How to Laser Engrave Wood Products
There are a wide-range of laser-safe materials you can choose to personalize in your laser engraver. From laser-friendly acrylic plastics to glass and stone, you’ll find something for every project and customer.
One of the most common items to laser cut and engrave are wood products. However, not all wood products are created equal when it comes to lasers. Let’s take a look at some of the most common laser engravable wood products, how they’re constructed, and some general instructions to follow when lasering these items.
Natural woods, like maple and walnut, are also easy to engrave with a laser. Depending on the wood, lasering can leave a contrasting mark on lighter woods or an embossed look on darker woods. Note that natural woods can have variations in density and color, which can affect the engraving results. Therefore, it's recommended to test on a scrap piece of wood before engraving your final project. Additionally, the type and quality of the wood can also affect the engraving results, so it's recommended to choose a wood that's suitable for laser engraving.
Plywood and MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), are engineered woods. Plywood is made by gluing several layers of thin wood veneer together in a cross-grain construction. The wood veneer gives the plywood a finished look. Wood veneers can also be purchased individually as a cost-effective alternative to plywood or natural wood. MDF is made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibers and combining them with wax and a resin binder.
Plywood, MDF, and wood veneers offer a great way to get into laser engraving wood and allow for the creation of unique, creative products. They’re available in different sheet sizes and wood grain pattern finishes.
Wood products with sublimatable coating are made by taking wood and applying a specialized coating with polyester. Sublimatable wood either has a white topcoat or a clear coat that shows the woodgrain underneath. These materials can be vector cut on a laser to create a truly unique, full-color project. Additionally, some sublimatable wood products can be laser engraved on the top layer to create an embossed-like look. Check with the manufacturer for laser engraving settings and recommendations.
For MDF, plywood, sublimatable woods, wood veneers, or any other engineered wood, it's important to note that these materials can release harmful fumes when cut or engraved with a laser. Therefore, it's recommended to use proper ventilation and wear a respirator when working with both types of materials. Also keep in mind that the quality of the material and its adhesive can affect the engraving results. It's recommended to test on a scrap piece of material before engraving your final project.
Laser cutting and engraving basics
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow for laser engraving or cutting wood-based sheet products:
1. Choose the right type of wood: Different types of wood have different densities and hardness, which can affect how they react to laser engraving. Woods with a consistent grain and no knots, such as maple or birch, tend to give the best results.
2. Prepare your design in graphic design software, such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW. Make sure your design is the correct size and format for your laser engraver.
3. Prepare the wood surface: Make sure the wood surface is clean and free of any dirt, debris, or oils that can interfere with the engraving process. You can also sand the surface to ensure a smooth and even finish.
4. Adjust the laser settings: Depending on the type and thickness of the wood, you may need to adjust the laser power, speed, and focus. A lower power setting is usually best for lighter woods, while harder woods may require higher power settings.
5. Test the engraving settings: Before engraving the final design, run a test engraving on a scrap piece of wood to ensure the settings are correct and the design comes out the way you want it.
6. Use a raster engraving method: Raster engraving involves engraving the design as a series of closely spaced lines, which produces a shaded or textured effect. This method is best for creating designs with gradients or shading.
7. Apply masking tape: Applying masking tape to the wood surface before vector cutting can help prevent scorching or burning, and also make it easier to clean the edges of the material after cutting.
8. Use air assist: Air assist blows a steady stream of air across the engraving surface to help keep it clean and cool during the engraving process. This can help prevent smoke or debris from interfering with the engraving.
9. Clean the engraving: Once the engraving is complete, use a soft brush or cloth to remove any debris or dust from the surface. For non-sublimatable materials, you can also use a finishing treatment, such as oil or wax, to protect and enhance the engraved design.
Please note: To laser engrave or cut the products mentioned above, it's recommended that you check with the manufacturer for specific laser power and speed settings.
Whether you’re new to laser engraving or a seasoned veteran, wood products can give you an added dimension to your product offering. Johnson Plastics Plus has a complete line of wood items tested for laser engraving and cutting, which you can find here.