Laser Engraving Gone Wrong? Just Fill It In With A Sharpie

If you spent about $150 to have the case of your laptop computer laser-engraved with a cool design and something went wrong, would you expect to be told to fill in the problem areas yourself with a permanent marker? That happened to Haje. He’s sympathetic to the technical issues involved, but not happy with the end result.

He brought his own design for the top of his black MacBook to the studio, RazorLAB, learned a lot about the super-neat field of laser engraving consumer objects, and then brought the artwork home, only to discover that the design hadn’t quite turned out as he had envisioned it.

On my laptop, there was some white on some of the engraving, which Soner said was dust – so when I got home, I tried to clean it off, but to my surprise, it was going nowhere – whereas half of the laptop is very subtle (in fact, it looked bloody awesome – you can tell something is engraved on there, but you have to look quite closely to see what is engraved; it looks brilliant), the other half is streaked and milky white.

I tried cleaning it a couple of times, but the streakyness continued – so I e-mailed Soner to find out what I should do. Not much, as it happens: He said that “The problem with engraving big areas is that as the laser head moves away from the origin point (in this case top-left), the engraving results in different streak patterns -because of acceleration and speed changes at far corners”. It seems as if the problems are quite rare, too: “so far, we did not have any complaints with regards to this issue as people usually treat this as part of the process -it is within laser engraving’s nature to do these kind of effects.”

Okay. So large surface areas don’t look so great when laser engraved on a black background. The problem, to be clear, wasn’t due to incompetence, but due to the nature of this kind of engraving. He would have been happy had the design turned out all white or all black, but not sort of a streaky color on the left-hand side. The engraver’s suggestion?

“The only suggestion I could give is to paint the white areas with a permanent black marker. That should help to get rid of the gray gradient.”

There we have it – a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem?

UPDATE: Reader Shane, an actual laser-engraving professional, weighed in in the comments. Here’s his incredibly helpful advice:

I’ve operated a laser engraving business for the last two years, and can tell you exactly what happened.

The beam has less area to travel in one corner than the other, hence you will get a slightly more powerful beam and deeper engraving on one side than the other. BUT – it is usually so slight that you would never, ever notice. I’ve done full 24×18 pieces that show no difference at all. The only time I have heard of an engraving showing that much difference is when the tube is going out.

Laser engraving is all about guessing. You have a speed setting and a power setting. To get a good engraving, you need to take into account the material you are engraving on, the speed of the head, and the power of the beam. When you match everything up with the correct settings, you get a successful engrave.

Here is my best guess on what happened. He has too low of a power setting (or he’s running it too fast), so you weren’t getting a deep enough engraving to totally engrave off the anodizing. That is why you get that quasi-engraved look in the one corner. Second issue – I’d bet his laser tube is going bad, hence there is a noticeable difference in power that opposite corner. This could also be the contributing factor in why the rest of the engraving didnt go deep enough.

LASTLY -
If you are very, very careful and have a very, very good attention to detail, he can successfully line it back up for a second engraving. This should resolve the not-deep-enough issue, and get you a consistent white engraving across the entire design. If he would like some tips on how to do that, have him email me.

Thanks for the professional advice, Shane!

Laser-engraving my MacBook [Photocritic.org]