Engraving 101

A short summary about the types of things we can engrave. Well, to be honest, it's a bit of a long read, BUT, trust us, it's WELL worth it!!

The Basics of Engraving

There used to be a time where you were limited to just a single type of engraving, and only limited to engraving text.  In today’s world with the latest technology in laser engraving, it’s not a matter of “if” it can be engraved, it’s more a question of “how” it can be engraved and “what” you would like to have engraved.

what can be engraved?

Funky Fonts
Graphic Designs
Non “Photo” Based Images

What Can We Engrave On?

Anodized Aluminum
Metals (Depending)
Plastic (Depending)
…and a variety of other things.


Some Examples

Canoe Paddles
Cell Phones / Laptops
Promotional Products
…and SO much more!!

Engraving Acrylic

Engraving or cutting acrylic has a wide variety of applications.  We can make a variety of signs, accessibility and building compliant signs, displays, awards, or (as in the photo below) a back-lit LED annual plaque for a virtual reality league.

Engraving Anodized Aluminum – Part 1

From a consumer’s point of view, anodized aluminum is on all of your electronic gear.  Your laptops, cell phones, tablets, TV’s, music equipment, memorial bench plates, and a ton of other stuff.  Checkout this laptop that we laser engraved for a client, we used a black and white graphic file to create this effect.

Engraving Anodized Aluminum – Part 2

In a commercial world, anodized aluminum is used for all sorts of specification tags (called lamacoids), asset ID tags, ID labels, award and trophy plates, and a variety of other uses where the end product “needs to take a beating”, not rust, and have a long lasting shelf life.

A lot of commercial companies have gotten away from stainless steel tags in favour of anodized aluminum tags, simply because of their longevity, their cost (DEFINITELY cheaper than stainless!!), and shorter production time.

Engraving / Etching Glass

Every bride and groom loves to have their wedding glasses engraved.  Naturally we can personalize any drinking glass – wine, beer, scotch, champagne, martini, you name it.  Not to mention, any glass-based product like corporate awards, bowls, vases, mirrors, and windows!  Some people refer to glass engraving as “etching”, but there’s really no difference between the two words – it means the same thing, it’s just different terminology.

Engraving Leather

Engraving anything that’s real leather is no problem at all!  We’ve done guitar straps, belts, purses, hand bags, wallets, baseball gloves, baseballs, basketballs, tool belts, axe handles, portfolios, diaries, books, thermal mug wraps, tags that get sewn into recycled mittens, floor mats, attache cases, suitcases, toilet seats …yeah, THAT was fun… and even a single piece of leather that was made to look like an ancient scroll.

If you’ve got “faux” leather, vegan, pleather, or naugahyde, most of these can be engraved as well.


Engraving metal – Part 1

Engraving metal can be tricky, so please let us explain.  When it comes to engraving (any type of laser engraving) we like to say, “Think of an onion. What we’re doing, is peeling away layers of existing material.”  So, like these Yeti mugs (which are coated with a black finish), what we’re doing is peeling away the black, and what you’re seeing is the stainless steel underneath.

So, much like anodized aluminum, if you’ve got something that’s made out of any kind of metal, and it’s been coated in some way, then we should be good to go!

Engraving metal – Part 2

If you have something that’s made out of metal, but it doesn’t have a coating (like the Yeti mug on the right side), well, then things get a bit tricky.  From here, we have to know what your product is made out of.  Is it stainless steel, regular steel, aluminum, gold, copper, iron, silver, zinc, titanium, or something else? 

If it’s stainless steel, then we might be off to the races.  If it’s anything other that stainless steel (see Part 3 below), sorry, you’re out of luck.  And, if you’ve got any jewelry, sorry, we don’t engrave any kind of jewelry as we encourage you to talk with your favourite jeweler about that.

Engraving metal – Part 3

If you’ve got stainless steel, RAW stainless steel, then you’re in luck, kind-of.  So, remember “Part 1” where we explained that engraving was essentially a process where we “peeled away layers – like an onion”?  Well, on stainless steel products, obviously there’s nothing to peel.  So, we have to put what’s called a “thermal marking product” on the stainless to engrave into the metal at the molecular level.

The trick is, this “thermal marking product” isn’t cheap!  It comes to us in a container about the size of a pop can, at the low low cost of $250!!  Yes, you read that right, $250!!  So, THE MOMENT you start talking about engraving stainless steel, you’ve instantly doubled your cost because of this product.

That’s why anodized aluminum is so popular ;).

Now, the next problem is, while the manufacturers of both the lasers and the thermal marking product say it’s a permanent process …in the 25 years we’ve been in business… our experience is that, that’s not necessarily the case.  In cases where we know where the stainless comes from, what grade it is, and what commercial application it’s used for, then it’s usually ok.  If it’s anything that’s meant for general non-commercial use (like the stainless Yeti mug), we’ll tell you that it will, eventually, wear off.

Engraving Plastics

Much like metal, engraving plastics can be tricky.  If we’re using our very own laser-specific plastic (like we use for outdoor signs, trophies, etc.), then it’s no problem at all.  If you’re talking something a little more sensitive like plastic pens, cups, or mugs, sorry, they just melt in the laser, so they’re not really suited for engraving.

Engraving Wood

We get asked, “Can you engrave wood?” ALL the time!  And, the answer to that is, “ABSOLUTELY, YES!!”. 

We’ve engraved canoe paddles (like the one below), Muskoka chairs, picture frames, tables, watches, barn boards, charcuterie boards, live edge boards, clocks, clothes hangers, carrying trays, hammers, keepsake boxes, pens, and gift baskets.

When it comes to wood, the colour and grain play an important role.  Generally speaking, we like to say “the lighter the wood, the better”, and if you’ve stained or varnished the wood that’s no problem at all.

Rotary Engraving

Some of you may be more familiar with this type of engraving, rotary.  Up until this point, everything you’ve seen on this page has been engraved using our state-of-the-art laser engravers.  In case you didn’t know, engraving lasers can’t cut metal, they’re not powerful enough.  Remember the “onion” analogy we used in “Metal Engraving – Part 1”?  Lasers are superior because they allow us to engrave graphics, logos, and more.  But, if you have a trophy plate that looks like the picture below, that wasn’t done on a laser, it was done on a rotary engraver.

Imagine a diamond on the tip of a “pen” like piece of metal.  A rotary engraver, uses that diamond tip to physically cut into the metal (usually aluminum) to create a tone-on-tone look.  We like to refer to it as the “old school” style of engraving, because it’s been around a VERY long time, but it does have a very classic appeal to it.

The problem is, you can really only engrave text with this style of engraving – no graphics, no logos, no fancy designs, just letters.  It’s because of this, that fewer and fewer engraving shops actually offers this type of service.  We do, but only on specific items. 

Engraving Anything Else

Did we forget anything?  I’m sure we did, but …in the interest of holding your attention… I think it’s best that we stop here.  If you’d like to engrave something that we haven’t talked about above, then please contact us, drop in, send us an email with a photo, and let us have a look.  We’d be more than happy to help, and share our experiences with you.  Or, just stop in, and see the owls…


Engraving Based Blogs