Anodised aluminium is one of the most common metals used for laser marking purposes. Aluminium itself is a very widely used metal which is valued for its combination of being both lightweight and durable. This unique combination has made it the material of choice for aircraft and automotive products. The high electrical conductivity of aluminium has also made it an excellent material for long-distance power lines, satellite dishes, and in electrical components found in most household appliances and power systems.

Laser engraving anodised aluminium for technology devices

Aluminium is a very malleable and ductile material which makes it a versatile material for many consumer goods. Modern smartphones, laptops, and tablets are made with increasingly large portions of aluminium. Being light and easy to shape, the metal is also becoming a common component in chairs, lamps, decorative panels, and other interior design elements. Aluminium is food-safe, non-toxic, and resistant to rust – after all, aluminium cans have been used to package carbonated drinks since the 1960’s.

Anodised aluminium is essentially aluminium enhanced with a corrosive-resistant layer. Similar to how stainless steel is produced, the anodised layer is made by a process called passivation. This is done by immersing the the metal in an acid electrolyte bath and passing an electrical current through the solution. The result is a thin coat of aluminium oxide that is fully integrated into the underlying aluminium substrate, making it resistant to chipping away or peeling off. The anodised layer is generally stronger and more adherent than any other anti-corrosive paint or metal plating treatment, making anodisation one of the more preferred options.

Aside from giving aluminium better UV and corrosion resistance, an anodised layer has a naturally porous surface that is especially receptive to dyes. This has allowed manufacturers of this metal to offer their product in a wide variety of colours. Without dye treatment, the anodised layer is translucent and reveals the metallic sheen of the underlying aluminium – a finish that looks good enough on its own.

The types of anodised aluminium marking

The presence of the anodise layer makes the metal an especially easy material for for engraving and marking purposes. A fiber laser or a CO2 laser can be effectively used with anodised aluminium, since they can both ablate the anodise layer. Depending on the thickness of the anodise layer and whether a dye was used to colour the layer, different laser treatments may be used to get the best results.

A coloured Type I or Type II anodise layer is the easiest material for laser engraving anodised aluminium. These layers are very thin at less than 1/1000 of an inch and can be ablated away with minimal energy and contact time. Since the anodise layer is bonded to the aluminium layer at a molecular level, an ablation process changes the surface of the original aluminium layer. The result is a scattering of light that gives a colour intermediate between white and clear. The use of a dye on the anodise layer, especially one of a dark colour, creates excellent contrast with the ablated section.

A thicker anodise layer, called a Type III layer, can also be ablated using a fiber or a CO2 laser, but will require a higher laser power output, a longer exposure time, or multiple passes. In any case, at least two passes are generally recommended for marking the aluminium by ablation. The first pass, called the “damage pass” ablates away the anodise layer. The second pass, called the “cleanup pass”, removes any excess material and brightens up the ablated section. The result is an ablated section that has a better contrast to the coloured anodise layer.

In the case of a clear anodise layer, contrast is provided to the aluminium by using a method that creates a dark mark. After ablating the section corresponding to the target design, a metal finishing solution designed specifically for aluminium such as Aluma Black or Birchwood Casey can be applied to the material. The existing anodise layer will shield the unablated areas, while the ablated section will take up the colour.

Without using a metal finishing solution, a dark anodised aluminium mark can also be achieved by increasing the laser power output and increasing the exposure time. By changing the laser parameters, different shades of grey to rich black can be marked on on the metal. The surface of the dark marks can even be customized from being smooth to a light textured “leatherette” finish.

Removal of the anodise layer by ablation automatically creates an oxidized layer on the ablated section, retaining the corrosive resistance characteristic of the anodised aluminium material.

Uses for aluminium laser engraving

Laser engraving anodised aluminium is the most commonly used process for creating permanent and legible marks on signs and promotional tags. Promotional items such as key chains, pens, bottle openers, and flasks can be marked with a company’s brand or logo.

Laser systems provides complete design freedom. The high resolution of laser etching makes it possible to mark very small alphanumeric characters, complicated and fancy typeface, barcodes, QR codes, logos, and photo-realistic designs. These designs do not even have to be made using proprietary software – the machines can work with files created using the most common design software.

Laser engraving machines for metal, such as aluminium, are a very reliable technology that delivers consistent quality results. With repeatable output, laser etching is the perfect method to reproduce promotional items that contain unique branding and identifiers at a large volume. Laser marking also works well with dynamic data such as bar codes, part numbers, and batch numbers.


Benefits of using a laser to mark, etch or engrave aluminium

It does not use any inks or chemicals, eliminating issues relating to waste disposal and handling. Having zero consumables, laser marking aluminium will prove to be the more cost-effective option in the long run. Having only a few moving parts, savings can also be realised with lasers by the reduced need for maintenance and parts replacement.

Marks made using laser etched anodise aluminium are highly robust and permanent. They can withstand repeated abrasion, mechanical stress, temperature stress, and UV exposure without degradation. This is particularly important for marks made for traceability and quality control purposes, such as those used for automotive or aircraft parts. For companies, providing high-quality promotional items that do not degrade speaks well of a company’s reputation.

As a non-contact process, marking aluminium eliminates the need to secure or clamp the aluminium part prior to marking. This makes the process more flexible in terms of the shapes and sizes of the parts that can be laser marked, making the process immediately available for new and modified designs. Not having to clamp the item also removes a time-consuming step in the manufacturing process, making the process faster and reducing the need for operator intervention.

More importantly, using an ablation method retains the corrosive resistant property of the anodised aluminium. Intense corrosion tests, such as salt spray testing, has proven that marks made by laser marking aluminium do not degrade under a very corrosive environment, nor does it compromise the corrosion resistance of the material.

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