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Etching and Engraving

One of the oldest and most-loved forms of sign-making, we take a look at the etching and engraving markets to find out more about the latest developments and advice for those seeking to purchase new technology

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Trotec Laser provides laser machines for precise engraving, marking and cutting

Engraving Excellence

While the world continues to change around us with the evolution of digital technologies and the ongoing influx of artificial intelligence, there are some things that will, at heart, remain the same. Engraving and etching signs are among those.

It is true that sign-makers are changing the way that they go about carrying out these tasks, with new machinery taking some of the workload off what was – and in some cases is still – a manual process. However, the actual finished product is, in essence, the same as it has always been, be it with far smoother finishes and higher accuracy than signs of the past.

With this in mind, SignLink caught up with several manufacturers and providers within the engraving and etching markets to find out more about their latest offerings in terms of new machinery, as well as what sort of trends they have picked up on across the wider industry.

Rely on your Kit

First up to offer advice and guidance is Trotec Laser, which provides laser machines for precise engraving, marking, and cutting in printed and signage work. Bryan Jater, sales director for Trotec Laser in the UK and Ireland, says making the right investment call here can be something of a head-scratcher for sign-makers, urging companies to ensure they commit to high-quality and reliable equipment.

Trotec Laser says investment in engraving kit should be seen as a long-term commitment and not just for the present

“Ultimately, business owners need production and finishing equipment that they can rely on,” Jater says, adding: “Opting for badly specified or inferior equipment can lead to missed orders, compromised quality, and ongoing expense due to frequent downtime and maintenance headaches.

Ultimately, business owners need production and finishing equipment that they can rely on

“Investing in high-quality equipment mitigates daily operational stress and unexpected costs that often accompany less reliable options. Trotec engraving machines are synonymous with precision and durability, they guarantee consistent results and swift processing. These machines are designed to endure, requiring minimal day-to-day maintenance and offering seamless job changes and set up.”

Jater went on to say that there is a sense of confusion around the types of technology in the market when it comes to purchasing a new laser. To make the process easier, he explains that lasers can be split into two categories: laser cutters and laser cutter/engravers.

Going into further detail, Jater says laser cutters tend to have glass laser sources and are the cheaper option, but if a business is keen to engrave at any kind of speed or quality, they will ideally need a machine with a ceramic laser source.

“A reputable laser supplier will work with the client to ensure the best laser source is specified for the job,” Jater explains, adding: “It can make a huge difference to production output and therefore the profitability of a business. A glass laser cutter can engrave at around 400mm/s while a ceramic laser engraver will do it at 4.3m/s, so there is a marked difference in efficiency on this point alone.”

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With this, he picks up on the latest innovation from Trotec Laser in the form of the Speedy Run on Ruby systems, which integrates direct access to Ruby laser software via an integrated touchpad, streamlining laser jobs without the need for a PC nearby. This technology, Jater says, allows network connectivity and wireless operation from a singular PC, optimising workflow and enhancing production efficiency.

“The Speedy 400 remains unmatched in speed, and these recent hardware and software updates further elevate the laser engraving process,” Jater says.

Long-term Commitment

In terms of more general advice when buying laser equipment, Jater says it is important for sign-makers to remember that any investment like this should be a long-term commitment and not just for
the present.

“The supplier's reliability is paramount,” Jater comments, continuing: “Businesses should be looking for a laser supplier that can offer comprehensive training, ongoing support, and are adept at accommodating future material or application advice. Accessible technical support and tailored packages with necessary add-ons for enhanced production efficiency are also key considerations.

“Trotec focuses on sustained assistance, ensuring their equipment meets the current and future needs of the customer and guaranteeing a seamless operational experience throughout the machine's lifespan.”

Expanding on this, Jater says sign-makers also need to establish where the demand may be for this type of work. He explains the synergy of print and laser technologies is flourishing, especially in sectors like pop-up retail, events, and branding applications.

“Laser-finishing printed substrates is cost-effective and accessible, allowing even businesses without flatbed printers to utilise laser-friendly print media on roll-to-roll systems,” Jater says, adding: “This versatility opens doors for small-scale print shops and sign-makers with space or budget constraints.

“Sustainability is becoming pivotal for small retailers and consumer-led organisations. As consumer demands veer toward eco-friendliness, sign-makers will likely witness a shift toward renewable or recyclable signage materials like wood and bamboo.

“In areas such as the public transport and renewables sectors, Trotec has seen a strong demand for TroLase plastic laminates for labelling, wayfinding, and safety signage. The TroLase products engrave beautifully, require minimal cleaning after processing, and do not fade or warp over time so are ideal to withstand harsh environments.”

Building Trust

Also in this market is CSI Manufacturing, which has on offer a range of engraving machines. Marketing manager William Stafford says sign-makers should take care when it comes to selecting their next machine, advising that they work with trusted and reliable brands.

“The market is currently flooded with laser equipment from the Far East offering all sorts of features at extremely competitive prices,” Stafford says, adding: “Most of these tend to be extremely slow with cumbersome software, which is fine for hobby and occasional work but not suitable for volume work.

“If you want a laser for business, you will need to look at a higher quality system to suit your requirements considering size, access, power, and extraction.

“When looking for quality, the sign-maker should pay attention to build quality, laser tube life and replacement, and a good warranty of one or two years. They should also look for comprehensive local support on parts, service, and advice and should ensure that the equipment has been either CE or BSI marked.”

Casting an eye to what is available from CSI Manufacturing, Stafford highlights the new Epilog Fusion G100 fibre-based galvo laser system, provided by manufacturing partner Epilog. The machine has been designed for high-speed direct marking of metals and industrial plastics.

CSI Manufacturing supplies the new Epilog Fusion G100 fibre-based galvo laser system

“Over the past year, we saw a return to more rotary engraving technology rather than laser, especially on wide-format CNC equipment,” Stafford explains, adding: “This was down to a combination of economics versus capability.”

Stafford goes a step further in terms of advice and guidance for sign-makers working within this area, picking out some of the work that may be more in demand and offer an increased number of opportunities. He says CSI Manufacturing has noted higher demand for cradle to grave part marking, barcodes, and QR code labels, saying that lasers are ideal for cutting acrylic lettering and part fabrication.

“Quality engraving equipment whether laser or traditional rotary is still only the ‘tool’ to do the job and only half the process,” Stafford says, continuing: “The quality of the finished product will depend on choosing the correct materials for the equipment and for the application, a factor sadly ignored too often.”

On the Tools

Aside from machinery, sign-makers also need to consider the tools they need for etching and engraving work. Nottingham-based LKH Tools supplies a wide range of engraving tools from Crown Norge, which tooling and machine consultant, Liam Hodson, says offer the same quality as the CNC routing tools the business also offers.

“The different angles, geometries, and coatings on these engraving tools have been tried and tested over many years on many different machine types,” Hodson says, adding: “Half round grindings offer a stronger tool tip, whereas the quarter round tools offer better clearance of debris.

“In addition to this, the coating on the engraving tools increases the tool longevity and reduces heat. These engraving tools can be used in a variety of materials including stainless steel, brass, aluminium, plastics, acrylics, woods, plywood, and MDF.”

When it comes to looking at which tool is appropriate to use on the material and design, Hodson advises that consideration should be taken into how the final engraving will be viewed. For example, he says edge lit signs will typically be engraved much deeper than traditional engraving. These would be normally engraved from the back with the image mirrored so that it is viewed from the non-engraved side.

“Engraving tools are normally used for up to 1-2mm maximum depth, which may not give enough surface area for the light to reflect from,” he says, adding: “The range of V-Tools, which are also available, can cut to a much deeper depth and would give the desired effect when viewed with a light source.”