Laser Engraving Brass: Expert Guide

Laser Engraving Brass: Expert Guide

Laser Engraving Brass: Expert Guide

Brass is a premium material that produces a high-quality golden finish when engraved.

Laser engraving provides the opportunity to engrave intricate designs on brass with high precision.

However, brass is a highly reflective material that reflects the laser light and causes some difficulties in the engraving process.

These difficulties can be overcome by maintaining good process control and using alternative approaches wherever possible.

This article gives detailed information about the process of laser engraving brass and various techniques that can improve the quality of the output.

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Brass and Its Types

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc with an excellent surface finish and produces good results when processed under a laser.

Depending upon the proportion of alloying elements, there are various grades of brass, and each grade differs from the other in terms of its mechanical properties and color.

Due to its gold-like finish, it is perhaps the most commonly used metal in the engraving world.

It is used for various applications such as nameplates on trophies, plumbing components, electrical components, bullet casings, door handles, etc.

When it comes to laser engraving, two types of brass are used to make engraving projects.

Bare Metal Brass

Engraving on Bare metal brass
Engraving on Bare metal brass (Source: Trotec)

Bare metal brass, as the name suggests, is brass that does not have any additive layer of other materials over the surface.

Engraving this material is quite challenging as brass reflects most of the laser energy.

To overcome the energy lost by the reflection, a comparatively high-power laser is generally required to engrave bare metal brass.

Engraving bare metal brass results in a bright gold-like finish that often requires further processes like oxidization to enhance its contrast.

The engraving output achieved on bare metal brass is prominent and long-lasting as there is no additional surface that risks being scratched and removed over time.

One of the most commonly used bare metal brass is Premium leaded brass.

It has traces of lead with higher copper to zinc ratio than standard leaded brass, which makes it easier to engrave and produces a dark black color upon oxidization.

Laserable Brass

Engraving on laserable brass
Engraving on laserable brass (Source: Trotec)

Laserable brass, also known as laser brass or engraver's brass, is a special material with a layer of foreign material over the brass surface.

This foreign material is generally a fine layer of enamel or lacquer that is easily removed by a laser.

Lacquer coating is a transparent layer that does not affect the shiny, gold-like color and finish of brass.

Whereas enamel-coated brass is available in various colors and patterns that enhance the aesthetic value of the final engraving.

When engraving enamel-coated brass, the laser removes the enamel layer, revealing the bright color of the brass underneath.

This improves the contrast of the engraving and makes the process easier as no, or minimal amount of brass is removed by the laser.

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Laser Engraving Brass

Laser engraving brass
Laser engraving brass (Source: Trotec)

Laser engraving brass produces excellent results with a high surface finish and good aesthetic value.

The quality of the brass engraving depends upon various factors involved in the engraving process.

Type of Laser

The type of laser used in the laser engraver plays an important role in defining its ability to engrave brass.

A CO2 laser generally has a wavelength of 10.6µm, which is not readily absorbed by metals.

High-powered CO2 lasers have been developed to overcome this problem and can be used to cut various metals.

When it comes to engraving metals, CO2 lasers do not perform well and thereby are not recommended for engraving brass.

Fiber laser, on the other hand, has a wavelength of 1.06µm, which is readily absorbed by metals.

This makes fiber lasers ideal for engraving metals and is recommended for laser engraving brass.

However, when engraving laserable brass, the laser removes the upper non-brass layer of the material, and therefore a CO2 laser can be used for engraving laserable brass.

Furthermore, a CO2 laser can also be used to mark or etch bare metal brass.

Power

The rule of thumb for engraving metals is that the higher the power of the laser engraver, the better it will engrave.

However, if the power is too high, it can result in a deeper engraving or might even cut through if the material is thin.

Generally, a fiber laser with a power rating above 40W is recommended for engraving bare metal brass.

On the other hand, laserable brass requires comparatively less power to be engraved, and a CO2 or fiber laser with a power rating of above 30W will get the job done quickly.

Engraving Speed

The engraving speed plays a vital role in the quality of the engraving.

It is recommended to engrave brass at high power with low engraving speed.

Generally, when using a 40W laser engraver, an engraving speed of 5 ips (127mm/sec) at 80-90% power setting gives optimal results.

You can also use the multi-pass technique to darken the engraving and improve the contrast.

If your application involves laser cutting of brass, you can refer to the laser cutting thickness and speed chart for optimal parameters.

Design

The design parameters for engraving brass are similar to any normal engraving process and there are various laser engraver/cutter softwares available for it.

A high contrast image with minimal shadows is recommended to attain a sharp detailing in the engraving output.

Furthermore, performing the engraving in the bi-directional hatch or optimization two-way hatch pattern gives the best results when laser engraving brass.

You can select these patterns in the laser engraving software that you are using.

Engraving patterns
Engraving patterns

Air Assist

Air assist uses compressed air to keep the dust and splash away from the focusing lens and improves the cutting action by blowing the molten material out of the kerf.

However, using air assist during the engraving process is not recommended because it can result in spluttering of the molten material.

This splutter spreads over the surface of the workpiece and compromises the surface finish of the engraving.

PowerAbove 40W
Engraving SpeedAround 5 ips (127mm/sec)
Air AssistNot recommended
Engraving patternBi-directional or optimized two way hatch pattern

Recommended parameters for laser engraving brass

Cleaning the Workpiece

After completing the engraving process, it is recommended to clean the workpiece to remove any dust and debris from the engraving.

The debris consists of tiny granules of brass that can scratch the surface of the workpiece if the cleaning process is not performed with care.

When using a matt finish brass workpiece, apply machine oil and brush it along the grains of the material to avoid the debris from scratching the material.

Whereas for a glossy finish brass, use soapy water and gently rub with your fingers to clean and remove any debris from the engraved area.

After cleaning the workpiece, use a microfiber cloth to rub it gently to remove any excess oil or water from the material.

Oxidizing the Engraving

Oxidization of brass engraving
Oxidization of brass engraving (Source: Trotec)

Oxidizing is used to add contrast between the engraving and the material to enhance its appearance.

It is recommended to oxidize the engraving immediately after completing the engraving process to avoid any unwanted reaction of brass with the atmospheric moisture and air.

Ensure that the engraving does not contain any dust or debris and is completely dry.

After cleaning the engraving, apply the oxidizer to the engraved area using a sponge, tissue, or a cotton swab.

Leave the oxidizer on the engraving for around 30 seconds and allow the reaction to occur.

When the engraving turns dark black, rinse the workpiece under hot water to remove the oxidizer and stop the reaction.

Do not rub the oxidized area until it is completely dry, or the oxidized layer will be removed.

Note that leaving the oxidizer on the engraving for too long can result in a greyish color to the engraving and might even flake off.

Some of the most commonly used oxidizers are Liver of Sulphur, Brass Black, and Patina Solution.

Laser Etching Brass

Laser Etching brass
Laser Etching brass (Source: Laser-cutz.com)

Etching is the process of making changes to the microstructure of the surface of the workpiece with no or minimal amount of material removal.

In laser etching, the material absorbs the laser energy and results in melting the surface of the workpiece.

Unlike laser engraving, the material does not vaporize in the etching process and instead undergoes a micro-structure change resulting in micro elevations and discoloring of the material.

To enhance the contrast of the etching, a metal marking laser ink can be used over the surface of the workpiece.

When the laser melts the surface of the material, this ink gets integrated into the molten metal and creates a permanent mark on the surface of the material, this process is sometimes referred to as laser marking.

A fiber laser is recommended for laser etching brass as it produces far better results than a CO2 laser.

Generally, high power with low speed is recommended for producing a long-lasting etching in brass.

Performing the etching at a low speed ensures proper melting of material to create a permanent bond between the marking ink and the material.

Laser Engraving vs Laser Etching

Laser engraving and laser etching are subsections of a broader field called laser marking.

Both produce a visible mark on the material that highlights a required pattern or design.

Although both serve a similar purpose, there are various differences between the two processes.

The mark produced by laser engraving is comparatively -lasts longer than laser etching.

Laser etching only affects the surface of the material and is prone to scratches and removal by abrasion.

On the other hand, laser engraving removes layers of materials, creating a comparatively more long-lasting mark that cannot be easily scratched or removed.

Laser etching is comparatively faster than laser engraving as there is no or minimal amount of material vaporization.

The marks created by laser engraving are a result of material removal and can be as deep as 0.005 inches.

Whereas the laser etching marks are created by material removal with a maximum depth of 0.001 inches or by elevations that can be up to 0.003 microns above the surface of the workpiece.

Furthermore, as laser etching requires comparatively lesser energy than engraving, the pulse frequency or pulse per inch (ppi) during the etching process is relatively lower than the engraving process.

Pulse frequency for Laser etching vs laser engraving
Pulse frequency for Laser etching vs laser engraving

Advantages of Laser Engraving Brass

Quality

The quality of engraving achieved by laser engraving brass is far superior to that of any other traditional process.

Laser engraving results in uniform material removal throughout the engraving, producing a smooth surface.

Furthermore, oxidizing this smooth surface properly results in an excellent black mark without any voids.

Non-contact Process

Laser engraving is a non-contact process as there is no physical contact between the workpiece and the tool.

As brass is a soft metal that can be deformed easily, engraving brass with traditional methods that involve clamping the workpiece can sometimes lead to deformation of the workpiece.

Laser engraving eliminates the need for clamping and thereby eliminates the risk of deforming the brass by clamping.

Furthermore, the non-contact nature of laser engraving also eliminates the chances of inducing unwanted mechanical stresses in the workpiece, as there is no physical contact between the tool and the workpiece.

Speed and Precision

Compared to traditional methods, laser engraving brass can reduce the cycle time by almost 50%.

This increase in speed is accompanied by high precision, making laser engraving the ideal method for engraving brass.

Laser engravers are very precise with high accuracy and repeatability.

This high precision facilitates engraving intricate designs and photographs with ease, which otherwise were extremely difficult to engrave on brass.

Challenges in Laser Engraving Brass

Highly Reflective Nature

The highly reflective nature of brass makes it difficult to laser engrave as most of the laser energy is reflected by it.

Furthermore, the poor absorption of CO2 lasers makes it necessary to use fiber lasers when laser engraving bare metal brass.

This limits the choice of the laser engraver and increases the initial cost of the equipment.

High Initial Cost

Laser engravers are comparatively more costly than the traditional hammer and chisel used for engraving brass.

When engraving bare metal brass, a high-energy fiber laser is required to melt and vaporize the material.

This further increases the initial cost as fiber lasers are comparatively more costly than CO2 lasers.

Best Laser Engravers For Brass

The ability of a laser engraver to engrave brass is dependent upon various factors such as laser type, power, engraving speed, etc.

Based on these factors, here are some of the best laser engravers for brass.

Trotec Speedy 100

Trotec speedy 100
Trotec speedy 100

The Speedy 100 by Trotec has a footprint of 40” x 31” x 40” that provides a work area of 27” x 13.5”.

It has a maximum engraving speed of 110 ips, which reduces the cycle time and increases the overall throughput. 

Trotec Speedy 100 provides an option to select a CO2 laser module option with a power rating of 30W - 60W or a fiber laser with a power rating of 20W - 30W.

The unique feature of Speedy 100 that gives it an edge over the other engravers is its Flexx laser module.

Flexx technology by Trotec provides an option to integrate both CO2 and fiber laser in one machine. 

This enables Speedy 100 to be an ideal engraver that can engrave bare metal brass as well as laserable brass with ease.

If you require a larger work area, Trotec provides three more laser engravers under the Speedy series.

ModelWork AreaLaser Power (W)
(CO2/Fiber)
Engraving Speed
(ips)
Speedy 10027” x 13.5”30-60 / 20-30 110
Speedy 30031” x 17”30-120 / 20-50140
Speedy 36035” x 24”60-120 / 20-50140
Speedy 40043” x 27.5”60-120 / 20-50169

Different models of the Trotec Speedy series

OM Tech FM1212-50

OMTech FM1212-50S dimensions
OM Tech FM1212-50

The OM Tech FM1212-50 is a small size desktop laser engraver that provides a work area of 7.9″×7.9″ (200×200 mm).

It houses a 50W fiber laser that can engrave bare metal as well as laserable brass.

The 20 nm spot size facilitates in creating intricate designs with high precision.

It has a galvanometric marking system that enables a high marking speed of 275 ips (700mm/sec).

OM Tech includes a rotary kit with this engraver which enables to engrave cylindrical workpieces like bullet casings, etc.

Furthermore, OM Tech provides a 2-year part replacement warranty on the equipment and its US-based customer service ensures quick support.

Tech FM1212-50
50W desktop Fiber laser engraver
High-speed Galvanometric marking system
Rotary kit included

Glowforge Plus

Glowforge Plus
Glowforge Plus

The Glowforge Plus has a footprint of 38″ x 20.75″ x 8.25″ that offers a work area of 19.5” x 11”.

It houses a 40W CO2 laser that can engrave laserable brass and perform etching on bare metal brass by using metal marking laser ink.

Glowforge Plus has a sleek design and an easy-to-use interface that ensures hassle-free operation.

The two inbuilt cameras scan the workpiece and facilitate in setting the layout of the design properly.

The high precision (0.001 inches) makes Glowforge plus ideal for engraving complex and intricate designs.

Glowforge Plus
Sleek design 40W CO2 laser cutter
High precision with Air-assist
Easy-to-use with built-in Cameras

Final Thoughts

Laser engraving brass produces excellent results that have high aesthetic value.

A fiber laser is preferred over a CO2 laser for laser engraving brass due to its ability to engrave bare metal brass and produce comparatively better outputs.

The reflective nature of brass makes the engraving process dangerous as the reflected beam can cause harm to the operator or anyone in the surroundings.

Therefore it is strongly recommended to wear proper safety glasses and follow all the laser safety protocols when engraving brass.

Laser Cutting and Engraving other Materials

Check out these guides on laser cutting some popular materials.

MaterialLink to Guide
PaperLaser Cutting Paper
AcrylicLaser Cutting and Engraving Acrylic
AluminumLaser Cutting and Engraving Aluminum
LeatherLaser Cutting and Engraving Leather
PlasticLaser Cutting and Engraving Plastic
PolypropyleneLaser cutting polypropylene
FabricLaser Cutting Fabric
FoamLaser Cutting Foam
PlywoodLaser Cutting Plywood
GlassLaser Cutting Glass
VinylLaser Cutting Vinyl

Laser Cutting Guides for other Materials

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is deep laser engraving?

Deep laser engraving is a subsection of laser engraving where layers of material are removed by a laser engraver.
The difference between laser engraving and deep laser engraving is in the depth of the engraving. Laser engraving has a maximum engraving depth of 0.005", and any engraving with a depth greater than 0.005" is considered deep engraving.

Can we perform deep laser engraving on brass?

Yes, you can perform deep laser engraving on brass. Deep laser engraving requires high laser power that can remove more layers of brass to reach a depth greater than 0.005". Most of the laser cutters for brass can perform deep laser engraving by controlling the power output. Furthermore, you can also use a low-power laser engraver to perform deep laser engraving in multiple passes.

What kind of laser is recommended for laser cutting brass?

A fiber laser is recommended for laser cutting brass. Brass readily absorbs the laser energy of lasers with a wavelength of 1060 nm, which makes fiber laser ideal for laser cutting brass. However, the reflective nature of brass results in reflecting most of the laser energy. Therefore a high-powered fiber laser with a laser power of above 100W is recommended for cutting thin sheets of brass.

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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