All Engraving is NOT Created Equal
transitive verb \in-?grav, en-\
: to cut or carve lines, letters, designs, etc., onto or into a hard surface
I first discovered the joy of engraving back in the late 90's while employed at a local jewelry store. Under the guidance of a Master Jeweler, I learned many of the styles and techniques used by engravers in the past, as well as some of the current popular methods of today. The differences between the old and new methods are in some cases huge! I am old school - I only hand engrave, which does limit the materials that I can work on to metals such as gold, silver, steel, pewter and most base metals.
Hand engraving is an old art that has changed little since it began. To hand engrave, the artist uses a hand tool called a graver to cut permanent lines into metal. Since the design is actually cut into the metal, hand engraving requires skill since there is no possibility to erase. Engravers can change the design to alter errors, but once a line is cut into the metal, there is no way to remove it.
The other tool used for hand engraving involves using a pantograph. A pantograph is a device with a mechanical linkage connected in a manner based on parallelograms so that the movement of one stylus, in tracing an image, produces identical movements in a second stylus.In simple terms, the right hand uses the one stylus to trace the pattern, while the left hand uses the second stylus to apply pressure to the item, transferring the pattern to the item. Hand engraving is fairly easy to learn - but does require a great deal of practice to do well.
Some other methods are:
Rotary and Computer Assisted Engraving:
Rotary engraving can be done using motorized pantographs or very complex computerized engraving machines. Rotary engraving is a routing process, accomplished with a motor-driven cutter. You will see this type of engraving used in many commercial and industrial works.
Computer assisted engraving is pretty self explanatory - the operator places the item in a holder, then uploads the desired text or design into the computer, and presses a button to start the process. The computer does all the work, so it's easy to do and doesn't require a whole lot of skill.
Laser Engraving is accomplished through the use of a laser beam and a computer. This method allows for engraving on all kinds of materials from brass to titanium, leather, wood, acrylic and glass. Being connected to a computer, it offers a wide variety of fonts, and it is quick and easy to produce items in bulk. Again, the computer really does all the work, so there's not much skill involved, just money, as these machines are quite expensive.
There are a few other methods of engraving - there are gravers that are run by an air compressor, there are bits that can be used in motorized hand tools, and it can even be done with a hammer and special chisels.
Why does the method used matter?
Each method will produce different results. With hand engraved items you will be able to feel the engraving - it is cut into the metal. With most computer engraving, it's more like the design is printed on the item, so it may feel smooth. With laser engraving, the design is burned onto the item, and again, may feel smooth to the touch.
There are many shops offering engraving services, but not many that actually engrave by hand. So, how do you determine what type of engraving you will get? If they engrave on wood, leather and pretty much anything, they are using a laser and computer. If they are offering to engrave your pictures on items, they are using a computer and special printer.
I hope that I have given you some useful information about the processes of engraving. To me, it's a form of art, an expression of creativity, and a way to express true emotion. I love helping people give gifts that are truly special and personal!