The Beginnings of Laser Engraving

tarmstrong Aug 28, 2018

Laser engraving entered the scene in the 1970s, after an artist called Tom “Rudy” Zarden invested in a laser machine from an upstart company.

Prior to this, the engraving industry was dominated by New Hermes, a producer of pantographs in the United States at the time. They used traditional engraving methods, and no one gave a thought to using lasers as to produce the same result. New Hermes continued to dominate the engraving market through the 1970s and into the 1980s. But, newer technology was emerging with the advent of the computerized engraving machine.

custom engraved gift for new momOne of these technological advancements was pioneered by Bill Lawson. An engineer who worked with electronic print devices, Lawson decided to start a new company called Laser Machining Inc. after he visited a laser shop to get a piece of cloth cut. He was fascinated by the fact that the laser could cut the cloth without burning it, and came up with the idea of a laser engraver.

After borrowing $15,000, he invested in a Coherent laser and started to experiment. However, Laser Machining Inc. was still in the development phase, and their first projects were engraved with a metal stencil. This method had two disadvantages; the metal mask that was used needed a bridge to hold the design together, which made the process very time consuming and limiting. The artwork also had to be camera ready and required expensive chemical milling and etching, which made custom personalization impossible. The company eventually settled on the idea of a turnkey laser engraver, but they lacked funding and the machine was still a prototype.

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Then along came Tom Zarden. Fascinated with the invention, Zarden decided to purchase the machine from Laser Machining Inc. after he had seen it in Somerset, Wisconsin. He immediately began improving on it. He discovered a better way to laser engrave wood using black and white artwork. Zarden came up with the direct scan method, which was faster and less expensive than using metal stencils and bridges. Zarden began selling the laser engravers and sold one within the first year, but by the end of the 1980s he had sold more than a hundred.

Over the next few decades, laser engraving machines continued to involve until they were perfected, and more artists started to purchase them as the machines went mainstream and computers became more sophisticated.

Today, laser engraving is an art from – allowing incredible designs to be engraved into wood, glass, metal, resins, and leather. Much like ink prints from a much earlier time, modern photographs and art work can be reproduced with the added bonus of the material on which it is engraved. The uses of modern custom laser engraving are only hindered by your imagination – if you can think it, it can be done.

Common applications for today’s laser engravers include engraved photographs, custom monogramming, personalized cutting boards, personalized engraved gifts, custom signs, and so much more.