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101 Questions View all

Poor results when laser etching plastic

I'm getting really ugly results trying to laser etch various plastics, whereas MDF and cardboard get good results.

Some samples - including a plastic jawbone adapter and a generic plastic enclosure:

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Here are some images I'm using:

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I've tried adjusting the pixel and power settings to prevent the burn marks but that usually removes any lighter parts of the image.

Anyone else getting better results, or having similar problems?

Answered! View the answer I have this problem too

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I read that you can apply masking tape to the surface prior to etching, to stop smoke encroachment/burn. Not sure if this works for your problems though?

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Chosen Solution

Successful etching depends very much on the type of plastic being etched. I've seen people have great success with cast acrylic. Extruded acrylic, not so much. Trying to etch a commercial item of unknown composition is a shot in the dark! I do know that TechShop has some very specific guidelines about materials that should not be used in their Trotec lasers. For example, PVC and Polycarbonate both give off toxic fumes if etched or cut.

Personally, if I wanted to use BoXZY to mark a commercial plastic item of unknown content, I'd use a v-bit in the milling attachment, and fill in the resulting grooves with paint.

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Hi Marty,

In my experience cast and extruded acrylic work equally well. The issues is with near white or translucent colors of acrylic. The laser reflects a lot off of white or near white and passes through the translucent colors. Though, it will still engrave them nicely if you bump the power a little higher.

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Most Helpful Answer

Be aware that materials behave very differently depending on the laser wavelength. Referring back to the Trotec laser systems, their lasers have the following wavelengths:

  • 10.6 micrometers CO2
  • 1.064 micrometers Fiber
  • 1.064 micrometers Nd:YVO
  • Starting at 30W...

The Boxzy laser used:

  • 0.445 micrometers (blue) Diode, 2W

445nm blue laser light isn't well absorbed in many materials and tends to be easily reflected. So don't be surprised when it doesn't work well on materials that work great in a 40W CO2 cutter.

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I agree with what Marty said. Also, there's an issue with the fact that you're engraving coated plastic. The results are going to change as you get past the coating into the plastic and there's no way to know how consistent the coating is. Meaning it will melt and burn where it goes all the way through the coating if it's a low quality plastic, and it'll look just fine where the coating is thicker and you haven't quite penetrated all of it.

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