Many items can be laser engraved, and be attractive enough, as is, to hand directly to a customer. That is one of the advantages to laser engraving. It really can be ready right off the table.
However, there are times and situations where, to get the desired effect, certain finishing techniques are applied.
There are several tried and true methods when it comes to finishing a laser-engraved job, but don't limit yourself to these. A little creativity and experimentation can go a long way in discovering new unique methods to customizing a product.
GIVE IT SOME COLOR!
The most popular method of finishing a lasered item is to add color.
Some materials laser engrave with little or no contrast, and do need color of some kind to give it contrast. This includes hard-surfaced materials (like Avonite, Corian, and Fountainhead), marble, melamine, and even some woods.
There are several ways to add color or contrast to a product. You will want to plan ahead so that you pick the best option for your specific job. Factors such as what material you are lasering, availability of color, desired drying time, desired effect, and ease of application will all need to be taken into account when deciding which process to use. Keep in mind that adding color also adds labor, time, and cost to a job.
DARKEN THE MARK
When laser engraving on wood, many engravers will enhance the mark by darkening it after it has been lasered. A variety of products can be used to do this including markers or shoe polish. Just be careful! Some woods will absorb a darkening agent more than others.
Color filling refers to the application of paint to the engraved area. You will first want to make sure that the area is engraved deeply enough (at least .010) to add paint. In addition, use art that lends itself to this method. Fine or highly detailed art, as well as small letters are not good candidates for color filling.
There are a variety of ways to add the paint, as well as a variety of paints that are used for color filling. The most common paints are oil-based enamels and model paints. These come in a wide range of colors, and can be purchased at most hardware stores or through wholesale suppliers. They do provide a shiny finish on most materials.
For more of a matte finish, try water-based latex house paints. They also have the advantage of quick and easy clean-ups. Spray lacquers and enamels also work well, and have the advantage of ease of use.
Paint is usually applied with a brush, by spray, or through a special tool called a paint applicator.
Make sure that the surface of the area to be color filled is clean and free of dust or debris. Some materials, such as wood, will need to be properly sealed, or the paint will be absorbed unevenly.
For an easy safe way to color fill, try masking the piece prior to engraving, using a transfer-type tape. After engraving is done, leave the mask on. Add the paint. When the paint is dry, remove the mask. The paint should be in just the desired areas, eliminating most of the possibility for error. Excess paint can also be removed using a paint thinner or similar product.
Another method that is sometimes used to color fill is through the use of markers. Water-based felt tip markers work well on many materials. The excess can be wiped off with a damp cloth after applying.
Another method of adding paint that can produce absolutely beautiful results is airbrushing. This does require special equipment and a certain amount of expertise to operate the equipment properly. Simply stated, the airbrush uses a fine stream of air to apply color to the desired area / s). Prior to airbrushing, the piece is masked to protect the areas that will remain unpainted. For multiple colors, the mask is removed in sections.
Another option for adding paint is through screen printing. This can be done prior to laser engraving, or afterwards. The desired image is made into a special screen, which is used to apply paint to the desired area. The advantage over other methods is that, in a multiple-piece order, the pieces are uniformly screened. This is not recommended for single or small-piece orders, due to cost.
MYLAR AND VINYL OVERLAYS
Another popular method for adding color and pizzazz to your laser engraving is through the use of Mylar and vinyl overlays. Such products come in a wide range of colors and finishes. They are applied prior to engraving, with a premask tape on top. After engraving, the premasking tape is removed, allowing only the colors to show through. You will want to be careful as to what products you put such overlays on. Prolonged exposure to sudden changes in temperature and humidity may result in the buckling or bubbling of such materials.
Some people will also use decals to dress up a piece. These come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, too!
In addition to adding color, there are a variety of products available that can be added to a lasered product to enhance its attractiveness and uniqueness. This includes plates, which come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and patterns. There are a variety of coated metal plates that can be laser engraved, too! Attaching plates (either by screws or sticky back tape) can add color, texture, and dimension to a product. In addition, for certain applications, (such as perpetual plaques), it allows the piece to be periodically updated by just adding plates.
Medals and medallions can also be attached to a plaque or other product to customize it. Such items come in a variety of shapes, sizes, imprints and price tags. Many times, a wooden base will be lasered out so that the medal or medallion fits snugly into the area. The base can then be personalized directly onto the wood by laser or by an attached plate for a special effect.
Figurines are also available that can be attached to a laser engraved base. They also come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and bases.
In addition, paper materials such as certificates, newspaper clippings, and pictures, etc. can also be attached. A popular way to do this is to attach an acrylic piece over a plaque by screws. The item can then be "sandwiched" between the board and the acrylic. Such paper items can also be laminated and glued to a plaque or base.
Another method people will use to make their laser-engraved products more interesting is to combine processes or products to create unique looks all of their own.
An example of this is multi-layered or multi-level plaques. This refers to a plaque that is built out of two of more materials and/or processes. An example of this is a wooden board that has been laser engraved covered by an acrylic piece that has been screen printed. You could also screen print the wood and laser the acrylic, or laser both. The possibilities are endless, giving even more options for the laser engraver.
Another method of combining materials and/or processes includes mounting a piece of acrylic or crystal onto a wooden base, and laser engraving the base. Such products work well as a unique, individualized high-end award.
With the new PC-driven laser-engraving machines, there is also the possibility of combining laser engraving and laser cutting into one product. For example, one can cut a sign out of the new laser-engravable plastics, and then laser onto it. This, too, opens up a wide range of options.
MAKE IT PRETTY!
Another option for dressing up your laser engraving is through the use of packaging. Gift boxes come in a range of colors, shapes and designs, including those that have presentation windows, velvet or velour lining, and hinged or non-hinged covers. Boxes also come in a range of materials including cardboard, acrylic, and wood. Some people use pouches, which also come in a range of styles and colors.
Adding ribbon and/or gift wrap will dress it up even more.
When finished with a job, don't forget to use the opportunity to promote your company. A sticker with your logo or company name can be easily attached to most products.
As with any process, using a little imagination will go a long way toward making your laser-engraving jobs more attractive than ever!
By Diane Bosworth