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To Engrave Or Not To Engrave

Aug 17, 2007
Engraving... what comes to mind is the permanence and the sense of personal ownership it gives to a precious stone, metal, or wood. It basically entails removing a portion from the exterior of a bare material by etching signs, insignias, or designs.

Engravers-to-be need to choose from 4 techniques: hand engraving, pantograph, Computer Numeric Control engraver and laser engraver.

Hand engraving is the oldest approach of engraving and the most expensive too. This is performed with the use of a chisel or a sharp tool carefully tapped into the material surface with differently weighed hammers. Each tap should be controlled for precision and accuracy of the over-all design.

For minute design details, the hand engraver has to use a magnifying glass or enlarging equipment to ensure that the design is followed to the minutest details.

Engraving by pantograph or the drag method is another old style that requires the use of a device (the pantograph or commonly called a tracing machine) to scrape the surface of a material with the use of a sharp stylus manually operated by the engraver.

The basic concept is tracing the letters or the design patterns from the design paper to the surface material using a sharp tool or the pantograph. The risk of this method is the uneven, probably unprecised way of etching the design or letters.

Since the stylus operator controls the writing, mistakes like those caused by shaky hands are not unlikely to occur. Pantograph engraving is faster than hand engraving.

Computer Numeric Control (CNC) engraving is a more precise method as it is computer-controlled. The letters or design are written in a uniform manner and use particular graphic software like that of cross-stitching.

The computer changes a design into numeric instructions which is then transmitted to an equipment which follows the commands for each movement This method is more sophisticated in that one can vary the fonts and the sizes of the patterns just with a few clicks of the mouse.

Laser engraving, on the other hand, uses a laser beam rather than a stylus or a sharp tool, to etch a design on a blank surface.

However, laser engraving utilizes computer software to convert the design into numeric instructions. Engraving using this method is more precise, fast, and clean. The downsides to this method are its being high-priced and selective material requirement.

Materials commonly used for engraving are stone, brass, aluminum, wood, and plastic.

Brass and aluminum plates are normally thin and engravers etch on them and later attach them to trophies, frames, and other surfaces. The metals' glossed coating is first removed to enable the etching tool to write on the surface beneath. However, this process scratches only the top portion of the material.

Deep engraving, on the other hand, requires digging deeper into the material. This is particularly used for permanent name plates and industrial molds.

Wood, as well as plactic, is other commonly used engravers' materials. Wood engraving is not as common as brass, aluminum or plastic engraving. Engraving tools (laser or stylus) marks the wood material and the cut area is filled with coloring material to provide contrast.

Engraving on plastic is done on thin layers of the material, usually differently colored. The stylus or laser cuts away the upper portion of the plastic thus showing the next colored layer. Shown together, the over-all appearance of the engraving is one of contrasting colors.

One has to decide which approach he is most comfortable with, considering the price of the equipment and tools to be used in creating one engraved piece of art.
About the Author
James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of
EngraveZone.com and writes expert
articles about engraving.
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