Fabric engraving with laser engraver has been challenging due to edge burning & fraying issues. Laser enthusiasts are experiencing that simple engraving work can bring higher value to fabric products but the challenges are very tricky to solve.
This article will simplify the topic of laser engraving on fabric and will bring the best guide so that you can become successful in your niche.
Can a laser cutter engrave on fabric?
The answer is yes. But, there are a few issues you need to note before you engrave on fabric with your laser cutter.
Conceptually, a laser cutter uses its laser beam to melt, vaporize or burn the material you are putting underneath. Materials such as wood, hardboards, stones, and leather absolve the heat generated from the laser beam delivering sharper laser engravings with noticeable edges. Actually, the machine does the job as per the design delivered by the computer. Undoubtedly, the texture of the material helps to visualize the design more accurately.
The problem is that the fabric fibers are not capable enough to resist heat like leather and wood. So, when the laser beam contact fabric, the fibers spread out the fumes among each other. This issue is known as FRAYING which makes the entire process tougher to get good quality laser engravings.
Additionally, all sorts of fabrics are not equal to visualize similar objects. For instance, an engraved design on denim would not be equal to the engravings of cotton or microfiber.
You should always avoid silk, pure cotton, and pure polyester for engraving since they accelerate the burning & fraying issues significantly. Try to choose thicker fabrics with a combination of both cotton and polyester mixture and engrave lowering the speed and resolution.
The main advantage of engraving on mixed cotton is that the portion of polyester reduces the fraying risks of cotton fiber since polyester melts and create blockage with the cotton fibers.
Which laser engraver is best for fabric?
The best laser engravers for fabric would be the CO2 laser engravers having a capacity of at least 40 watts. Technically, CO2 lasers are useful for fabrics because the laser heat they generate is easily absorbed by the fabrics. CO2 laser engravers generate 9.5 – 10.6 µm wavelengths which are just ideal for fabric materials.
Fiber lasers are never recommended for fabrics since their primary intention is to cut heavy materials like steel sheets and also, they generate more powerful wavelengths compared to CO2 lasers.
Alternatively, the Diode lasers are also not recommended for engraving fabrics because they instantly melt or burn the outside area of the fabric. However, there are a few more diode lasers that can actually work over the denim but we always recommend having a CO2 laser cutter so that you can utilize it in other projects as well.
Here’s an example of good quality CO2 laser lasers suitable for engraving fabric.
Positive sides of engraving fabric with CO2 lasers
These are the key points of why should someone use CO2 lasers for engraving fabric:
- Generate appropriate wavelength as per the fabric engraving guide
- Offers great precision along with faster speed
- Usually comes with a honeycomb bed that helps provide greater airflow to the laser bed as well removing smoke away
- CO2 lasers can engraver at even 1000 DPI on fabric
- CO2 lasers often deliver better safety mechanisms such as fire detection that smooth the engraving process
- The user or owner can utilize this sort of engraver in other crafting tasks
Negative Sides of CO2 lasers
- They are more expensive than the diode lasers
- Calibrations may take a longer time
- Inexperienced users may get deeper engravings that are not recommended for textile
What should we do to get great fabric engraving results?
The followings are the few guidelines you should remember to get the best fabric engraving result with a CO2 laser.
- Choosing the appropriate laser cutter is a must. We recommend a 40 to 45-W CO2 laser cutter like Glowforge.
- Set the engraving speed average. For instance, somewhere between 200 to 250 mm/minute would be good for fabric engraving.
- Make sure to set the fabric tight on the engraving bed. You may use magnets for providing support to fabric pieces.
- To avoid fraying, try to avoid pure cotton or Stop Fray Spray
- For deeper contrast try to work on denim or velvet
- Avoid pure cotton and pure polyester since they spread the laser beam through fiber connections.
- Blue denim is great for a bleached appearance and dark velvet is good for deep contrast.
- Thicker fabrics offer great engraving results compared to thinner textiles.
- Use air assist so that it blows the smoke away and keeps the working piece clean.
- Take the help of the exhaust system so that the fabric does not absorb the smell of smoke.
Which fabric type is good for laser engraving?
Below is a chart that determines the suitability of fabric engraving as well as the engraving result.
|Laser engraving suitability
|Bleached Appearance with Fraying Edge
|Burn & melt impact
|Fraying Edge with Bleached Appearance
|Deep Contrast appearance
|250 to 300 mm/minute
|Occasional Frays with contrast
|Deep Contrast with Sealed edge
|250 to 300 mm/minute
What’s the perfect resolution for fabric engraving?
Resolution is measured by dots per inch (DPI) which determines – how many dots will there be in a single inch of any printed image.
So, a higher DPI would represent that the image will be more vibrant and there will be a higher contraction between the print tool and the printed material.
In fabric engraving, we always recommend lowering the resolution preferably 200 DPI to 350 DPI so that the laser beam burns a lesser amount of fiber from the fabric.
Lowering the DPI will also help in controlling fraying & edge burn issues.
However, depending on the thickness, you may increase the DPI up to 500 but you should always take care of other risks & challenges mentioned here.
In fact, setting up of higher DPI is one of the top 5 mistakes in laser engraving.
Common mistakes during fabric engraving with a laser engraver
Common mistakes people make while engraving on fabric with a laser engraver include:
- Not using the proper settings: For example, if you are using a laser engraver to engrave on a lighter–colored fabric, you may need to adjust the power and speed settings to ensure a successful engraving. If you don‘t, the fabric may burn or the engraving may be too light to be visible.
- Not using the right type of fabric: Some fabrics, such as synthetic materials, are not suitable for laser engraving. Using the wrong type of fabric can lead to poor quality engravings or even damage to the fabric. It is important to research the type of fabric you are using to ensure it is suitable for laser engraving.
- Not taking into account the thickness of the fabric: The thickness of the fabric can affect the quality of the engraving. If the fabric is too thick, the laser may not be able to penetrate deep enough to create a strong and clear engraving.
- Not Preparing the Fabric Properly: Before engraving, the fabric should be pre–treated with a special solution to ensure that the laser engraving process goes smoothly. Failing to do so can lead to uneven engraving, as well as potential damage to the material.
- Not Cleaning the Laser Head: If the laser head is not properly cleaned between engravings, it can lead to uneven results. It is important to ensure that the laser head is clean and free of residue before each use.
A company that specializes in laser engraving on fabric was faced with issues such as discoloration and uneven engraving. After further investigation, it was discovered that the company was not using the correct type of fabric, nor was it pre–treating the fabric with a special solution before engraving. Furthermore, the power level was set too high, which caused the fabric to become damaged. After adjusting the settings, pre–treating the fabric, and using the proper type of fabric, the company was able to achieve better results.
Laser engraving is always fun to do. Engraving on the fabric would take a little technical knowledge that helps accelerate the end result. You should always place careful attention to the type of material you are engraving and the speed aligned with that.