The multi-billion dollar photo industry recently entered the digital age
and now it has entered the world of laser engraving. Human nature is to
remember the good times and great people in our lives and photography
has been the preferred medium for capturing family and friends in all
kinds of settings. Our closets are filled with the memories of our childhood,
school days, weddings and so many other important events in our lives.
frequently ask us the question of why they should purchase a new laser
system. The answer is a simple one. Modern lasers are profitable because
they are very flexible and can work with so many materials. Creating unique
products for your customer is a path to success. A photo of a loved one
laser engraved on a keepsake has tremendous value to your customer. Think
of this old adage, if a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is
a photo laser engraved on marble worth?
Eastman Kodak Company has become a household name and George Eastman is
thought of as the father of photography. Eastman didnt actually
invent photography; however, what he did was create a whole industry by
simplifying the process of recording our lives on film. Eastman introduced
the Brownie camera in the early 1900s and the world became fascinated
with capturing the events of our lives on film to share with others. Today,
photography is easier than ever thanks to digital cameras and desktop
computers. Our digital snapshots can be sent via the Internet (or even
our cell phone) around the world in seconds using powerful computer technology.
same computer technology allows us to scan color or black & white
photos or to take digital photos and then laser engrave these images on
various materials such as marble, wood, leather, coated metals, acrylic
and so much more. The process of laser engraving photos is easier than
many people realize and can open many new business opportunities that
you may not have imagined.
The Right Tools
the right tools for the job always makes the task easier and our computers
are just imaging tools. Working with photographs can require moderate
computing power to perform tasks quickly without a lot of waiting. Part
of the issue is with slow processing times and with the software used
to edit digital photographs.
editing programs like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint take considerable
computer resources to operate and can take their toll on a computers
rules of thumb apply to speed up a computer crunching on images: the first
is having lots of memory available. Editing programs need plenty of swap
space (virtual memory) on your hard drive for temporarily storing data
as well as Random Access Memory (RAM) for faster display updates and image
data storage. The virtual memory settings are best set to maximum
for optimum performance. The actual value of virtual memory is dependant
on the amount of free space available on your hard drive.
memory is something you can never have enough of in your computer system.
Most new computer systems come with 256 MB of RAM which is barely adequate;
256 MB should be the minimum and the optimum range being 512 MB or above.
Adding more RAM memory is an easy upgrade to older systems with an immediate
second rule for fast processing of images is that there is nothing better
that pure horsepower in the form of a fast processor chip. High speed
computers are now the norm in the 21st century with clock speeds over
2 GHz (two million clock cycles per second) available in computers from
your local retailer. Providing your system has plenty of memory, a 1.0
GHz computer system is capable of timely computing processing while a
2.0 GHz or higher system will have no problem with the largest of file
next key component is the scanner, which will be a large factor in determining
the final image quality. A major brand name flat bed scanner with a 600
x 1200 resolution will be capable of just about anything youll ever
need to reproduce. Some computers now support USB (Universal Serial Bus)
communications for easy connections and fast data transfer. Having USB
capability is an excellent feature for a scanner, making it both easy
to install and to operate.
scanners interface using a parallel cable which hooks up to the printer
port on your computer. This can sometimes cause interference with other
devices like your laser printer or laser engraving system. Most of the
computer equipment manufacturers like to keep things interesting by making
older systems obsolete, so if youre shopping for a new scanner for
an older computer system, verify that the scanner is compatible with the
laser engraving system works like a regular black and white printer, so
preparing a photo for engraving is almost identical. However, several
variables exist in the process of laser engraving photos. To achieve the
best results, consider all of these variables and try to reduce their
impact on your engraving work.
by considering the original photo youre scanning. The best photos
to scan have detail in the dark areas (shadow) and in the light areas
(highlight). Since all photos are scanned as a black & white image,
it doesnt matter if the original photo is color or black and white.
Typically, you wont find the photos supplied by customers that have
good tonal range and some adjustments will need to be considered.
consider the resolution settings and lens on your laser system. For best
results set the dpi resolution settings in the print driver to a mid-range
of 500 or 600. Engraving photos at any resolution setting below 500 or
600 dpi will result in too many jagged pixels and the engraving wont
have smooth gradations between dark and light areas. Be sure to use a
focus lens with a focal length of 1.5 or 2 inches. These lenses will generate
a small laser spot size needed for clear, defined engraving.
the material to engrave on may also have an effect on the quality of engraving.
The most dramatic results for a photo use a material that will have excellent
contrast when the laser engraves. Some materials that work well for this
application are acrylic, marble, wood, leather, coated metals and anodized
aluminum. All of these materials react differently to the laser and some
adjustments to the scanned photo may be necessary to achieve best results.
final variable is deciding the type of dot pattern to engrave. The two
types most commonly used for this application are Diffusion and Halftone
patterns. A Diffusion pattern is a variable dot pattern that produces
a photo realistic result. A Halftone pattern is a series of larger or
smaller dots that create the look of a photograph. The Diffusion pattern
generates a pleasing look on almost all materials whereas the Halftone
pattern looks best when lasered on wood with deep engraving.
on these production variables, you can consider which process to use when
engraving: the Manual Process or the Automatic Process.
The Manual Process
Manual Process of lasering photos is a good one and uses the print driver
of your laser system to generate the halftone or diffusion dithering patterns.
Start with scanning the photo at 300 dpi as a black and white photograph.
Scanning the photo can be done using the Acquire function
in DRAW or Paint or by using the standalone scanning program that comes
with the scanner. Most of the time I scan several photos at once and prefer
the simplicity of using the standalone software. The scans are automatically
saved in my Temp folder and later I will put them in the Recycle Bin,
after the engraving has been completed.
scanning, open the photo in Corel PhotoPaint or Adobe PhotoShop to resize
or customize it for laser engraving. A quick method to scale the photo
to the correct size is to use the Resample tool. After selecting
Resample, enter the finished engraving size needed and the
program will adjust the size. Adding a vignette look to the image will
add a professional looking flair to the finished engraving. Select the
Circle Mask Tool and draw an oval around the subject. Adjust
the Feather feature to 20 for a nice blended edge effect.
If the photo is to be engraved on the back side (second surface) of acrylic
you can use the Mirror tool to modify the photo so its
right-reading from the front side of the acrylic piece. Some acrylics
also have a painted surface so you may need to use the Invert
function so the image views as a positive. Now save the modified image
area as a new object in a special folder and youre ready to engrave!
the enhanced photo into CorelDRAW and print it to the laser as you would
a normal graphic or text. The print driver settings vary from make and
model but in general the laser will see the photo as a bitmap. The print
driver will convert the bitmap into a dithered image for laser engraving.
A dithered image is one that simulates gray tones by spacing black and
white dots. A quick reference to your operators manual will confirm
the exact print driver settings for your specific system. Set the dpi
setting in the driver to a mid-range value of 500 or 600. Using a higher
dpi setting will create a small increase in the visual quality of the
engraving and an increase in the run time of the job.
final step is to adjust the power and speed settings, which should be
set in the print driver for the black color only. Use the normal power
and speed settings as if you were engraving text or other graphics on
the specific material. Load the material to be engraved into the laser
system and check for correct focus.
of the time the engraving quality will be excellent. In case the quality
of engraving needs improving, try modifying the tonal range of the scanned
image. Usually the most difficult photos to engrave have low shadow and
highlight detail. The laser engraving process adds contrast to the photo
and results in blocked in areas that dont look like a photo. Your
editing program (PhotoShop or PhotoPaint) has a tool called Tone
Curve that can adjust the shadow and highlight areas for improved
engraving quality. After adjusting the Tone Curve of the photo, engrave
it again and compare the results.
finished tile created with Tile Marking Solution.
The Automatic Process
necessity is the mother of invention, a new process for laser
engraving photos was developed several years ago to improve the productivity
of the manual method of processing. The idea was to create a software
product that removed all of the variables in the process and was simple
to operate. The result is a software product called PhotoGrav, which is
designed by laser engraving experts for laser engraving. Our customers
rave about the results using PhotoGrav software and its always a
main topic at our Laser Workshops. The automatic process of engraving
photos is as simple as 1-2-3.
one is to scan the photo as an 8-bit grayscale bitmap. The dpi setting
of the scanner should match the dpi you plan to engrave with (i.e. choose
500 or 600 dpi). Use the automatic controls in the scanner to adjust for
an overall good brightness. Size the image to the final engraving dimensions.
Apply a vignette oval or any other special effect to the image at this
next step is to open the scanned bitmap in PhotoGrav. Now select the material
to be engraved from a list of 19 different materials. Click on the Auto
Process button and watch the magic happen. Your computer is now
adjusting for all the variables in the photo, the laser system and the
material to be engraved. After a short processing time, you can save the
processed image in a special folder.
import the processed image into CorelDRAW and youre ready for engraving.
If you chose a material in PhotoGrav for second surface engraving, the
processed image includes all of the modifications needed. This is a great
feature, as I usually forget this step when I use the manual process and
have to engrave a second piece to fix my mistake.
on the results from customers around the world using this product, we
can safely say that almost every job processed using PhotoGrav will give
first run results. What really makes this program so effective are the
processing modules that calculate far past the capability of any laser
system print driver. These detailed modules have advanced processing for
generating highly accurate diffusion dithering and halftone patterns,
gray shade mapping for highlight and shadow detail enhancement, and even
a simulation mode to see the enhanced image before engraving. These and
many other features operate automatically when the Auto Process button
is clicked. Each module has adjustable features for detailed tweaking
of the features for top performance.
customers successfully use PhotoGrav software in a production environment
by standardizing the photo engraving process. For instance, a group of
photos are scanned without special attention to each one and then stored
in a folder on the hard drive. Each scanned photo is opened in PhotoGrav
where its processed for the specific material to be engraved and
then saved into another folder. These processed images are imported into
CorelDRAW and either laser engraved individually or as a group for maximum
Expanding Your Products
your customers ask you the same question every year, Whats
new? Each year you go to the trade shows to see new products and
machines so you have an answer for those customers. Continually having
new products is a key to having customers return year after year and is
a proven method of success in business.
personal photo is a memory of lifetime that we all would like to preserve
and now it is feasible and profitable to bring these products to your
year when customers come into your shop, you can show them a product that
really is new, laser engraved photographs.
Materials for Laser Engraved Photos
Cast acrylic is an excellent medium for
laser engraved photos. Its available in sheets and shaped
products for unique gifts or plaques. Painted acrylic makes photos
look deep and high quality.
Simple and easy to work with, anodized
aluminum provides excellent contrast and detail for photo engraving.
Sheets of aluminum can be easily sheared to standard photo sizes
for inserting into photo frames.
Lacquer coated brass makes an elegant
material for photo engraving plaques. Polished or brushed stainless
steel creates a unique look when laser engraved using Cerdec Metal
Cost effective and easy to engrave or
cut using the laser, engraving plastic sheet stock is a natural
for detailed photos.
Light colored leather looks rich and elegant
with old family photos engraved creating a unique family heirloom.
Micro Surface Plastics
Materials such as Spectrum Lights are
ideal for finely detailed photos and have a self-adhesive back
for application to many base materials.
Jet-black marble creates beautiful contrast
when laser engraved and will make a lasting gift when personalized
with a photograph.
Woods such as cherry and alder laser engrave
with outstanding detail and create an interesting natural look
when engraved with wildlife and portrait photos.