Laser engraved glass sacred geometry
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A Beginners Guide to Laser Engraving onto Glass

Laser engraved glass sacred geometry

Glass engraving has become a popular art form, allowing artists and hobbyists to create personalized and intricate designs on various glass items. From wine glasses to window panes, the possibilities are limitless.

I first discovered the power of using a laser cutter to engrave onto glass while in college at MIT. The laser cutter I had access to at the MIT Media Lab, where I was a research assistant, had a rotary attachment that I loved to sneak in after hours and use.

When it came time for Christmas, you could guess what I did for gifts! I got as many clear glass cups as I could find, and I made a ton of cool laser etching glass designs that I gave to friends and family.

And now that I’m writing about this, I’m remembering that I actually started a small side hustle selling my designs, mostly to my fraternity brothers. That venture didn’t turn into a Silicon Valley Unicorn, but I did make a few hundred bucks!

But how can you achieve the perfect design with a laser engraver, and what are the best laser engravers for the job? This comprehensive guide will provide you with tips and tricks for mastering the art of engraving onto glass, ensuring stunning results every time.

Short Summary

  • Different types of glass, such as borosilicate, soda-lime, and lead crystal, can be used for engraving.

  • Laser engraving machines, tools, and software should be chosen carefully based on the type of glass being engraved.

  • Proper preparation, including cleaning, masking, and positioning, is essential to achieve optimal results when laser etching glass.

  • For round glass objects like cups, a rotary attachment is necessary (and fun!) to use.

Types of Glass for Engraving

Not all glass is created equal when it comes to engraving. The type of glass you choose can have a significant impact on the quality and appearance of your finished piece.

Three main types of glass suitable for engraving are borosilicate, soda-lime, and lead crystal glass. Each type has its unique properties and challenges, which we’ll explore in the following sections.

Borosilicate Glass

Borosilicate Glass

Borosilicate glass is known for its durability and heat-resistant qualities. These properties make it an ideal material for engraving, resulting in cleaner and crisper results compared to other glass types. Its low coefficient of thermal expansion means it’s less likely to crack or flake during the engraving process.

Commonly used in laboratory glassware, borosilicate glass is a top choice for artists looking to create long-lasting engraved designs.

Soda-Lime Glass

Soda-Lime Glass

Soda-lime glass is the most widely-utilized form of glass, found in everyday items like windows, bottles, and lightbulbs. It has a low melting temperature, which makes it easier to engrave than more heat-resistant glass types like borosilicate.

However, it’s important to use high-quality soda-lime glass for engraving to ensure optimal results, as its durability is less strong than other glass types.

With the proper laser settings and careful monitoring of the engraving process, soda-lime glass can still yield stunning results.

Lead Crystal Glass

Lead Crystal Glass

Lead crystal glass is known for its brilliance and sparkle, thanks to the addition of lead oxide. However, engraving glass, especially this type, can be challenging due to heat production, which can result in chipping, flaking, or even breaking. Alternatively, using glass etching cream can be a safer method for personalizing your glassware.

Additionally, the type of laser used, power settings, and engraving speed must be carefully considered when working with lead crystal glass.

Laser Engraving Machines and Tools

To achieve precise and detailed glass engravings, the right equipment is crucial. There are several types of laser engraving machines and tools available for glass applications, including CO2 lasers, fiber lasers, diode lasers, and rotary attachments for curved surfaces.

Each of these options offers unique benefits and challenges, so it’s essential to choose the best one for your needs and the type of glass you’re working with.

CO2 Lasers

xTool P2 CO2 Laser Engraver

CO2 lasers are a popular choice for glass engraving thanks to their versatility and suitability for both flat and cylindrical surfaces. They generate a high-power beam of light using carbon dioxide gas, which is effective for engraving various glass types.

As the most commonly used laser engraver for glass etching, CO2 lasers provide a wide range of applications and can deliver impressive results on different glass surfaces, making them ideal for those looking to laser engrave glass or explore the possibilities of laser engraving glass, including laser etching glass.

Fiber Lasers

Fiber Laser Engraver

Fiber lasers utilize an optical fiber cable composed of silica glass to direct light, resulting in high precision and efficiency. While not as common as CO2 lasers for glass engraving, fiber lasers can be effective in certain applications, such as removing reflective layers from mirrors.

They are also more cost-efficient and require less energy to operate compared to other laser types, making them a viable option for laser beam applications.

With the right glass type and application, fiber lasers can deliver superior results using laser engraving technology.

Diode Lasers

ATOMSTACK A5 Pro Laser Engraver

Directly engraving glass with a diode laser isn’t feasible due to the specific wavelength of the blue diode laser, which ranges from 450-455nm. This wavelength travels through the glass without being absorbed, preventing any etching or engraving from taking place.

Nevertheless, there’s a workaround for etching or engraving glass with a diode laser. The solution lies in utilizing laser marking paper. This paper, when adhered to the glass, soaks up the laser beams, facilitating the engraving or etching process on the glass.

Once the process is complete, the paper can be effortlessly peeled off, leaving behind a beautifully engraved surface, all achieved without a hitch.

Rotary Attachments

Laser engraver rotary attachment

Rotary attachments are essential tools for engraving curved and irregularly shaped glass objects, such as wine glasses and bottles. These attachments allow the laser engraver to rotate the glass workpiece during the engraving process, ensuring a consistent and even design.

When using a rotary attachment, it’s crucial to position the glass accurately and securely to prevent any mishaps or damage to the glass. With the correct setup and use, rotary attachments can greatly expand your glass engraving capabilities.

Preparing Glass for Engraving

Before diving into the actual engraving process, it’s crucial to prepare the glass for engraving properly. This involves a series of steps, including:

  1. Cleaning the glass to remove any dirt, dust, or fingerprints that could interfere with the engraving.

  2. Masking the areas of the glass that you want to avoid being engraved using tape or specialized masking material.

  3. Positioning the glass securely in the engraving machine or holding it in place with clamps or a jig.

Each of these steps is essential in ensuring optimal results and preventing any damage or flaws in the final engraving.

Cleaning the glass is the first step in the preparation process. This involves removing any dirt.

Cleaning

It’s vital to thoroughly clean the glass surface before engraving to remove any dirt, fingerprints, or residue. A dirty surface can interfere with the etching process and result in a less-than-perfect final product. To clean the glass, follow these steps:

  1. Use a cleaning solution suitable for glass, like rubbing alcohol

  2. Spray the solution onto the glass surface.

  3. Use a lint-free cloth or squeegee to wipe the glass in a circular motion, removing any smudges, dust, or debris.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your glass surface is clean and ready for engraving.

This simple but crucial step will set the stage for a successful engraving project.

Masking

Masking the glass surface before engraving can help minimize heat and prevent fractures during the engraving process. Materials like damp paper towels or application tape can be used to cover the glass surface, reducing the risk of damage.

Masking is required when using a diode laser engraver, but it is not required when using a fiber or CO2 laser, although recommended for the highest quality.

Be sure to apply the masking material smoothly and without air bubbles to ensure even heat distribution and optimal results.

Once the engraving is complete, the masking material can be easily removed to reveal the final design.

Positioning

Proper positioning of the glass is essential for accurate and consistent engraving results. Here are some methods you can use to position the glass:

  1. Place the glass on a support surface and ensure it’s correctly aligned and secured.

  2. Tilt the support surface to achieve the desired angle for engraving.

  3. Use initial positioning bottom plates to align the glass.

  4. Center the glass on a mold to ensure accurate positioning.

The specific positioning method may vary depending on the application and desired outcome.

Taking the time to position the glass accurately will pay off with precise and impressive engravings.

Design Creation and Optimization

Creating and optimizing designs for glass engraving involves several steps, including:

  1. The initial design brief

  2. Refining and presenting the final design

  3. Selecting the right software

  4. Adjusting image settings

  5. Considering various design elements to achieve the best outcome.

By carefully planning and executing each step, you can create striking and memorable engraved designs.

Software Options

Adobe illustrator screen shot

To create or import designs for engraving, you’ll need the right software. Programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, or Inkscape are popular choices for designing and editing graphics specifically for glass engraving. These software options offer a wide range of tools and features that can help you create complex and intricate designs for your engraving projects.

With the right software, you can create or import designs that are perfect for engraving. Any CAD software that lets you export files in raster or vector formats like BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, TIFF, EPS, SVG, AI, etc, will work.

Image Settings

Adjusting image settings is crucial for achieving optimal engraving results. Consider the following factors when working with your designs:

Resolution

This is counter-intuitive, but lower-resolution images actually work better than high-res images for laser etching glass. High-res images can cause deep, packed fractures that mess with the clarity of your mark.

File types

Use compatible file types like JPEG or PNG to ensure smooth engraving with your machine.

Grayscale

Grayscale image example

Adjust the grayscale settings to achieve the desired shading and depth in your engraving.

If you want to make your etching look top-notch, try masking and polishing the glass, and dial down the grayscale of your image by about 20%. This will give you a super crisp, high-contrast mark.

Just be careful with engraving glass with a grayscale image. It can cause packed fractures that make your engraving harder to see.

Threshold mode

For laser engraving glass, you’ll get the best results with images switched to threshold mode and a resolution of 500 DPI or higher. While a 70% grayscale setting can give you decent results, a threshold image will give you way better results because it only uses one color tone.

For laser etching glass, switch your images to threshold mode or 80% grayscale and set the resolution to 300 DPI or lower. This way, the tiny fractures on the glass surface will be far enough apart to avoid shattering.

Raster vs. Vector

Usually, raster images are the go-to for engraving. But if you need to scale your images in the control software, vector images are your best bet.

Dithering algorithms

Experiment with different dithering algorithms to find the one that produces the best results for your design. Here are a few you can play with:

  • Ordered dithering algorithm: this makes each dot in the image smaller or larger based on its grayscale value.

  • Jarvis dithering algorithm: this reduces the number of dots in the image and speeds up the job.

Design Considerations

When creating your design, consider elements like size, complexity, and placement to ensure a successful engraving project. The size of the design should be based on the size of the glass piece and the intricacy of the design. Additionally, take into account the type of glass you’re working with, as different glass types may require different design considerations.

By carefully planning and strategizing your design, you can create a stunning laser-engraved piece that will stand out and impress.

What to engrave

You can engrave pretty much any image onto glass, and your purpose can inform what you should be making. For example, if you want to make something as a gift, consider engraving a personal photo or message that is unique to that person.

There’s also a lot of demand for artfully crafted glass engravings such as wine glasses. Another really beautiful type of laser etching are 3D illusion designs, of which we’ve compiled a comprehensive list that includes files you can download, make, and sell.

Size Matters

laser cutter etching glass

When selecting a laser engraving machine, consider the size of the glass pieces you want to engrave. For example, if you want to engrave a nice phrase onto a full-length mirror, you may need to use a larger CO2 laser due to the size of the piece. Most fiber lasers, for example, have a very small work area.

Engraving Process and Techniques

Now that you have prepared the glass and created your design, it’s time to start the engraving process. This involves setting up the laser machine, selecting the appropriate parameters, and monitoring the progress of your engraving.

By following these steps and techniques, you can ensure consistent results and a successful engraving project.

Setting Up the Laser Machine

Before you begin engraving, follow these steps to set up the laser machine:

  1. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines and ensure proper calibration.

  2. Remove any tape or paper from the glass.

  3. Position the object within the laser machine.

  4. Close the lid, if applicable, to ensure proper calibration.

  5. Evaluate the components to confirm they are functioning correctly.

By setting up the laser machine correctly, you can reduce the risk of errors or damage during the engraving process.

Selecting Parameters

Choosing the right parameters for your engraving project is crucial for achieving the desired results. Factors such as power, speed, and other settings that impact engraving depth and quality should be considered. The type of glass, desired engraving depth, and type of laser being used will also influence your parameter choices.

By selecting the appropriate parameters, you can ensure a successful engraving project with minimal issues or setbacks.

Test runs

No matter how many times I’ve used a laser cutter, I always need to do a test run for a new design to ensure the settings are all appropriate. This is especially true when working with glass.

Monitoring Progress

Monitoring the engraving progress is essential for consistent results and making adjustments if necessary. Keep an eye on the engraving area to ensure the laser is cutting at the desired depth and speed. Check for any signs of burning or discoloration during the process, and adjust the laser settings if needed.

By closely monitoring the engraving progress, you can catch any issues early on and make any necessary changes to achieve the perfect engraved design.

Post-Engraving Cleanup and Finishing Touches

Laser engraved sacred geometry glass

Once your engraving is complete, it’s essential to perform post-engraving cleanup and add finishing touches to enhance the final product. This involves debris removal, polishing, and adding color to the engraved design.

By taking the time to clean and finish your engraved glass, you can create a stunning and professional-looking final piece.

Debris Removal

After engraving, it’s important to remove any debris from the engraved surface to reveal the design. Use a stiff-bristle brush or toothbrush to gently scrub the surface and remove any remaining residue. Be careful not to scratch or damage the glass during this process.

By removing debris, you can ensure your engraved design is clean and clearly visible.

Polishing

Polishing the engraved area can remove any remaining residue and enhance the appearance of the final product. Use a soft cloth or pad covered with an abrasive material to carefully polish the engraved area. This process can create a smooth and polished surface, which will improve the overall look and feel of your engraved glass.

Polishing the engraving area can be done with a variety of materials, such as a soft cloth.

Adding Color

Adding color to your engraving design can make it more vibrant and eye-catching. Materials like Rub’n Buff wax or paint can be applied to the engraved surface to add a pop of color. Apply the materials gently and use multiple thin layers for the best results.

By adding color to your engraved design, you can create a more visually appealing and memorable final piece.

Best Lasers for engraving onto glass

While you can engrave glass with most laser engravers and cutters, below are a few quality laser engravers in general that will yield good results for glass as well.

xTool D1 Pro 20W

xTool D1 Pro 20W Laser Engraver

Overview

The xTool D1 Pro 20W is made of very high-quality parts, with steel rollers on all of its axes and quiet stepper motors to drive them. It has a high cutting accuracy and has an optional rotary attachment for engraving curved objects, which I personally love to utilize. It also has nice safety features like instant stop on flame and motion detection.

Key Features: 

  • Materials: cuts and engraves wood, leather, paper, cardboard, opaque acrylic ( black, brown, red, yellow, green), stone, paint glass, paint ceramics, stainless steel, titanium, iron, and aluminum oxide
  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass
    • Wood: 10mm
    • Acrylic: 6mm
  • Work area: 16.9″ x 15.3″
  • Laser type: Diode
  • Laser power: 20W (also available in 10W)

Price: $1,100 | View Product Page »


ATOMSTACK A5 Pro Laser Engraver

ATOMSTACK A5 Pro Laser Engraver

Overview

The Atomstack A5 Pro is a high-quality diode laser cutter and engraver, especially given the price point. It’s high speed at 430 inches per minute and for its size, also high power, and it’s compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems. It also comes with a touchscreen offline controller.

Key Features: 

  • Materials:
    • Engraving: wood, bamboo, cardboard, plastic, leather, MDF, slate, lacquered metal, mirror stainless steel.
    • Cutting: cardboard, non-woven fabric, veneer, acrylic, some thin plastic board, sponge, MDF, leather
  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass: Requires multiple passes to cut through wood
  • Work area: 16″ x 16″
  • Laser type: Diode
  • Laser power: 5.5W

Price: $240 | View Product Page »


OMTech 100W CO2 Laser Engraver

OMTech 100W CO2 Laser Engraver

Overview

The OMTech 100W is by far the largest and highest-powered laser we’ve included in this list, and it’s the best one we’ve researched for small businesses. =

It’s great for projects that require speed, large surfaces, or both. Being larger than other est (it’s not a desktop machine), you’ll need a bit of space in your shop to fit this bad boy, but it’s well worth it in my book if, like me, you love creating larger art pieces.

If you’re a small business, you’ll love this machine.

Key Features: 

  • Materials: wood, glass, leather, coated metals (anodized aluminum), and acrylic
  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass:
  • Wood: 18mm
    • Acrylic: 20mm
  • Work area: 20″ x 28″
  • Laser type: CO2
  • Laser power: 100W

Price: $3,800 | View Product Page »


Summary

Glass engraving is an exciting and creative art form with limitless possibilities. By choosing the right type of glass, using the proper laser engraving tools, and carefully preparing and creating your design, you can achieve stunning and personalized engraved pieces. With practice and attention to detail, you can master the art of glass engraving and create beautiful, one-of-a-kind items that are sure to impress.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you engrave onto glass?

Engraving on glass is a possible task. With the help of tools like a rotary pen, laser engraver, or etching cream, you can customize anything from letters to fancy patterns onto glass objects. Rotary attachments are needed for irregularly-shaped glasses.

Can you laser engrave onto a mirror?

Yes, you can! Mirror engravings make for great gifts, especially for loved ones. One tip here is to engrave with the backside of the mirror facing up (the reflective side facing down), which means you’ll have to invert your design as well.

What is the best method for engraving glass?

The most reliable, repeatable, and precise method for engraving glass is to use a laser engraver.

What type of glass is best for engraving?

For engraving, borosilicate glass is best for shallow designs, soda-lime glass for deeper engravings, and lead crystal glass for intricate ones.

Which laser engraving machine should I use for glass engraving?

For glass engraving, CO2 lasers are the most commonly used option, but fiber lasers may also be suitable for certain applications, and diode lasers can be used with appropriate masking over the glass.

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