What is Laser Marking, Etching, Scribing, and Engraving?

The above terms all describe various methods of using a focused beam of light to permanently mark a given material. The above terms are not always used consistently, and are sometimes used interchangeably. Regardless of terminology, the laser beam usually marks the part by one or more of the following methods:

Surface Removal: The laser beam removes a layer of coating such as black oxide, paint, anodization, chrome, etc., to reveal the base material. This method creates very sharp and detailed characters and graphics due to the high contrast between the coating and the base material.

Color Change: The most common method for marking plastics such as polycarbonate and ABS. The laser beam produces a color change in the plastic material through carbonization or foaming. 

Annealing: An excellent method for marking metals such as stainless steel and titanium, this process also relies on a color change to create characters and images. Annealing with the heat of the laser beam creates a dark, burr-free, permanent mark without noticeable surface penetration.

Engraving: The laser beam penetrates the surface and removes material in the laser path through melting displacement and/or evaporation. As opposed to stamping, laser engraving produces no force on the rest of the piece and therefore no extra distortion.