Laser Marking: Laser Etching, Engraving & Annealing: What's the Difference?

authorIcon By Guillaume Robert on June 19, 2018 topicIcon Laser Marking

All companies want the same thing: to deliver high quality products and to prove to our customers that they can rely on us. It doesn’t matter if you deliver raw materials like aluminum ingots or materials that have been transformed like aluminum die cast parts. Tracking is everything! We all want to keep track of what we ship to whom, but we also want our customers to see the quality of our products and realize (with data supporting this assertion) that they can rely on us.

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That's why most companies in the metal production value chain are tracking their products and have put in place traceability systems. You are probably already tracking your production with technology such as a pin stamp, industrial inkjet or stickers. But due to costs related to maintenance or consumables - or simply the poor reliability of your marking system or machines – perhaps you are looking at laser marking systems to replace your actual systems.

However, being a neophyte with laser marking technology means there are a bunch of new terms to understand. I think that one of the most common questions from our customers is: What is the difference between laser etching, engraving and annealing?

Laser Marking

There are different types of laser marking. The most common are laser engravinglaser etching, and laser annealing. The remainder of this text will focus on defining each laser marking technique, why your business needs laser marking and who should use laser marking. You will also find videos demonstrating each laser marking technique.

Laser Etching

When etching is performed, the laser melts the surface of the material. By doing so, the heated surface expands and creates slight bumps. Laser etching creates a good contrast between the material and the marking code. It is an efficient process to create permanent markings on materials.

This type of laser marking is well suited for applications where the tracking code has to be scanned, such as a one-dimensional (1D) or a two-dimensional (2D) barcode.

Following is a video showing how fast a laser can perform and the contrast that can be provided.

Laser Engraving

Through the engraving process, the laser literally vaporizes a thin layer of your material to create a tracking code.

So instead of creating slight bumps such as in the engraving process, the laser ablates tracking codes onto the material. This can be done by programming the laser to send a highly localized beam to a specific place on your part. Most of the time this method is used when the tracking codes don't need to be scanned such as with alphanumeric serial codes.

The following video clearly shows an example of laser engraving. Notice that contrasts are small with this process.


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Laser Annealing

Like laser etching, laser annealing is about heating the material instead of engraving it.

During this process, the metal is heated from underneath its surface which provokes a modification of the material’s color. By using different temperatures we can achieve different colors.

This type of marking can be performed on ferrous metal such as steel, stainless steel, and chrome or on titanium. The difference between annealing and etching is that annealing is a chemical modification instead of melting the material’s surface. To the eye, the difference is subtle.

Watch the next video to see what we are talking about.

Which Laser Marking Technique Suits You Best?

Each laser marking process mentioned above answers different needs. Among the criteria that you will have to consider in your decision-making process are the type of material(s) on which you wish to create a mark, the time you have to create the mark, the type of tracking code required (barcode, 2D code, alphanumeric code) and other considerations.

If you would like to learn more about different tracking codes and how they work, please click on the button below to get our eBook on the topic.

How barcodes work

Guide about Industrial Traceability

Download the guide

Why Does Your Business Need Laser Etching, Engraving or Annealing?

Laser etching, engraving, and annealing can be used to mark information directly onto your product. Laser Direct Part Marking (LDPM) is a very good way to implement an industrial traceability program.

  1. The information cannot be detached from the product throughout its useful life.
  2. LDPM is among the fastest direct part marking technique.
  3. Laser marking has a high resolution; a lot of information can be packed in a very small area (especially if you’re using Data Matrix Code).
  4. You can use LDPM to draw your company logo onto the part improving the branding of your product.
  5. Many of our clients use the wealth of information they collect from their traceability program to improve their processes.
  6. Laser material processing requires no consumables.
  7. Laser marking and laser cleaning machines require only light maintenance.

What Industries Use Laser Marking?

  • Automotive industry: Car manufacturers were among the first to require traceability of their suppliers. They were early adopters of the Data Matrix Code as a way to uniquely identify parts going into the final assembly. The parts are scanned at crucial steps throughout the value chain to ensure conformity and enforce accountability.
  • Primary metal industry: Smelters, die casters, hot and cold roll plants and extruders came a little later in the game, mostly because of the requirements placed on them by their clients (the automotive industry). And they found out that the information they gleaned from their traceability program helped them improve their processes. Others used laser marking to differentiate their eco-friendly products from their competitors.
  • Medical device manufacturers: The FDA has established strict regulations that require the identification of medical devices. It requires that most medical devices be identified with unique identifiers. More information can be found on the Food and Drug Administration’s Unique Device Identification - UDI website. 

Do you see value in providing better information to your customers? How about differentiating yourself from your competitors? Are there new requirements in your industry that require you to enforce product traceability? Contact us today to find out how our robust automated laser solutions can meet your industrial traceability needs.

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Guillaume Robert's picture

Guillaume Robert

I'm the director of marketing for Laserax. As an industrial technology enthusiast, I like educating people on how they can produce better and faster.​