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How to Laser Engrave a Photo: Quick Tutorial



John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com


Laser engraving photo

A laser engraver is a great tool to get precise and detailed engravings of a photo.

To do this, you need a laser engraver, a material to engrave on and a few accessories.

Getting a basic result with a laser isn’t too hard but to get great results you need to know a few things.

As an expert in laser engraving and cutting, I’m here to tell you the step-by-step process to engrave a photo using a laser engraver.

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Laser Engraving Photos – The Process

Laser engraving photos workflow
Laser engraving photos workflow

To laser engrave a photo, you must have it in a digital format. Import the image into the laser engraving software and adjust the settings based on the work material and laser power. Then run the laser to engrave the photo

Step 1: Choose the Image

You should select a high-resolution image with clear lines, sharp edges, and high contrast to get good results when laser engraving a photo. For best results, use a 300 DPI image.

Vector images work best, so use CAD software like Adobe Photoshop or Inkscape to convert your raster image.

Step 2: Prepare the Image

Editing an image for laser engraving
Editing an image for laser engraving

Adjust the brightness, contrast, and color of the image before saving it in a file format supported by your laser engraver’s control software.

Use the scaling tool in your software to adjust the image size to fit the workpiece.

Preview the output before beginning the engraving process to get an idea of the final result.

Previewing the edited photo before engraving
Previewing the edited photo before engraving

Step 3: Select the Material

Choose the material for laser engraving. Wood and leather are excellent options for laser engraving as their texture helps to create a great contrast for the engraved image.

If you plan to engrave on hard materials like metal, use a fiber laser.

For other materials like plastics and glass, you should use a CO2 laser with higher power for a clear contrast.

You can use a CO2 or diode laser to engrave stones like granite, tile, etc.,

But getting a clear engraving for granite is hard because of the white flake-like constituents. You must prepare the image differently to get a good engraving on such materials.

Step 4: Prepare the Material

Cleaning a granite surface
Cleaning a granite surface

Before engraving, make sure to clean your material to get rid of any dust, grease, or other contaminants.

You can do this by using a damp cloth or an alcohol-based cleaner. If you’re engraving a cylindrical object, use a rotary attachment to ensure your engraving is even.

Step 5: Set the Laser Parameters

Adjusting the image settings on LightBurn
Adjusting the image settings on LightBurn for engraving

Set the laser power, speed, and frequency according to the material, image, and machine you’re using.

Check the manufacturer’s instructions or experiment with different settings.

A laser machine with high output power can make the engraving deep and detailed.

Choose a machine with a spot size of 0.1 mm or less for a finer and more detailed engraving.

The speed of the laser machine affects how quickly the project is completed. Go for a high-speed setting for fast results.

Step 6: Test and Adjust

Before engraving your photo, test the settings on a small area.

Doing this will give you a better idea of how the engraving will look and enable you to make any necessary changes.

Step 7: Engrave the Photo

Photo engraved on granite
Photo engraved on granite

Position the material in the laser machine and start the engraving process.

Monitor the progress closely to ensure everything is going as planned.

Depending on the size and complexity of the image, the engraving process could take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, so you may need to plan your time accordingly.

To ensure the best results, it’s important to supervise the laser engraving job throughout the process.

Video Guide: Laser Engraving Photo

Here’s a step-by-step video guide to laser engraving a photo on glass.

YouTube video

Things you Need for Laser Engraving a Photo

To laser engrave photos, you’ll need some supplies.

Most importantly, you’ll need a high-resolution digital image of the photo you want to engrave.

You’ll also need a PC with graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, or Inkscape to prepare the image for engraving.

Choose a material that can be laser engraved, such as wood, acrylic, glass, stone, metal, etc.

Note that depending on the type of laser you choose and its power, the machine’s material processing ability varies.

You’ll need a laser engraver with the right laser power, controls, and safety features. Also, you’ll need laser safety glasses, gloves, and other protective gear.

Depending on the project, you might need masking tape and other aids to secure the material to the laser bed.

Preparing the Photo for Engraving

Preparation of the photo for laser engraving is crucial in achieving high-quality results. It ensures that the final output is accurate and visually appealing.

Select the Right Photo

High-resolution images with clear lines, sharp edges, and good color contrast work best for laser engraving. 

Avoid using blurry or low-resolution images, as they produce poor results. I recommend you use a 300 DPI image for engraving.

Image Conversion

Vector vs Raster
Vector vs Raster

You should use vector images for the best results for laser engraving as they can better define lines, shapes, and colors.

Also, vector images can be scaled up or down without losing quality and usually have less size than raster images, making them easier to work with and faster to process.

Since raster images are made up of pixel data, their quality can suffer when enlarged, resulting in a blurry or pixelated engraving.

You can use various CAD software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Inkscape, etc., to convert your raster image into a vector image.

Image Editing

Editing an image for laser engraving
Editing an image for laser engraving

Once the image is ready, you can use the same CAD software or any other laser software like LightBurn to adjust the image’s brightness, contrast, and color.

The editing requirement depends on the workpiece you’re using. Editing the image will help you to achieve the desired level of detail and clarity in the engraving. 

If you’re printing on a dark surface, you can edit the image to make it brighter and stand out.

Convert the image to grayscale and sharpen it to make the boundaries clearer. Grayscale is a way to adjust the darkness of your photo from 0 – 100%.

At 0%, you’ll get a perfectly white photo, and at 100%, you’ll get a perfect black one.

Adjusting image settings in LightBurn
Adjusting image settings in LightBurn

Experiment with different power levels to find the perfect balance for your laser engraving to get the best results.

If the image has a face, ensure the eyes are as white as possible, with an intensity ranging between 3 – 6%.

This will help define the pupil and create a more detailed photo replica.

File Format

Once the image is ready, save it in a file format supported by your laser engraver’s control software.

Each software may have different file compatibilities. For example, some may only detect G-code files, while others may be capable of working with standard formats like JPEG, AI, PNG, etc.

Image Size

When preparing your image, consider the size of the workpiece. Make sure it fits the surface you intend to engrave on.

You can use a scaling tool in your software to adjust the size of the image. You can print the image on paper and compare it to the surface for a better idea of the size.

Previewing the Output

Before you begin the engraving process, you can preview the final image output.

This will give you an idea of the final result and help you make any changes to the image you need.

Choosing the Correct Laser Machine for Engraving Photos

Choose the right laser machine for your project based on the material you want to engrave.

If you wish to engrave on hard materials like metal, you’ll need a fiber laser, whereas a CO2 laser is the best option for most other materials.

Selecting the right machine for your project can be tricky. To make it easier for you, here are some of the critical factors to consider.

Laser Power

When selecting a laser machine for engraving photos, you must look for its output power rating. It’s measured in watts.

The more power a machine has, the deeper and more detailed the engraving can be.

Laser Spot Size

The laser machine’s spot size refers to the size of its laser beam.

If you want a finer and more detailed engraving, choose a spot size of 0.1 mm or less.

Machine’s Work Area

Think about how much space you have for the laser engraving machine. This will determine the size of the photo that you can engrave.

Ensure you have enough room for the machine and the material you want to engrave.

Find a good balance between your workspace and material surface and choose the best laser engraving machine.

Transmission Speed

The speed of the laser machine affects how quickly the engraving process will be completed.

The higher the speed, the faster you can finish your projects.

Choose a machine with a high-speed setting to get your projects done quickly.

Software Compatibility

When selecting a laser engraving machine, check if it supports your preferred laser control software.

Some machines only support the manufacturer’s proprietary software, which may have fewer engraving options than more advanced software like LighBurn.

Make sure you choose a machine with all the features you might need.

Setting Up the Laser Engraver

Set up the laser engraver correctly to get high-quality results when engraving a photo.

You’ll need to install the software on your computer, load the image, adjust the laser power and speed settings, test a scrap piece of material, and finally, engrave and inspect the result.

Be patient and take your time to get the best results.

Final Thoughts

A photo laser engraved on tile
A photo laser engraved on tile

Laser engraving photos are great for creating stunning, precise, and permanent engravings for gifts, keepsakes, etc.

However, it is important to wear laser protective glasses or goggles, avoid contact with the laser beam, and ensure proper ventilation around the surroundings.

Additionally, keep flammable materials away from the laser and know how to handle emergencies.

Reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines will help you make better decisions.

Professional laser engraving services may be a good option for those seeking a more temporary solution, as they provide a wide range of engraving options for small and bulk orders.

Also, they may have powerful equipment that can give you high-quality engravings quickly.

You might also like reading,

How to laser engrave a wine bottle?

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials cannot be laser cut?

You may be unable to laser cut certain materials, such as aluminum, copper, brass, PVC, vinyl, stone, glass, and highly flammable substances. These materials are either too reflective, thick, or dense and can generate toxic fumes when cut.

Is laser engraving permanent? 

Yes, laser engraving is a permanent and effective way to engrave. When you use laser engraving, the laser beam removes some of the material from the surface of the material and creates a permanent engraving that won’t fade away.

What color laser has the highest power?

The power of a laser beam is not decided by its color. Instead, it depends on several factors, such as power output, wavelength, beam quality (M2), and beam diameter. Red (635-650 nm), green (532 nm), blue-violet (405 nm), and infrared (1064 nm) lasers are the most used.

John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com