Engraving equipment is often designed to perform a specific engraving task, and the types of engraving machines depend on the task being performed and the materials being used. Engraving machines are generally capable of working on a limited range of materials. Metal and wood, for instance, often require separate engraving bits or even separate systems. The materials used in engraving include wood, plastic, metals and various alloys. There are many methods of engraving, including mechanical, abrasive blasting, laser, computer-controlled and industrial engraving systems.
Mechanical engraving systems use metal cutting tools to perform a variety of engraving tasks. An engraving machine using mechanical forces is often considered versatile, though the replacement of cutting tools is often necessary over time. As an example, mechanical engraving is often used in the printing industry. Large copper printing rolls are often engraved with the image of a page, which can be used to create many prints before it must be discarded.
Abrasive blasting can be considered another form of mechanical engraving. In these engraving systems, an abrasive material such as sand is blown over a work piece using intense pressure. This process blasts away some of the surface material, which allows for the creation of designs on rock and glass surfaces. Many times, abrasive blasting is used to create broad designs and to etch the surface of a large object.
Laser engraving systems are capable of high-precision marking of hard, usually flat surfaces. Rather than using physical cutting tools that wear out over time, lasers mark the work piece. This is often considered to be a significant benefit of laser engraving. Certain materials, including metal and glass, are used most often, especially because laser engraving offers such precise etching. Like many complex engraving systems, those used in the laser-based systems are often automated.
Computer numerical control (CNC) plays an important role in many engraving systems. Instead of being manually controlled, work pieces are manipulated by machines that respond to computer programming. The CNC engraving system has enabled the engraving of microscopic details on many materials. One application of this technology includes engraving metal car parts with serial numbers for security tracking. Materials such as glass, which can be difficult or impossible to engrave by hand, also can benefit from a CNC engraving system.
An industrial engraving system often makes use of CNC programming as a means of production. These systems are often large in scale, concerned primarily with mass production and replication. Materials used and work piece size can greatly influence what kind of engraver, or what engravers in combination, will optimize production. Mechanical, laser and abrasive engraving systems may all be used in industrial engraving systems.