When it comes to laser engraving silicone rubber, it is essential to approach the task with precision and care.
We have experience in rubber engraving for the past 5 years. We tried CO2, diode, and infrared lasers to engrave rubber and listed some challenging aspects.
From our past experiences, here are five important considerations to keep in mind before you begin:
Design your image properly
Designing the perfect image for engraving on silicone requires attention to detail and understanding how various factors influence the final result.
When you’re preparing an image for engraving, consider how the design elements will interact with the silicone’s unique properties.
Here are some tips to help you create an image that’s not only visually appealing but also engraves well on silicone:
- Silicone engraving shows up best when you use high-contrast images. Black and white images are ideal. Colors won’t translate into engraving shades, so ensure your image has clear, distinct black-and-white areas.
- Detailed designs can be tough to reproduce on silicone, especially if the engraving area is small. Simplify your design to include only the essential elements that can be easily distinguished once engraved.
- Thicker lines tend to engrave better on silicone. If your design includes lines, make sure they are not too fine or complex, as they may not show up clearly or could blend after engraving.
- Vector graphics are best for engraving because they can be scaled without losing quality. Programs like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape can help you create vector images that will keep their clarity when resized.
- If you are using a raster image, like a photograph, ensure it has a high resolution. A resolution of at least 300 DPI (dots per inch) is recommended for a clear engraving.
- Choose the right image mode for engraving. For silicone, you might find that ‘Threshold’ mode works well, as it creates a clear binary image of either black (laser fires) or white (laser off).
- This setting helps to create a more photo-like engraving with varying shades of gray. However, with silicone, it’s often best to stick with solid black and white.
- If your image lacks clarity, apply a sharpening filter in LightBurn. Be careful not to overdo it, as too much sharpening can make the image
Type of laser engraver
Silicone rubber requires a specific type of laser engraver; generally, a CO2 laser is the preferred choice.
This kind of laser can precisely etch your desired designs without causing damage to the silicone.
Here’s why the CO2 laser is a good fit for silicone engraving:
- CO2 lasers emit light at a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers, which is well-absorbed by non-metal materials such as silicone rubber. This means the laser energy can efficiently interact with the silicone, allowing for precise and clean engraving without excessive burning or damage to the material.
- CO2 lasers have an inherent characteristic of producing a focused and fine beam, which precisely evaporates the silicone rubber where it hits. This prevents the surrounding areas from heating up excessively and maintains the integrity of the silicone around the engraved area.
- Other types of lasers, such as fiber lasers, are typically optimized for metals and do not interact with silicone rubber effectively. They have a different wavelength, usually around 1.06 micrometers, which is not readily absorbed by silicone.
- The CO2 laser produces a smooth and clean engraving finish on silicone rubber. The resulting mark is usually white or frosted, providing excellent contrast against the natural color of the silicone, which is desirable for readability and aesthetics.
For example, when engraving silicone wristbands, a CO2 laser can achieve detailed logos and text without compromising the wristband’s flexibility or comfort.
This type of laser engraver is capable of marking at speeds up to several inches per second (speed can vary depending on the specific engraver model), which means that a business could potentially engrave hundreds of wristbands in a single hour, maximizing efficiency and productivity.
Quickly check the top 3 silicone engraving machine
We did thorough research and made a list of the top 3 amazing engravers suitable for silicone.
Make sure your engraver’s specifications match the requirements for silicone to avoid any mishaps.
When you engrave silicone rubber, the process produces fumes that can be harmful if inhaled. Therefore, it’s crucial to work in a well-ventilated area or have a proper exhaust system in place. This ensures the safety and well-being of the operator and maintains a clean work environment.
We suggest you check whether the laser engraver has ventilation features so that you can throw the smoke away.
Or, try looking for a fume extractor and air purifier (a usual upgradation by your laser machine manufacturer)
The best way is to use a canopied CO2 laser while engraving rubber.
Engraving speed and power settings
Finding the right balance between speed and power is key. Too much power can burn the silicone, while too little won’t make a visible mark.
Start with a lower power setting and increase gradually as needed. Manufacturers often provide guidelines, but it’s also helpful to perform tests on scrap pieces to determine the optimal settings for your specific project.
Here are some quick tips to get your perfect laser workspace settings:
- Begin with a low-power setting. Silicone doesn’t require a lot of heat to be engraved. A power setting between 10-30% is a good starting point for a 50-watt laser.
- A higher speed setting usually works better for silicone to prevent burning. Try starting with a speed setting around 70-100% and adjusting based on the results from your test engraving.
- Set your PPI high to get a cleaner engraving. A PPI of around 500-1000 is suitable for detailed work.
- Properly focusing the laser on the silicone surface is critical. An out-of-focus laser will result in blurred or incomplete engravings. Better, if you could buy a laser with an autofocus feature
- Instead of trying to engrave deeply in one pass, use multiple light passes. This can help prevent the silicone from overheating and warping.
Cleaning the silicone
Before engraving, clean the silicone surface thoroughly. Any dust, oils, or residue can interfere with the quality of the engraving.
Use a mild cleaning solution that won’t degrade the silicone, and ensure the material is dry before you start the laser engraving process.
After you’ve finished engraving silicone with a laser engraver, there are some important post-processing steps you should follow to ensure the best results.
- Let the silicone cool down before you touch it. Engraving can heat up the material, and touching it too soon might cause smudges or burns.
- Use a soft, damp cloth to wipe away any residue from the silicone’s surface. Avoid using harsh chemicals, which could damage the silicone or the engraving.
- Look closely at the engraved areas. Make sure the lines are clear and the depth is consistent. If there are any imperfections, decide if they need a touch-up or if they’re acceptable.
- If you find areas that need more engraving, make sure to realign the silicone piece in the laser engraver precisely as it was before. Apply additional engraving passes as needed with caution.
- After cleaning, allow the silicone to air dry completely. Any moisture left on the silicone could attract dust or dirt.
- Some silicone items might benefit from a conditioning product to keep them flexible and to prevent the engraved area from becoming brittle over time.
To wrap it up, if you want to nail silicone engraving, focus on three key things: design a standout image, get to know your laser engraver inside and out, and adjust the engraver’s settings to fit the unique needs of the silicone you’re working with.