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What are the Different Types of Engraving Machines?

E. Darby
E. Darby

Engraving is the art of cutting, carving, or etching into a material. Different engraving machines exist to work on different materials or through different methods of marking. Materials which can be engraved include wood, metal, gemstones, leather, plastic, and stone. A few common types of engraving machines are the mechanical engraving machine, the laser engraver, the jewelry engraver, and the photo engraver.

A mechanical engraving machine uses a model or stencil to transfer a design to the material that will be engraved. The cutter on the machine then marks the material with the design or description. Mechanical engravers have traditionally been a big part of the printing process. The desired image or lettering is engraved onto wood or metal plates, which is inked and stamped on the pages with the help of a printing press.

Laser cutters can be used to engrave metal.
Laser cutters can be used to engrave metal.

A laser engraver is a more modern invention, and they have become popular types of engraving machines. Unlike the mechanical machines, in a laser engraver, a cutting tool such as a bit or rotary cutter does not mark the material; instead, a laser does the work. A computer is necessary to operate a laser engraver because the technology behind this machine tends to be more complicated. The software that operates a laser engraving machine may come packaged with the machine, or it may be available for separate purchase.

Laser engravers are used to carve information on small items like pet tags.
Laser engravers are used to carve information on small items like pet tags.

Most jewelry engravers are actually a subset of laser engravers. These machines are specially designed to handle the delicate work of engraving jewelry. Engraving jewelry is not a new practice, but laser machines are more precise than older models of engraving machines. The precise laser can handle engraving of both flat and curved surfaces. The jewelry engravers have also grown increasingly smaller, so they can now easily fit into small shops or even kiosks where customers may request personalized engraving on rings, watches, photo frames, and other keepsakes. Other common uses for engraving machines are plates on trophies; identification tags for tools, pets, and medical equipment; and serial number plates.

Engraving machine kiosks may be located in retail malls.
Engraving machine kiosks may be located in retail malls.

Another subset of laser engravers includes photo engraving machines. With the help of specialized software, these machines engrave photographic images, as opposed to just text or simple designs, into metal. These engravings may appear on pet tags, the backs of watches, and paperweights. Sometimes these machines are built into self-service kiosks, where the user selects the desired product and design, inserts a form of payment, and waits for product to emerge from a slot.

Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - I know a guy who does some CNC work. It’s part of his duties at work; he has to use a CNC engraving machine to engrave sheet metal and stuff.

It’s not as elegant or as pretty as working with a glass engraving machine, but it’s industrial work and very much in demand. I told him he should become a CNC programmer as they make more money.

The programmers use the machines too but they do a little more work with them, and the pay is fairly decent for hourly work. I hope he gets the opportunity to move on up.


@nony - It does make a difference, yes. My son plays tennis and he’s racked up a few first place trophies from different places.

Only one of those places actually used a trophy engraving machine to etch his name on the trophy. The other trophies are just generic, although they are certainly nice.

I prefer the personalized one myself (and I think he does, too) even though it’s not a big as the others.


@SkyWhisperer - Yes, personalized stuff is always a hit with customers. Think about how easy it is to take something ordinary – mug, a vase, a book, you name it – and suddenly make it valuable by putting someone’s name on it.

There’s a small store in the mall in our area, and all they do is sell personalized stuff. They have their own items which they offer to engrave for you, but they’ll also take stuff you give them too. They have a glass engraving machine and it etches with amazing precision and artistry.

Honestly, when they first opened up this shop years back, I didn’t think it would last. I figured it would be like so many other shops in the mall which opened up for a few months and were forced to relocate because nobody shopped there.

However, it’s lasted for 15 years. Everyone loves to see their own name (or someone else’s) on a piece of merchandise.


I have a friend who’s a graphic artist, but he’s also done a lot of work with engraving machines of all types.

His favorite by far was the computerized engraving machine that uses laser technology. He showed me samples of glass vases and other items that he had etched with this machine at work.

The precision was amazing, and you could etch just about anything on the machine – including a name, for example, without breaking the item.

He told me he wanted to buy one of these machines for himself so he could start up a business on the side, but he could never scrape up the money to buy one.

I don’t remember the exact price but it was thousands of dollars. I certainly think you can make a decent side business with it, approaching specialty stores and such with the offer of creating personalized memorabilia.

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    • Laser cutters can be used to engrave metal.
      By: Kadmy
      Laser cutters can be used to engrave metal.
    • Laser engravers are used to carve information on small items like pet tags.
      By: Alexey Stiop
      Laser engravers are used to carve information on small items like pet tags.
    • Engraving machine kiosks may be located in retail malls.
      By: Photocreo Bednarek
      Engraving machine kiosks may be located in retail malls.