which had established itself in the computerized engraving industry first
with Jay Hoffpauirs specialized software and then with its own line
of computerized engraving machines, also decided to enter the fray. Hoffpauir,
a computer-programming genius known throughout the industry for designing
user-friendly, proprietary engraving software, launched the industrys
first software designed specifically for lasers in 1996. (Most laser engravers
use CorelDRAW or a similar graphics program thats not designed specifically
with engravers in mind.) Hoffpauir designed his software so that the same
application that ran his lasers could also be used to run Xenetechs
computerized engraving machines, making it easy on Xenetech clients, who
only had to learn one software package.
and I started programming at the same time," says sales rep Roy Brewer,
"and he fell in love with it while I fell in hate with it! Its
an incredible thing to take software that was written for a completely
different animal and turn it into something that would create output for
a laser, both raster and vector cutting. And he did it in less than 90
Meistergram decided to get out of the laser engraving machine business
in 1997, Xenetech bought Meistergrams engraving division to get
a jump start into the laser machine field. "A number of our customers
wanted to use our software with their laser due to the productivity inherent
in our software that was not found in CorelDRAW," says Guy Barone,
Xenetechs current president and CEO. "Our distributors pushed
us to offer the hardware to match our software, so in 1997 we purchased
Meistergrams engraving division and began the redesign of their
Hoffpauir and the other principals of Xenetech initially wondered if selling
lasers might slow sales of the companys computerized engraving machine
line, they found just the opposite happened when Hoffpauir designed his
software to be adaptable for the computerized rotary engravers too. In
1999 the company overhauled the laser again, eliminating all traces of
the original Meistergram machine from the product.
technology is quite a bit different from the others. The same guy who
wrote the software designed the hardware that powers the machine"
(meaning Hoffpauir), says Brewer. "Therefore, it can do things that
others cant, such as engraving from center to center of a piece."
Brewer explains why a feature like this is important to engravers. "If
youre engraving on something like a shotgun stock, on most lasers
you would have to work from the upper left-hand corner of the object.
But a gun stock doesnt have an upper left corner. With Xenetechs
software you can engrave outward from the center, like you could on a
pantograph. It makes more sense to do it that way."
Epilog Summit hit the market in 1994 and followed the Eclipse.
Heffernan joined New Hermes in 1987 and remembers all of the politics
of New Hermes taking the laser engraving plunge. He was the National
Sales Manager from 1989 until his departure in 1998.
gives another illustration of the "for engravers" mentality
thats built into Xenetechs software. "Another thing it
can do is engrave from the bottom up, rather than top down. It comes in
handy. If we were to engrave a piece of plastic thats red over a
white substrate, the laser starts at the top, and the smoke residue (from
lasering) is pulled toward the rear of the machine. The white is still
sticky from the heat, and the color will stick to it. So then you have
to engrave it twice, once to remove the material, and then again to remove
the red condensation on the white. If instead you engrave from the bottom
up, a clean path is left and theres no need to do it twice."
companies have since found ways to achieve some of the same features that
Xenetech has long incorporated in their software, though they are sometimes
cumbersome methods that often dont work as smoothly as Xenetechs
a company (like Xenetech and New Hermes) traditionally known for selling
computerized engraving machines, decided to enter the laser market in
1998 with a laser called the LaserPro. Rather than manufacture a laser
from scratch, Vision opted to become the exclusive sales agent for Great
Computer Corporation (GCC), a company out of Taiwan. After a year of marketing
the Vision name to the laser crowd, owner Dennis Triffeletti decided not
to try and compete head-on with desktop lasers and instead chose to introduce
a new type of machine: a galvanometer laser, more commonly known as a
galvo laser, called the Vision VXL.
galvo laser is extremely fast," says Triffeletti, "but it only
works with a small engraving area. Its between 3 and 50 times faster
than conventional flatbed lasers." Rather than the traditional back-and-forth
movement of a laser over the work area, the galvo laser remains stationary,
and the beam is directed to engrave by mirrors that change angle and direction
at each end to guide the light. The galvo laser is still a CO2
laser, but it can engrave a 5" x 7" plaque in about 90
seconds. Its only drawback is that the working range is limited to about
an 8" x 8" area.
decided to get into lasers because some of our computerized engraving
machine business was already going to lasers," says Triffeletti,
echoing the reasoning behind many other companies entry into the
market. "We decided we wouldnt compete with the ULS and Epilog
lasers, because they are all manufacturers, and by that time they were
very well entrenched in the business. We werent going to go that
Rabideau, demonstrating a laser in 1993, joined the Universal Laser
Systems team just as ULS was taking off.
get into the laser market New Hermes contracted with ULS to resell
a ULS laser. They repackaged it under the name NH Laser 2000.
sales organization still sells ULS and Epilog lasers, along with computerized
engraving machines, which, according to Triffeletti allows its sales force
to have lots of options when they come in the door. "Its good
for them as salesmen," he says, "because if a person doesnt
want Visions galvo laser, we can offer them a traditional desktop
model." Vision also manufactures and sells a YAG laser for industrial-type
companies continued to enter the laser manufacturing field in the late
1990s, with positive consequences on the industry. GCC, a company out
of Taiwan that began in 1989 as a manufacturer of PC motherboards and
cutting plotters, offered its first laser in 1999. "Since the cutting
plotter industry was becoming mature, GCC was ready to enter a new business
with greater growth potential," says Alen Lin, from the marketing
department at GCC.
first offering to engravers was the LaserPro, a machine similar to the
lasers offered by Epilog and ULS. "The GCC systems were (and still
are) inexpensive to produce, and they and the other foreign-produced lasers
have probably been the biggest factor in forcing down the price of a laser
system," says Mike Dean, of Epilog.
this same period, a company out of Wels, Austria also entered the marketplace.
Trotec started as a division of Trodat, a manufacturer of self-inking
rubber stamps. (Trodat was founded in 1912.) Trotecs first laser
offering came in 1998 with the Power Laser and Power Laser PRO. That same
year Trotec diverged from Trodat into its own company.
connected with a company in Nebraska called Idea Engineering to
come up with their own line of laser engravers.
Hoffpauir and Xenetech launched the industrys first software
designed specifically for lasers in 1996.
was during this period that LMI, the company that started it all, really
got behind the competitive curve. Says Pop Lehner, "Initially our
main effort and success was laser engraving. It was the cornerstone of
our business for many years. I dont know how we got behind and didnt
see the changing technology that was coming. But people started making
lasers everywhere, all over the world. They finally took us for a ride,
imitating and improving on what we had done." The company had made
many important contributions to the industry, such as the creation of
3D laser engraving, which was the brainchild of LMIs Peter Becker.
But in 1999, the company conceded that it was too far behind to compete
and pulled out of the marketplace.
says LMI founder, Bill Lawson, "ULS and Epilog owned the small-engraving
end of the market by then. Their machines were good and reliable. In the
beginning, Laser Craft got interest in the laser market going. Then we
came in with a somewhat less expensive but easy to use turn-key machine
that solved a problem (making the laser more accessible to everyday engravers).
Then ULS and Epilog did the same thing to us. Their machines sold in the
$20,000 to $25,000 range. Ours was $65,000. Those companies built on what
we had built."
the late 1990s to today, other companies have continued to join the laser
engraving field. Although companies such as Vision, Rofin-Baasel, Laservall,
Kern Electronics, Laser Solutions & Systems and Baublys Control Laser
Corp. may not be as well known as the bigger names, they all help complete
the industry. "Healthy competition among manufacturers helped bring
about more advanced, affordable and suitable equipment for the engraving
industry," says Cherie White, ULSs marketing manager. "Equipment
improved over the course of the decade and laser systems became easier
to use and maintain, and were less expensive and faster."
Barone, Xenetechs current president and CEO. Photo circa 1998.
Triffeletti, president and CEO of Vision Engraving (formerly known
as Western Engravers Supply) decided not to compete head on with
desktop lasers and instead chose to introduce a line of specialized
lasers. Shown here with wife Joan and son Joe in a recent photo.
A Material World
many companies now producing laser engraving machines, the race was on
to develop laser-worthy materials. So far, people had had some success
with the materials already in existence. But better products were needed
to help complete the picture, and companies started popping up to fill
one of the best-known suppliers of laser materials in the U.S., began
in 1999. The companys creators, Mike Fruciano and Rob Lichtenheld,
had experience in the laser industry (Fruciano had worked for ULS for
several years as the companys national sales manager), and the two
men were keenly aware of the need for laser-specific materials. "When
lasers first started," explains Fruciano, "one of the biggest
constraints in the development of hardware was the materials that were
available. For example, conventional rotary engraving plastic laminates
had a thick cap layer, which the laser melted into a big puddle. It produced
first big revolution in laser engraving materials came with the creation
of plastics specifically engineered for lasers. "Plastics are generally
made with two layers, the top layer and the core," describes Fruciano.
"The difference is, the older rotary engraving plastics were very
thick on the top layer, whereas laserable plastics are super thin. And
the plastic has been reformulated for smoother cutting and to reduce smoke
residue and odor. Laser-specific plastics have really only been developed
in the last year and a half."
also posed a challenge to laser engravers. Laser engraving on metal had
been limited to YAG lasers for years, because the laser light used by
CO2 lasers just bounced off the metal. A determined
engraver could engrave a sheet of anodized aluminum, but the coating would
come off and leave an industrial-looking, dull, matte finishnot
the best look for recognition and identification products. Victory Trophy
developed a solution in their LaserBrite materials.
Publisher Mike Davis explains how the new coated metals work. "They
take a sheet of highly polished metal and apply a coating of clear lacquer.
Then they lay on an overcoat of color. The CO2 laser
vaporizes the top colored coating, revealing the nice, shiny lacquered
metal underneath. It works well with brass," he says, "because
brass develops an unsightly tarnish when its exposed to air or moisture,
whereas the lacquer protects the shiny metal underneath."
2000 Vision Engraving Systems introduced the VXL galvanometer-based
Pop Lehner (center) became LMIs product/sales
manager in 1981. Pop is flanked by customer Neal Schlee of Lasertech
Alaska and LMI marketing manager Arlene Zdrazil.
method was recently discovered for laser engraving on metals. The Ferro
Company developed a product called CerMark for marking on ceramics.
CerMark is applied to the bare metal and when lasered the heat from a
CO2 laser turns the coating black and fuses it to
the metal permanently. "Suddenly, relatively low-power lasers could
mark on bare metals, and the market was blown wide open for all sorts
of applications: jet-engine parts, Italian charm bracelets, etc.,"
the mainstay material of laser engraving, has also advanced in recent
years. Although not much has changed as far as the material goes (wood
is still basically wood), many more varieties are available now, says
Fruciano. Add to this the advent of thin wood sheets that are affordable
and readily available, and even the wood material market has grown in
in the materials market has been good for the industry. The processes
that have been developed for producing materials have been standardized,
and the materials themselves have become more standardized too. The result
is more stable and reliable materials for the end user.
A World of Changes
have become so commonplace that we tend to think of the evolution of laser
engraving machines and materials as something that happened a while ago.
But in reality, these changes are actually quite recent. The first turn-key
laser engraver was brought to market by LMI less than 25 years ago, and
the real explosion in user-friendly, affordable machines and laser-specific
materials has taken place in the last 10 -12 years. And the industry is
constantly evolving. In 2014, when we look back at where the laser industry
stood in 2004, todays laser industry may very well seem like the
major change that has taken place since lasers first became available
is price. "The single biggest change is in the cost of the systems,"
says Fruciano. "When I started in the industry in 1994, a 25-watt
laser sold for $25,000. Now you can get the same equivalent in a laser
for $13,000, due to improvements in manufacturing."
Fruciano, co-owner of LaserBits, Inc., started his career in the
R&I Industry as the national sales manager for Universal Laser
Lichtenheld co-owner of LaserBits, Inc., one of the best-known suppliers
of laserable materials in the U.S., since 1999.
further explains that the development of the laser tube has been one of
the most influential factors in bringing down the cost of a laser. "The
tube is the heart of the system. It came into being about five years ago.
Before that, there was just one sole source for laser tubes, and they
controlled the price of the market. Since then, several companies have
developed their own laser tubes," which has helped drive prices down.
significant evolution in the industry is the development of the laser
as a computer peripheral, like your printer or an external CD-ROM or zip
drive. The laser has become something that you simply plug into your computer
and start to useits no longer the far-out technology that
seemed out of reach to many engravers when lasers first hit the market.
in technology have really driven the number of applications for lasers,"
continues Fruciano. "Now we can work with giant, high-resolution
files, all sorts of graphicsstuff that people could only dream of
a few years ago. The advancement in opportunities has grown based on the
computer technology thats available."
materials have continued to evolve and lasers have become easier to use.
Now that lasers have become a more flexible piece of equipment, people
can affordably own a system and make money based on a more reliable result,
laser engraving machines were first created." explains Epilogs
Mike Dean, "manufacturers only offered one size system that had a
fairly small work area, no larger than 11" x 17". Today many
companies offer a range of systems with work areas from 12" x 8"
to the 32" x 20" range. The speed of engraving has increased
significantly in the last decade from about 25 inches per second (IPS)
to about 120 IPS today. Image quality, ease-of-use, cylindrical engraving
attachments and software features have all made huge strides since the
early 1990s." These strides have provided many peoplepeople
who otherwise would probably never have given the engraving industry a
second thoughtwith a great opportunity to start their own business.
Into the Future!
LaserPro Mercury was introduced in 1999 by Great Computer Company.
1998, Trotec entered the U.S. laser market with the Speedy.
Into the Future!
where will the future of lasers take us? Many advancements are being made
today that give us a glimpse as to what lies ahead. Over the past 1-2
years several companies, including ULS and Epilog, have introduced small
footprint low-cost systems costing under $10,000 that are designed to
be extremely easy to use on a wide variety of materials. Some of these
lasers are even being installed in kiosks inside shopping malls that can
take a digital picture of, say, the users face, allow the user to
superimpose the image on a piece of jewelry or other item, and engrave
it right then and there.
innovation stems from changes in the way lasers operate. Traditionally,
the laser beam moves back and forth across the surface of the material,
turning on when the image needs to be engraved and off while the laser
completes its movement to the other side of the material. LMIs Bill
Lawson describes a new way of moving the laser that will greatly speed
up the process. "In the world of marking, there are these little
markers being developed. The beam can move in a pattern, and for smaller
items, its dramatically faster." If you had to engrave something
like a signature, he says, "the beam wouldnt move back and
forth; instead it would move just like youd write it with a pen."
The laser doesnt move over the white areasjust the black areas
that need to be engraved.
is a great opportunity to start your own business," says Ted Heffernan.
"You can have three engraving shops in a small town, and they each
can cater to a different industry: signs, industrial and trophies. And
they all will be using lasers, but never even cross paths with the competitions
customers. I think the engraving industry, in general, will continue to
grow as lasers evolve."
Lawson, the "father of laser engraving," agrees. "As technology
develops, and as people become more aware of whats out there, the
industry will evolve and grow, and companies will develop new and exciting
things." Although we might not know exactly where the industry is
going in the years ahead, he says, "someone will take us there. Its
only a question of who will take us, where well wind up and when
well arrive there!"
Mike Davis agrees with Lawson stating, "I can vividly recall that
day in 1981 when LMIs Pop Lehner backed a large truck up to our
office door and started carrying in a stand made of heavy duty steel "I"
beams. That was for the original product review of their LaserGraver
in The Engravers Journal which introduced the industry to laser
engraving. It was not easy then to envision all of the profound changes
weve seen in the ensuing 23 years.
been a super-exciting period and if my intuition is correct, the excitement
will continue far into the future."
FL-based Norstar Corporation introduced their LK 1500 Lasermatic
hybrid laser engraver in 1992 which consisted of a control unit
and a 10 watt laser and sold for $8,500. Available for about a year
before the company went out of business, it attached to the spindle
carriage of a computerized mechanical engraver. The unit was limited
to vector engraving only and could only utilize the fonts and designs
available with the mechanical engraver.