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Metal engraving is the process of cutting a series of lines into the surface of a metal object or plate to form a design, image or words. The metal engraving process can either be done by hand with machine assistance or can be completely automated, depending on the item being engraved. Jewelry, metal dishes and weapons are all popular surfaces that are appropriate for engraving. Industrially, engraving is frequently used in the creation of rolls and plates that are employed in the printing process of periodicals or books.
Hand metal engraving involves using a tool known as a burin that looks like a chisel. A burin comes in many sizes, from a single sharp point to a wide and flat blade. It is used by an engraver to cut into the metal and create a line. Some lines need to be cut more than once to achieve the desired effect. Engraving by hand is most often performed on jewelry or metal plates that require meticulous detail.
Machines also can help with the metal engraving process. Hand engravers are able to use a burin that has a motor inside the handle, moving the blade back and forth through the metal. Larger machines can be hooked to a pantograph, allowing the engraver to trace a design on paper while the machine exactingly copies it in metal. Automated computer systems can take a digital image and perform the entire metal engraving process independently.
Lasers have allowed many hard metals to be easily engraved. There are handheld lasers that can be used to cut various depths of lines, and there are larger lasers that can accurately cut patterns into a plate. Although they perform well, laser engraving machines tend to be expensive and complex to operate, so diamond-tip engravers are still widely used, especially industrially.
Metal engraving is used in many commercial applications. One of the most notable uses is in the production of plates used to print currency. The plates are hand engraved with small details that are difficult or impossible to reproduce without the original engravings.
Large metal cylinders are engraved, often by computers, to print newspapers, books or other periodicals. The same process can be used to make reproductions of artwork. In consumer use, metal engraving is often used to customize jewelry and other objects that have metal areas.
It should be noted that metal engraving is distinctly different from metal etching. Engraving involves physically removing areas of the metal with a tool. Etching involves using strong chemicals to remove the areas. The results can sometimes appear the same, but the processes are very different.