Today, most engraving is done by computer controlled machinery, or laser marking systems, especially for engraving in industrial applications.
Before the advent of modern engraving equipment, a handheld burin or stylus was used to engrave an object, and for some smaller processes and more intricate, decorative purposes, hand engraving is still used. Today it is restricted to a few narrow fields, but is still seen in jewelry, firearms, small decorative pieces and some musical instruments.
Most common however, are engraving machines controlled by CNC and CAD precision programming. Widely available engraving machines are fairly simple to use and are able to engrave a number of surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic. These are often able to engrave on both straight and curved surfaces. Diamonds are typically used as the stylus, especially for machines required to engrave on harder materials and metals.
Engraving equipment consists of three parts: a stylus or marking tool, a controller, and a surface. The stylus acts like a pencil, tracing designs on a surface. The controller, or computer, controls the laser’s direction, pressure and speed. The surface is the material that the stylus acts on, the engraver’s canvas.
A highly-skilled engraver can achieve high levels of detail in his or her work, and therefore engraving is often used for its counterfeiting restricting properties. Bank notes, checks and other confidential or restricted papers use engraving machines to achieve details which cannot be replicated by standard printers.
Engraving can also be used for decorative purposes – to inscribe a pattern or image onto the surface of an object, or it may be used to create a template die or stamp for printing the pattern or image onto another surface or material. Engraving can be a fairly quick process depending on the intricacy of the pattern or design. Simpler designs can be completed by a computer controlled engraving machine in a matter of minutes.
Manual engraving will take longer and typically with less precise results. Laser engraving is the fastest engraving method and since laser markers do not have tool heads or machines which wear out, after the initial expense of buying the machine, they are a fairly economical marking method choice. Laser engraving is a clean and permanent process that doesn’t damage the product being engraved. It also doesn’t produce any by-products.
The most common type of laser engraving equipment is the X-Y table, where the workpiece is stationary and the laser moves in X and Y directions, creating vectors.