Etching vs. Engraving – Find Out Which Is Better For Your Projects

Are you planning to use either etching or engraving and you are finding yourself confused about which method is better? Don’t worry this article may help you to select the exact option which fits your needs in all aspects. Here in this article, the detailed difference between etching and engraving is disclosed. Both techniques are used for creating unique and minute designs. So, here in the upcoming paragraphs, we shall discuss in detail the fundamentals of etching and engraving. 

Fundamentals of Etching

When it comes to etching, there are two methods for performing it. It’s a widespread practice where strong acids or even sometimes mordant is being used in order to cut into the unprotected areas of the metal surface. This process along with a more high-tech variation of etching that involves the use of a laser beam are great ways for creating a unique design. Nowadays, people make with etching some of the latest forms of art. 

Let’s leave laser etching aside for a little bit. Conventional etching (without a laser beam) is the process in which a metal, mostly copper or zinc, will be covered with wax. The artist will draw his desired design on the wax coating which in the sequel will be dipped into acid. Acid penetrates the design and a sheet of paper is used in the printing press in order to get the image on the paper by exerting high pressure on the plate. 

Chemical Etching

Chemical etching is a high precision manufacturing practice that includes can be performed by following those steps

  • Cleaning
  • Laminating
  • Exposing
  • Developing
  • Etching
  • Stripping 

Before starting to draw on the metal plate he will cover the entire metal plate with the help of an acid called resistant wax. The wax being used will be resistant to the metal and so the artist may not worry about metal contamination. Then the metal plate which is filled with designs is being immersed into the acid and here the bare metal which is being exposed with the lines of drawing designs will be eroded. The “etch” depth is then controlled by the number of times when the acid is being set free to erode the base metal. The simple technology adopted here is that as long as the acid is being dipped, the lines will become deeper, and also it will become darker.

After completing the above-said process, the next step will be to print the designed metal. So, here the ink which is viscous greasy is used to push deeply into the grooves which are etched and then the surface of the metal is cleanly wiped with the help of a muslin. This leaves the etched areas to retain the ink only. Then the metal plate used is dropped on the bed which is covered with the help of dampened paper and after that, it is completely backed with three to four blankets.

After all these steps are completed, the metal plate is then passed on into the press which is set up under increased pressure. The paper which is malleable is then forced to move into the cuts and the ridges found in the plate and in this way it picks up the filled ink. After peeling out the final paper, it will show the mirror image of the design which was been etched earlier. This procedure is then repeated continuously for each and every print.

Laser Etching

While talking about laser etching, it is the advanced form of etching when compared to all the other types. Here a laser beam is being used to change the entire surface of the desired object. Mostly this process is more effective to form images on a material. This variation of etching is more advanced because the manufacturer is able to control the properties of the beam. People usually use this method for performing small cuts on metals with a very small depth that doesn’t exceed 0.002″. That’s why people perform etching on small objects like rings and necklaces. 

Also, this method is more effective in many aspects than other techniques in practice such as

  • Stamping
  • CNC
  • Laser cutting
  • Water jetting
  • EDM

Fundamentals of Engraving

In the above paragraphs, we have discussed enough matters about etching, now we shall see an effective alternative of that technique.

Engraving technology is a very popular technique among fabricators and craftsmen. Also, experts say engraving has created a new and healthy generation to make more innovative projects in art. The advanced form of engraving which is laser engraving paves way for the growing craftsman to produce highly demanding projects very easily. This method makes use of high powered laser in order to physically remove the material’s surface layer and this in turn creates a uniform cavity that reveals the desired image beautifully. This method is versatile and people use it on materials like glass, plastics, coated metals; stone, and even wood. The cuts created with this method usually have a depth of around 0.1″.

Differences Between the Methods

Let’s get on the comparison of those methods. So, which method is better, etching or engraving? Actually, none of them because each method is better on different projects. The main difference has to do with the depth of the cut. This length is bigger in engraving in comparison with etching. When the depth is increased in engraving then it is stated as deep engraving. 

  • Laser etching groove depth = less than 0.002″
  • Laser engraving groove depth = 0.02″ – 0.14″ 

Points on Laser Engraving

Apart from the main difference between those two methods, other parameters are important to manufacturers. Some of the advantages of the engraving process are the following ones.

  • Very fast in the scanning speed
  • Very beautiful plane in machining
  • Can do dimensional processing of the words and characters
  • Applicable to cut all the acrylic material uniquely
  • After polishing process smooth edges are omitted
  • A very cost-effective process 
  • Marking speed – 1500mm/sec 
  • Environmental friendly technique as no chemical is being used

Points on Laser Etching

Now we have spoken very briefly about the laser engraving process, its advantages, and disadvantages. But we haven’t discussed the advantages of laser etching. So, let’s have a glance at the following list.

  • Gives unquestionable quality in the project done
  • A permanent and long-lasting project can be made
  • High-speed process and automation criteria are excellent
  • Very safe to use and also eco friendly
  • It fits any kind of budgets
  • Custom marking is effective here
  • Appropriate on wood, plastics, and metals


Finally, both these methods etching & engraving fall under the same category. Now, technology has been developed a lot and laser technology is being used widely. The major factor when comparing those two processes is the depth of the groove. In most projects, all the other factors are not that important. 

If you are interested in CNC and processes on metals then you will find interesting guides on our website. 

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