Hand Engraving vs Laser Engraving | Simply Explained

Hand engraving is an old-school technique where a hand tool is used to etch any pattern into something. Laser engraving simplifies the task with a computer-operated (or a standalone) CNC machine even with finer details.

In this article, we will dive into this comparison and try to bring the pros and cons of each side.

So, let’s move on.

Hand Engraving

Hand engraving involves the use of specialized tools to etch designs on different materials such as wood, leather, and metal. You may see some hand-engraving examples in the leather shop and gift shop where someone wrote or drew anything onto the leather or glasses.

Pros

  • Every piece of hand engraved items is unique since the entire process is manual and it is impossible to match everything exactly.
  • With hand-engraving tools, crafters may bring some intricate uniqueness to give an antique appearance which may not be possible with any machine.
  • It’s a way of communicating craftsmanship where people value someone else’s manual work and appreciate the job.
  • Hand-engraved items are often durable since the stress testing has been done during the manual work.

Cons

  • It is impossible to draw tiny designs using hands as there would be shaking and any human cannot perform like a computer-operated machine.
  • You cannot visualize any design exactly what you want since the process involves manual work and there is always a chance of error.
  • Due to the easy availability of machine engraving, hand engraving is becoming even more expensive.
  • It involves physical stress which may not be compensated always.
  • Not all materials are compatible for hand engraving. For instance, you cannot engrave a layer of chocolate with hand tools since the chocolate cannot absorb the hand pressure. Whereas modern laser engravers such as the xTool F1 can engrave chocolates or birthday cakes with its infrared laser.

Laser Engraving

Laser engraving is a process where an automated machine is used to engrave any predetermined design using laser beams. This process includes a particular laser beam that burns, melts, or vapourizes some portion of the material later to visualize any designs.

Pros

  • Laser engraving offers high precision which means that you can engrave/visualize any type of smaller details in any material.
  • The level of accuracy in laser engraving is close to 100%. That means, whatever the design, you will have it engraved the same as it is over the piece of material.
  • With a laser engraver, you can engrave anything of this world. However, you may need a separate laser machine for the seperate types of materials.
  • Laser engraving process is very fast and error-free. For instance, the xTool P2 can engrave at a speed of 600 mm/second which is impossible in manual processing.
  • Consistently similar work is only possible using laser engraving.

Cons

  • Buying a laser engraver is sometimes costly. You may pay $50 to someone for engraving your wallet but a laser machine like the xTool S1 would cost you roughly $1500 or you may buy some budget-friendly laser machine like Atezr P10 which costs around $400.
  • To operate laser engraver, you need some specialized expertise. For example, you need to bring your designs into the laserable format by using software such as Lightburn.
  • Not all laser engraver engraves every type of material. For instance, using the Co2 lasers, you can engrave or cut wood but to engrave plastics you need Infrared or fiber lasers. Similarly, diode lasers can help you to engrave coated brass but for the shiny metal tag engraving, you need infrared or fiber lasers.
  • Laser sometimes can cause incidents as the operation includes flame which is risky if you do not follow the safety guidelines.

Differences between hand engraving & laser engraving

The following are the key differences between hand engraving and laser engraving:

In short, the differences are:

  • Laser engraving is faster than hand-tool engraving
  • Precision is high in laser engraving
  • Hand engraving can bring unique items
  • Laser engraving involves different types of material whereas hand tools are limited to a few materials
  • Hand engraving is costly as you need to pay for the human effort

Ease of use

Laser engraving is comparably easy. You may simply import any picture with a single click and press the button to start engraving. We saw many examples, where an apple watch wrist band gets engraved within 4 seconds which is impossible using handheld engravers.

Rubber laser engraving

Precision

Hand engraving cannot bring extra precision whereas the lase engravers can engrave a precision at even 0.002 mm. it means, you can visualize the tiniest details onto any material using a laser engraver which is impossible by the hand tools.

Laser engraving done with Laserpecker 4

Image engraving

Using laser engravers, you can engrave photos exactly the same as it was to your working piece but the hand tool may not draw finer photo details on any surface.

Here’s an example of photo engraving we did with a low budget laser engraver.

Atezr P10 Leather Engraving

Speed

Hand tools cannot be faster like the laser machines since they involve human effort. But, the laser machine works faster and produces the same thing repeatedly. For instance, modern portable laser engravers perform engraving at 4000 mm/second which means a photo can be engraved within 10 seconds.

Durability

Hand-engraved items are more durable compared to the laser engraved items. The main reason is – that the crafters choose tough material so that it does not break while they push down or hammer softly over the hand tools. Whereas, there is no risk of material breaking while the laser machine operates. So, commercial wood pieces are usually thin and do not last for a long term.

Cost per piece

A laser engraver comes with an operating lifetime of more than 10 thousand hours so, the cost per piece gets very minimal if you proportionately distribute the machine cost over the items you produce. In comparison, the crafter would charge high for each piece as they need to repeat the same effort for each piece they hand engrave.

Conclusion

If you compare the hand engraving with laser engraving, hand engraving items would only bring uniqueness at a higher cost whereas the laser n=engraved items would offer finer details at comparably low cost.

Ethan Robert
Ethan Robert

Hi, I'm Ethan.

After graduating from the University of North Dakota, I started knowing the CNC and that becomes my passion.

Earlier, I had fascination of 3d printers, Laser cutters and other CNC machines. Later on, I started analyzing those machine and started blogging on my known things by a different way.

I aim to assist you with the insights of 3d printer, laser engravers and computer printers with the help that you save your money and take the right decision before you purchase any machine.

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