & Tea
Keep a running list of all your laser engraving ideas. Also, if you ever have any laser cutter projects you want to test and try out, make a note of it! You never know until you try, and every single laser engraving project you take on will have a learning curve.
Also, make sure to Jot down any components you may also need. For example, if you want to make a clock, you will need to purchase the mechanism for it in addition to the standard wood/ acrylic you may be using.
How do you go from design to laser?
I use my iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Procreate to sketch and draw my laser engraving ideas. I then bring these into Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, live-trace them, and re-work pieces if I need to. From there, I save it as either a .ai or .svg and then export it to LightBurn! I collaborated with OMTech and created this video which goes over my standard process. I promise you; it becomes a lot easier the more you do it! You don't even need to be an artist with features like the symmetry tool in Procreate. Some of the simplest designs and basic shapes can become huge sellers!
Implementing your own drawing assets can be great in creating unique designs for your laser cutter projects. Not to mention, you might find another area of income—file selling! There are actually groups out there where people help test your files, so it might be worth joining if selling laser engraving design files is something that interests you.
What kind of laser engraver product ideas are out there?
My laser engraving ideas stem from a variety of places; usually, I see something and say to myself, “I wish they had that product but featuring an axolotl.” So, I’ll make that product but featuring an axolotl.
Some laser engraving project ideas:
Jewelry, Keychains & Accessories (Great for scraps)
- Earring and pin sets
- Matching bestie keychains
- General earring studs and dangle earrings
- Badge reels
- Laser cut signs
- Laser engraved clocks
- Laser engraved picture frames
- Tea light candle holders
- Tiered trays and sets
- Bar Decor: wall-mounted bottle openers
- Bar Decor: wine caddies
- Engraved wood coasters
- Laser cut acrylic LED signs
- Laser engraved lamps
DIY Paint kits
- Use a quick engrave or “scoreline” to make outlines of simple shapes and designs that kids can paint! Also great for scraps!
- Engraved placemats for learning names, numbers, etc. These can also be made out of whiteboard material!
- Custom Puzzles
- Great for perfect placement if you run a lot of the same product design
Leather Patches (make sure you use laser safe leather)
Gift Box Sets
- I started making up little boxes that contain a combination of items that seem to be a hit! I often include ornaments, magnets, keychains, earrings, jewelry, DIY kits, and other fun things to give some variety to the set.
- Dice chests
- Custom miniature and model displays
- Dice cases
- Miniature buildings
- Small scale objects like walls, trees, etc
- Dollhouses and small building models
What are some of the biggest tips you have for newbies?
First off, don't be afraid to test things out and make mistakes! It happens to all of us. Keep a list/ document/ blog post with detailed photos and descriptions of your issues, along with ways that you have tested and overcome them. This is how we all learn and grow.
Don't rush into selling your laser engraver projects. Learn your laser machine, your materials, your settings, etc. Test your products out and make sure they hold up. Otherwise, if you jump in too soon and your products fall apart, that won't look good on you! You can also start off by making laser engraved gifts for people to gain feedback. I was testing and learning for two months before I sold anything. This also goes for things like your fasteners, glues, and anything that is used in conjunction with your product. When you are ready to sell, I suggest booking a meeting with a business specialist or an accountant to get all of the legal stuff situated. They will know what will work and what protections you need based on your individual laser engraving business ideas.
Keep a spreadsheet/ manage your materials and inventory. It helps to keep note of your suppliers, the materials you purchase as well as the prices and settings that you like. Keeping this information handy also helps you price your laser engraved products fairly for customers. If you are tech-savvy, you can also build your own formulas. I use Airtable to keep track of all my materials and then have custom-built formulas that link to other tables. Hopefully, I can share more in-depth info on my project management in another blog!
Most importantly, have fun and be a part of the laser engraving community! Post your laser engraver projects, ask for advice, and have fun with it. We all start somewhere, and the best way to get into the world of lasers is to dive on in!