Fiber Laser Marking: Simple Guide

Fiber Laser Marking: Simple Guide

Fiber Laser Marking: Simple Guide

Fiber laser marking has dominated marking applications for more than a decade now.

It has become the go-to technique for many industries, and today, it's largely used in marking machine parts, jewelry, arms, electrical devices, and more.

But what exactly is fiber laser marking? And what are the different methods of fiber laser marking?

This article discusses fiber laser marking by examining its working, applications, and more.

In the end, I also recommend the best fiber laser machines for you to consider.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

What is Fiber Laser Marking?

Fiber laser marking works by altering the surface of a material by discoloring, melting, oxidizing, and removing the material. Output powers of 20W to 80W are ideal for fiber laser marking applications. This technique can be used on metals, plastic, wood, leather, etc.

Laser marking on white plastic
Laser marking on white plastic (Source: Epilog Laser)

Laser Marking vs Etching vs Engraving vs Cutting

ParametersMarkingEtchingEngravingCutting
Material RemovalNoNoYesYes
Maximum DepthSurface0.001"0.02"Material thickness
Laser PowerUnder 30WUnder 30WAbove 30WAbove 60W

Quick comparison of laser marking, Etching, Engraving, and Cutting.

Laser Marking

Laser Marking on Brass
Laser Marking on Metal (Source: EpilogLaser)

Laser marking is done by altering the surface layer properties of a material. It discolors the material by causing localized heating of the surface.

Therefore, it does not involve material removal. Annealing, carbonizing, foaming, discoloration, and surface layer removal are the most common laser marking techniques.

Laser Etching

A sample of Laser etching
Laser etching (Source: DapraMarkingSystems)

Laser etching is performed by heating the workpiece in order to melt the surface layer of the material. It leaves behind a protruded mark on the surface of the material.

Laser Engraving

Walnut wood laser cut and engraved
Walnut wood laser cut and engraved

In laser engraving, the laser beam vaporizes the surface material up to a depth of about 0.02". The engraving depth varies depending on the material, laser power, speed, etc.

Laser Cutting

Fiber laser cut foam for tool box
Fiber laser cut foam for tool box (Source: Epilog Laser)

In laser cutting, a shape is completely cut from the sheet material, and the ability of a laser cutter is directly dependent upon the thickness of the material to be cut.

Laser cutting thick material requires a high-powered laser beam having an M2 value closer to 1.

As the M2 value gets closer to 1, the laser spot gets smaller.

This increases the energy concentration of the laser beam and enhances its ability to cut through thicker materials.

Marking with Fiber Lasers - Techniques, Advantages, Concerns

Electromagnetic Spectrum
Laser type and its wavelength range in the electromagnetic spectrum

Fiber lasers are solid-state lasers operating at a wavelength between 1,030 nm and 2,200 nm. Generally, most commercial fiber lasers operate at an infrared wavelength of 1,064 nm.

Such laser marking machines usually have a mirror galvanometer on their cutting head, enabling them to mark at high speed. It also lets you trace the part in real-time before performing the marking process.

Automated machine movement, repeated accuracy (±0.0001"), small laser spot (<1.5 M2), and a higher lifetime of about 100,000+ hours are some of the major advantages of fiber laser machines.

Compared to other marking techniques, the initial expense of setting up a fiber laser is high, but it gives higher returns through a fast processing rate.

They are optimized for marking metals, and they excel at it.

Fiber laser marking can be performed by various techniques like anneal marking, black marking, frothing, surface coat removal, carbonizing, etc.

Anneal Marking

Anneal marking on aluminum
Anneal marking on aluminum (Source: Epilog Laser)

Anneal marking technique is used to create a non-abrasive layer of oxide on metal surfaces. It works best with ferrous metals like iron, HSS, steel, titanium, etc.

Generally, the oxidized mark on the material is black. However, the colors can vary depending on the localized heat generated on the surface of the material.

During the annealing process, no material is removed from the metal surface. Instead, the localized heat caused by the laser penetrates about ~25µm deep, causing surface oxidation.

Mostly, nanosecond fiber lasers are used for this process, and factors such as material type, surface condition, and thickness greatly influence the process.

One major drawback of aneal marking is getting different reflections depending on the viewing angle.

This means that the darkness of the marking will depend upon your viewing angle, with some angles enhancing the darkness of the mark while others presenting it in lighter shades.

Black Marking

Laser black marking
Laser black marking (Source: Epilog Laser)

Black marking can be used on various materials like copper, brass, stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and chrome-plated plastics.

A short-duration laser pulse is directed towards the surface of the material, thereby limiting the heat-affected zone to the target area.

This makes it ideal for marking on thin workpieces, where a large heat-affected zone can deform the workpiece.

With black marking, you'll get a dark matt-black surface finish. When the light hits the material's surface, it traps the light, displaying a pitch-black color at all viewing angles.

Froth Marking

Laser marking plastic
Laser marking plastic (Source: Epilog Laser)

Froth marking is a laser marking technique used mainly on plastic-based materials.

The localized heating caused by the laser results in the vaporization of added color additives and carbon from the plastic material surface, leaving behind a layer of foam.

Froth marking on dark plastics produces a white mark, whereas when marking light-colored plastics, it produces a gray or black mark.

Can MarkCan't Mark
ABSPolyester
PCPU
PPSUPEHD
PBT, PBTPPMMA
StyrolPTFE
PEEKPP
UREA
PS
PETP

Plastics that are compatible and incompatible with fiber laser marking

Surface Layer Marking

Black anodized aluminum extrusion frame of WorkBee Z1+
Laser marked black anodized aluminum extrusion frame of WorkBee Z1+

Surface layer marking is performed on materials having a surface layer coating. For example, anodized aluminum and other similar painted materials.

The laser removes the surface layer by vaporizing it and exposes the material underneath.

This technique is mainly used to mark RGB keyboard keys, machine parts, and other back-lit applications.

Carbonized Marking

Laser marked wood sample
Laser marked wood sample (Source: JTC Etching)

Carbonized laser marking technique mostly produces a dark mark on material surfaces. The color can vary from light gray to dark depending on the material properties.

This form of marking is usually performed on organic materials like wood, leather, cardboard, etc., and some plastic materials.

Applications of Fiber Laser Marking

Marking aluminum with a fiber laser
Marking aluminum with a fiber laser (Source: IPG Photonics)

The ability of fiber lasers to mark on materials at high speeds without the need for marking ink, has made it a go-to option for many applications.

Markings made by fiber lasers are durable and are generally used in applications like jewelry marking, PCB marking, medical industry, automobile industry, machine parts marking, firearms, packaging, gift customization, etc.

Fiber lasers are perfect for applications that require fast marking and deep engraving on metal.

Since it is a contactless process, there is no transfer of contaminants, and it doesn't require expensive work holding devices.

Best Fiber Laser Marking Machines

MCWlaser PRO

MCWlaser PRO laser engraver dimensions
MCWlaser PRO - dimensions

MCWlaser PRO is a split-type machine, with a laser source module having a footprint of 8.3" x 14.9", and a laser head/ workbed module having a footprint of 13.8" x 22".

It can mark, etch, and engrave materials like plastic, steel, stainless steel, silver, copper, alloy, aluminum, etc. Its work area is 8.7" x 8.7" in size.

MCWlaser PRO has 20W, 30W, and 50W fiber laser versions available, which operate at a wavelength of 1064nm. The laser source has a lifetime of ~10,000 hours.

It uses a galvo head. This gives the laser machine a maximum marking speed of ~16,536 ipm and a repetitive precision of ±0.0001" with a beam quality of less than 1.1 M2.

This machine supports EZCAD 2.0 software, which is free-to-use software that runs on systems with Windows OS.

MCWlaser PRO comes with a two-year warranty. When it's under warranty, you can claim a replacement for the laser source at no extra cost.

Active community participation on products from MCWlaser is happening on their Facebook group.

MCWlaser PRO
It has a fixed work area of 13.8'' x 22''.
The maximum marking speed is 16,536 ipm.
Available in 20W, 30W, and 50W power options.

Epilog FiberMark 24

Epilog FiberMark 24
Epilog FiberMark 24

FiberMark 24 is a fiber laser engraver with a footprint of around 34.5" x 24.5" x 16" and offers an engraving area of 24" x 12".

It houses a 30W or 50W solid-state pulsed Ytterbium fiber laser and can handle workpieces with a maximum thickness of 5".

FiberMark offers a maximum resolution of 1200 dpi which results in high-quality markings and engravings.

It comes with an inbuilt air assist that can be used to blow the smoke away and keep the temperature of the marking area under control.

The powerful laser module can mark a variety of materials like stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum, polycarbonate, acrylic, etc.

Its laser operates at a wavelength of 1062 nm and can be converged in a tight spot size of around 0.001" (.0254 mm), enabling to produce markings with a high level of detail.

Epilog lasers offer a 2-year warranty on all their laser machines and laser tubes. They have an active Facebook group and various affiliated forums.

BOSS FM-DESKTOP
FM-DESKTOP (Source: BOSS LASER)

Boss FM-Desktop (FMD) is a fiber laser marker or engraver available in 20W, 30W, and 50W laser power options.

20W and 30W versions of the machine have a beam quality of less than 1.5 M2, and the 50W version has less than 1.8 M2.

The fiber laser source of FMD has a rated lifetime of 100,000+ hours. It operates at a wavelength of 1,064 nm and has a repeated accuracy of 0.002".

The machine has a footprint of 33.5" x 24.5" and a marking area of 4.33" x 4.33". Its marking area can be extended up to 7.87" x 7.87" or 11.81" x 11.87" with lenses of larger focal length.

It can work on acrylic, plastics, brick, PVC, granite, marble, tile, aluminum, silver, steel, brass, titanium, etc.

FM-Desktop has a galvo head and can mark or engrave at a maximum speed of ~11,760 ipm.

The Z-axis must be manually adjusted using the control wheel to set up the correct focus.

It comes with a rotary axis that can work on cylindrical workpieces.

For controlling the FMD machine, you can use RDWork or LaserWorks software from Boss Laser. These can import the design files in PLT, BMP, PNG, JPG, DXF, JPG, TIF, AI, etc.

Boss Laser offers lifetime technical support, a 30-day return policy, and a two-year parts warranty with this machine.

Final Thoughts

Fiber laser marking is ideal for marking metals, plastics, carbon fiber, and other organic materials such as wood, leather, etc.

Since fiber laser engravers require comparatively less maintenance and parts replacement, they have a larger lifespan than other lasers (CO2Diode).

A fiber laser with an output power ranging from 20W to 80W is recommended for laser marking applications, whereas higher-powered fiber lasers are used for metal-cutting applications.

These highly focused lasers have a high energy density and pose a safety hazard.

Therefore, it is recommended to follow all the necessary laser safety measures when working with these lasers.

Furthermore, the operational wavelength of fiber lasers lies in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, making them invisible to the human eye, so always wear laser safety glasses when working with these lasers.

When buying safety glasses for fiber laser machines, it is advised to look for glasses that block wavelengths of light ranging between 1,030 nm and 2,200 nm.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the M2 value denote in lasers?

The M2 value of a laser denotes its beam quality. It measures how closely a laser beam's mode content correlates to a pure TEM00 (Transverse Electromagnetic Mode) beam. For example, a laser with TEM00 has an M2 value of 1.00. An M2 value helps a laser user relate the quality of their beam to how a true TEM00 beam would behave. As the M2 value of a laser gets closer to 1, the focus spot gets small, so more laser energy is delivered to the laser spot.

Does laser marking wear off?

Laser marking doesn't wear off in most cases, but it depends on the material, type of marking, and what type of environment it's exposed to. Markings that usually get rubbed against can easily fade off. For example, polishing jewelry regularly can gradually wear off laser markings.

What is laser marking powder used for?

Laser marking powders are essentially a kind of ink used on different materials, mainly metals, to get a permanent marking on their surface. Usually, these coats are applied to the metal surface, and they are left to dry. Once it's completely dry, it is laser marked. Such markings usually give dark marks on the surface of materials.

About John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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