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Laser Engraving Opportunities for Screen Printers

(May 2007) posted on Tue May 08, 2007

Find out about the features and functions of laser engravers, what applications the machines support, and how they can be used alongside the screen-printing process.

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By Jerry Loya

Glass tubes tend to work great for vector cutting and, at the same time, produce smooth, clean raster images. Glass tubes, which include a glass housing filled with the CO2 element, tend to exhibit less pulsing than metal tubes. Because the power fluctuation is minimized, vector cuts come out cleaner, and raster images show less traces of banding. As great as this sounds, the major drawback of glass tubes is the fact that the lifespan is much shorter than metal tubes. So the cost of owning a machine with a glass tube goes way up as you must frequently replace the laser tube. A related concern is the machine downtime that occurs when a tube must be replaced.

Metal tubes, on the other hand, do tend to exhibit power fluctuations and pulsing. Still, adjusting raster and resolution settings can yield very professional, clean raster images and vector cuts. The major attraction of a metal laser tube is its lifespan. The average life is 20,000-35,000 hours of use. That amounts to eight hours a day at 100% power, seven days a week, for seven years, if the tube only lasts for 20,000 hours. But the tube will often last longer than that.

Also available are Nd+:YAG and Nd+:YV04 lasers. These lasers are geared to those who wish to mark on raw (uncoated) metals; as such, they're usually found in manufacturing and high-end technology companies. These lasers operate differently from the standard XY laser systems in that they utilize a galvo lens to direct the laser beam. Because of this setup, the laser can engrave much faster than an XY system; however, the working area is usually much smaller.

To use any of these systems, the operator first creates or imports an image to a standard graphic design program. Once the image is prepared, the operator uses the program's Print command to open the driver for the engraver, which opens additional option fields for engraving the image.


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