A laser machine can be thought of as three main parts: a laser, a controller, and a surface. The laser is like a pencil - the beam emitted from
it allowsthe controller to trace patterns onto the surface. The controller (usually a computer) controls the direction, intensity, speed of movement, and
spread of thelaser beam aimed at the surface. The surface is picked to match what the laser can act on.
There are three main genres of engraving machines: The most common is the XY table where, usually, the workpiece (surface) is stationary and
the laser optics move around in X and Y directions, directing the laser beam to draw vectors. Sometimes the laser is stationary and the workpiece
moves. Sometimes the workpiece moves in the Y axis and the laser in the X axis. A second genre is for cylindrical workpieces(or flat workpieces
mounted around a cylinder) where the laser effectively traverses a fine helix and on/off laserpulsing produces the desired image on a raster basis.
In the third method, both the laser and workpiece are stationary and galvo mirrors move the laser beam over the workpiece surface. Laser engravers
using thistechnology can work in either raster or vector mode.
The point where the laser (the terms "laser" and "laser beam" may be used interchangeably) touches the surface should be on the focal
plane of the laser's optical system, and is usually synonymous with its focal point. This point is typically small, perhaps less than a fraction
of a millimeter (depending on the optical wavelength). Only the area inside this focal point is significantly affected when the laser beam passes
over the surface. The energy delivered by the laser changes the surface of the material under the focal point. It may heatup the surface and
subsequently vaporize the material, or perhaps the material may fracture (known as "glass" or "glass up") and flake off the surface. This is
how material is removed from the surface to create an engraving.
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