Choosing a handheld laser engraver might sound simple and straightforward as there are so many versions available in the market. Besides its power, capacity, and material compatibility, there are a few issues that you should look at before buying a handheld laser engraver.
In this article, we will try to analyze your needs and offer an expert guide to choose the right handheld laser engraver for you.
What’s your need?
Before choosing a handheld laser engraver, you first need to assess your needs. For instance, you need to analyze whether you need a laser marker or a laser engraver. Other than that, you might end up buying the wrong product even at a higher price.
A laser marker is typically a fiber laser or an infrared laser which can print marks on the hard surface such as stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, gold, and platinum. So, if you need to print a logo or any pattern on the metal tag and plastic, a laser marker will do the job.
The main difference between laser marking and laser engraving is the depth of the pattern. Usually, a laser marker prints the pattern on the material surface with no penetration or very little penetration. In comparison, a laser engraver penetrates/burns the material slightly to place the patterns through etching.
Questions might come such as – how the laser marker places the design without burning or penetrating.
The method of laser marking on stainless steel and titanium is called ‘Annealing‘ where the heat generated from the laser beam results in oxygen diffusion underneath the material which further creates oxidization and color change. The perfect example of annealing is the small printed logo we see on the fork or the tablespoon.
Here’s an example of laser engraving through annealing
There is another way of laser marking in the metal and metal allow items which is called ‘Laser Carbon Migration‘. In this process, the laser beam sends carbon in a forced manner to the material surface which results in darker laser marking.
In a nutshell, If you do not want the material to get burned or penetrated heavily, you need a true laser marker which can either be a fiber laser or a handheld laser marker such as Atomstack M4. On the other side, if you need a portable laser machine to perform etching and laser engraving through slight, medium or heavier penetration then the true laser engraver will be the option for you. In this case, you can go with either the xTool F1 (the fastest portable laser of 2023) or the LaserPecker LP4 which comes with higher versatility.
If you are not sure of your need, we suggest you buy a handheld laser engraver such as xTool F1 or something similar that can perform both laser marking and laser engraving in different types of material. Choosing such a multi-function laser engraver will have one disadvantage You cannot perform laser marking like the professional fiber laser which is why we referred to the Atomstack M4 for the professional laser markings.
Be aware of power
Looking at the laser power is the next thing you should do. There are plenty of handheld laser engravers available in the market it becomes difficult to choose one, especially for beginners. Handheld laser engravers such as xTool F1 and the Laserpecker LP4 come with dual lens technology where one laser head appears with 2W infrared laser for laser markings whereas the other blue diode laser performs laser engravings.
In laser marking, the pulse peak optical power refers to the maximum power of an individual laser pulse. It’s a crucial parameter because the intensity of the laser pulse determines how effectively it interacts with the material being marked. For better understanding, you may look at the differences between the Q-switched laser and MOPA fiber laser. Laser marking involves creating marks, patterns, or engravings on a surface using a high-energy laser beam. The ability to achieve a high pulse peak optical power has significant implications for the marking process.
What is High Pulse Peak Optical Power?
A 20W IR (Infrared) laser reaching up to 2000W pulse peak optical power might seem counterintuitive, but this phenomenon is a result of pulsed laser operation. While the average power output of the laser might be 20W, the laser can generate very short bursts of incredibly high power during each pulse. This is achieved through a technique called pulse shaping or pulse modulation. This is why a professional marker generates perfect laser marking on the stainless steel through annealing whereas the normal laser engravers cannot.
For example, imagine a 20W IR laser that emits pulses that are only 1 microsecond (μs) in duration. The energy of each pulse can be calculated by multiplying the power (20W) by the pulse duration (1 μs), resulting in 20 microjoules (μJ) of energy per pulse. Now, if these pulses are generated at a rate of 100 kHz (100,000 pulses per second), the average power remains 20W, but during each microsecond pulse, the power momentarily spikes to 2000W (20 μJ / 1 μs).
This high pulse peak optical power is crucial for laser marking, especially when dealing with materials that are hard to mark or engrave. When the laser pulse interacts with the material’s surface, the high intensity enables efficient ablation, vaporization, or modification of the material, resulting in a clear and well-defined mark.
Here is an example of gold ring engraving that requires pulse peak optical power:
What makes Attomstack M4 (20W) different than xTool F1 (2W)?
We have seen that xTool F1 and the Attomstack M4 both are nominated handheld laser engravers having simple differences in laser power. The xTool F1 is a combination of both diode laser and IR laser which does engraving and laser markings having the Atomstack M4 as the sole laser marker with its 20W IR laser.