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I’m looking for where to get laser engraving supplies for my CO2 laser cutter, which has a 20×12″ platform. LaserBits is the only vendor I know about now, and I want more choices. Searching the Internet turned up several laser cutting and engraving supply sources as well as resource websites. I’m interested in picking up the following kinds of supplies:
- Laserable promotional items
- Sheets of acrylic
- Plastic engraving sheets
- Laser engraving woods
What can you recommend?
Being able to supply promotional items to companies is vital to your laser engraving business. The final product promotes the client’s image and improves awareness of their brand. Promotional items can be a great way to introduce new products and services, or support an existing marketing effort. Giveaway promo items are a fantastic way to generate sales leads at corporate events and trade shows.
Laser engraving suppliers may sell thousands of different items, both retail and wholesale. The range generally goes from laserable consumables like plastic engraving sheets to laserable products.
Products might be personalizable variants of common:
- Baby gifts
- Graduation gifts
- Wedding gifts
- Birthday / anniversary commemorative pieces
- Corporate promotional pieces
It’s even possible to engrave photos on many materials, and some products are designed for photos instead of text.
Overall, laser products are available for sale divided into different categories based on material and form. A laser supplier might offer:
- Crystal & Glass
In each of these materials, the supplier will usually carry:
Therefore, if you need something common, like:
- Acrylic awards
- Marble paperweights
- Metal gifts
- Laserable pens & pencils
- Wood gifts
…it’s likely that most laser supply retailers will be able to take care of your needs. A good supplier will be able to tell you everything you need to process their products on your laser system. Look for a resources or data section on their website, where they will (hopefully) list the power and speed settings they recommend. They may also give important tips for getting good results.
Many different laserable materials have specific tips and techniques that you can apply to get cleaner cuts and sharper edges in your etchings and engravings. If you’re etching glass, you’ll probably find that a thin layer of wet paper on top of the glass surface is key to avoiding cracking or pitting. When it comes to etching and engraving acrylic, focusing “in to” the acrylic surface by about 0.020 inches will make a larger spot size and a smoother engraving. Similar tips apply to other materials — consult your supplier for theirs.
When buying materials and products, also make sure to get the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each different type of material you intend to process. Your supplier will probably have these free for the download, and may even include them with your order. If you download them, print them off and keep them in a binder or folder near your laser.
A Materials Safety Data Sheet is a very general guide to toxicity and safety issues that might arise while working with a given substance. They are not specific to laser processing, and they may only tangentially mention any hazardous gases produced by vaporizing the materials. Still, keeping an eye out for any reference at all to “thermal decomposition” or “inhalation” is still a good idea. If a material produces harmful vapors, you will need to be extra careful with your laser exhaust.
If you only need one or two pieces engraved, etched, marked, or sand blasted, most laser supply stores will do engraving or cutting for a price. The listed price generally includes artwork, setup, and engraving charges unless it says otherwise. If you want to bring or mail them a special piece instead of buying it from them directly, expect to pay by the square inch engraved — and maybe an extra handling fee for certain materials or odd sized items. You’ll want to find out about this fee in advance, of course.
When looking for laser engraving supplies, be specific about what you need. There is probably a laser supply store online that specializes in what you’re looking for. Well known examples include:
- Chewbarka (specializing in anodized aluminum)
- JDS (awards)
- Delvies (acrylic)
If you have a company with a tax ID number, pull it out and set up a business account at JDS http://www.jdsindustries.com/homepage.htm. They offer great prices, excellent support, and a very large selection of products and materials.
It’s also worth looking at Johnson Plastics http://www.johnsonplastics.com/ for the same reason. Having a Tax ID number and being able to qualify for a business account at these vendors means you’ll see lower supply costs and may get access to levels of support reserved for people sending them steady business over years. Get a Tax ID and start establishing relationships with your suppliers today: as a retail business, having a steady and long term source of the items you need most can do wonders for your ability to deliver when a client asks you for 500 pieces done yesterday.
When you’re in a hurry and need supplies immediately, know your local craft shops and what they offer. Some may be well aware of the laser market’s growth and willing to stock supplies accordingly. There are also the big box stores like Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, or Michaels which — while they probably won’t have much in the way of laser-specific items — may inspire you to try something outside the norm.
Consider this as a starting point, not a comprehensive guide to where to get laser engraving supplies. In the process of researching each new type of material, you’ll learn about many new supply companies and retailers, each with their own specialties and strong points. If you’re looking to cut or etch metal with say a high powered CO2 laser or plasma cutter than material costs are even more critical.
Keep track of which items and styles draw the most sales from your customers, and make a point of steadily rotating in new items that might sell well to see if their performance meets their promise.