Laser Engraving On Glass: A Beginner’s Guide

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Laser engraving on glass may sound like a hobby or business that requires a lot of know-how. But even though it’s true that there is a learning curve, anyone can learn to create laser designs on glass. If you’re thinking about getting started, here’s what you need to know about laser engraving on glass.

Laser engraving on glass involves using a high-temperature laser to cut designs into glass. The design must be created in compatible software and then uploaded to the laser. Laser engraving is expensive and comes with a steep learning curve, but it offers high precision and speed.

Let’s take a closer look at how to laser engrave on glass, as well as what you need to know to get set up and the pros and cons of using a laser versus other possible methods.

Can You Laser Engrave Glass?

Laser engraving machine

In recent years, laser engraving has become a popular method for engraving on various surfaces. Lasers are precise, clean, and can handle complex designs, which means that yes — you can absolutely laser-engrave glass, and it may even be the best option!

Other methods include diamond spheres, drilling, and sandblasting. Although each has their place depending on exactly what you’re going for, your budget, and your level of experience, lasers are a great high-end technology tool for this purpose.

How Does Laser Engraving on Glass Work? 

Laser engraving cuts into the glass and leaves a cut-out portion that’s very visible, creating a design in the glass. Etching, a subset of engraving, means that the laser only pulls away the top part of the glass. The design is harder to feel to the touch but still visible.

The laser functions at a very high temperature, which means it can cut into the glass and leave a hole there. Glass is made from silicon that’s heated up and then manipulated, trapping air within.

When the laser hits it, you get fractures in the surface, which creates the engraving; run your finger along an engraved glass and you can feel the ridges.

If you’re engraving on flat glass, this is the easiest method. For curved glass (such as a wine glass or a vase), you’ll have to use a machine to rotate the glass as the laser works its magic.

What’s the Best Type of Glass for Laser Engraving? 

Soda-ash glass is most commonly used for consumer products and is suitable to etch into. If you’re buying a plain decorative glass item and plan to make some adjustments later, then you’re probably safe in using your laser to do so.

It’s always best to check that your glass can be engraved before you proceed. So, if you can, check with the original manufacturer.

What Types of Glass Can’t Be Engraved?

Crystal glass and other more expensive and highly decorative glass types can be a problem when it comes to engraving. At best, the laser may miss parts and the design might come out looking odd.

At worst, the glass may fracture and break, as glass with more metal in it is particularly unpredictable when combined with the high heat of a laser.

You also can’t etch or engrave safety glass because it’s built to have a different reaction to heat. Make sure you’re using regular glass.

Laser Engraving vs. Other Methods: Which Is Best?

There are some advantages and disadvantages to laser engraving, and looking at each can help you decide whether it’s best for the job you want to complete.

The Advantages of Laser Engraving

The first advantage of laser engraving is precision. Lasers can create complex designs with more precision than a human hand can. If you’re looking for a design where the lines need to be perfectly straight and you don’t want any mistakes, then a laser is likely the best tool for the job.

There’s also no contact between the laser and the glass. This means there’s a reduced risk of the glass fracturing, so you don’t need to start all over again on a new object and run up the cost.

That doesn’t mean the glass won’t fracture, so you should still take care, but there’s more room for error.

Lasers also go much faster than other tools, so you won’t have to spend as much time on the actual engraving part. The most time-consuming part of the process is creating the design beforehand.

Lastly, you can repeat the design as many times as you like with no variance. This is handy for businesses who may want to produce a lot of the same item, even if it’s a business you’re running out of your home. The quality of the products will remain consistent!

The Disadvantages of Laser Engraving

There are a few important disadvantages of laser engraving to consider as well.

The first is the expense. Although laser engraving comes with the advantage of not wasting as many materials, the equipment itself is very expensive. You also have to consider the cost of the software, which is necessary to create a design.

All in all, the cost of the laser and software is very likely to run you thousands of dollars. Some lasers are more expensive than others, so it’s hard to put an exact price tag on it. This may be worth it for someone running a business who intends to sell those products and gain some of the money back, but for those using it as a personal hobby, it might not be worth it.

The second disadvantage is the know-how required for laser engraving. Creating the design in software and learning how to set up and use the actual laser can be an arduous process. Of course, once you’ve learned, you’ll be set up for the future, so it usually pays off in the long run — but it can be daunting at first.

Lastly, it is quite easy to damage the glass. Because the laser is so hot, it can create microfractures along the edges, and if it’s too heavy-handed, it can end in you ruining the glass.

Can You DIY Laser Engrave on Glass at Home?

Engraving on glass

Yes, you can laser engrave on glass at home! Here’s everything you need to know about the process.

Create Your Design

The first thing you’ll need to do is create your design in Adobe Illustrator, or a similar program that allows you to export the file in a format that your laser accepts. The format varies between lasers, so make sure to check it before starting your design so you don’t waste any time.

The beauty of using a laser is that you don’t need to worry about the design being too complex. For the most part, any design should be fine as long as the equipment is set up for it.

However, for a first time user, it’s best to keep it simple to make sure it’s done right and you can get the settings right — you don’t want a test design to take too long.

Install a Rotary Attachment

If you’re going to be using your laser on a cylindrical surface like a vase or glass, you’ll have to install a rotary attachment. This is what allows the glass to be rotated as the laser etches the design onto its surface.

A roller rotary attachment is generally the easiest to use, but it’s also the most prone to mistakes, and the glass may slip.

Jaw chuck rotary attachments can be a little more difficult to set up, but they’re generally better at holding the object and much more secure, so you can do a second pass with the laser where you need to — a process that’s very risky with a roller rotary attachment.

You need to physically install it on the laser and then in the software. To do this, make sure you look at the individual instructions for each moving part, as they can vary wildly.They all need to be installed correctly for the design to work.

Set Up Your Laser

This is where you’re going to want to focus on the instructions for your individual laser and get the settings going. It’s okay if this takes some guesses — in fact, many experts recommend using a test glass for the design first to make sure the settings are correct. Otherwise, you may go too deep, or the rotary attachment may not be on right. 

There are all manner of things that could happen, especially if you’re not used to the process.

Clean the Glass

Before you go ahead, the last thing you should do is make sure the glass is clean. This gives the laser the best surface to work with.

Get Rid of Glass Particles

At the very end, you’ll want to use a wire brush to get rid of glass particles. It’s also a good idea to wear some safety equipment while doing this, as the glass particles can get everywhere.

What Can Engraved Glass Be Used for?

Hands of a woman engraving a decorative pattern into a glass vase from a recycled bottle at a craft market

The beauty of engraved glass is that it can be used for so many things. Some ideas include:

  • Awards and plaques
  • Personalized vases
  • Personalized champagne glasses
  • Alcohol bottles
  • Mirrors

You can use laser engraving for whatever you want, as long as you ensure the glass is a suitable type and the laser works well. 

Overall, laser engraving on glass is not an easy process and it does come with a learning curve, but once you take the time to learn, you’ll have the skills for life — and everything else will go much faster. Make sure you choose the right glass, learn how to use the laser properly, and take care as you proceed. 

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