Etching vs. Engraving: The Differences Explained

“All of my love, Grandma,” reads the back of your silver locket. It was so thoughtful for Grandma to have this treasured keepsake etched.

Wait, is the locket etched or engraved? What is the difference between etching and engraving anyways?

You’re not alone if you are confused about the difference between etching and engraving! Read this helpful guide and discover the difference today.

Etching vs. Engraving

It may seem like etching and engraving are two interchangeable terms. There are, however, a few key differences in etching vs. engraving. Each process has various materials that are more compatible to produce a clear message or image that won’t fade.

Another big difference between the two is the price. The cost varies depending on a few factors.

The material that is being used can increase the cost. Hard materials can be more difficult to engrave. Professionals usually recommend etching for projects that involve hard materials such as stone.

The size and depth of the design can add to the complexity. Expect a higher price for a larger and more complex design.

Finally, how many projects do you need to have done? If you only need a single locket, engraving can be the more affordable option. If you have a higher volume order, etching is usually the way.

The Difference Between Etching and Engraving 

Now that we understand a few key differences let’s examine each process further.

Etching

Etching dates back to the Middle Ages. The earliest examples of etchings decorated suits of armor. The work was handmade and time-consuming.

Etching was commonly used in printmaking. This process is usually performed on metals such as copper or zinc, but it can work on most other metals, too.

A metal sheet is prepped with an acid-resistant base known as the ground. Then the artisan would draw lines into the ground and submerge it into acid until the metal wears off. This leaves behind tiny markings.

As new technologies emerged, artisans began laser etching. This method is different than the traditional method. We’ll cover laser etching more later on.

Engraving

Engraving is different. More material is removed when someone engraves. Etching takes away only the top layer of the metal, whereas engraving makes a much deeper incision into the material.

The engraving was developed in the 15th century. This technique involved cutting a plate of soft metal with a burin tool to create an image. The steel-facing process was created in 19th century France and is still commonly used today by many engravers.

Today we do have modern tools to make engraving an easier job. For example, a stone engraving machine cuts through many different types of stone. It’s used for making memorial markers and mementos.

Laser Technology

Now that you have a pretty good concept of the historical methods used in etching or engraving let’s compare these methods to the modern laser technique. Both laser etching and engraving use a high-heat laser beam to melt the material.

Laser engraving is more likely to hold up to everyday wear and tear than laser etching. That’s because the cuts are deeper.

Laser engraving, however, is better suited to safety-critical parts because engraving can damage vital parts of the piece’s design. Laser etching may also be more appropriate for thinner pieces of material.

The Pros and Cons of Engraving

Engraving makes patterns or lines. Modern-day techniques involve minimal effort, and the results can last for the piece’s lifetime if properly cared for.

However, engraving can be very expensive. It also takes longer to engrave a piece than to etch it.

It can also be difficult when choosing to engrave a piece. The markings can wear off in time if you engrave a soft metal like copper. Conversely, if you engrave a tough metal like steel, the process can take a long time.

Consult an expert about your particular piece, and they will help you decide if it can and should be engraved.

The Pros and Cons of Etching

Etching has many pros. The etching process doesn’t chip away as much of the material as engraving. This can be great if you’re working with precious material.

The etching process is also fast. This is handy when you have a large project or many others needing etching. It can get done pretty quickly.

You can have many different types of material etched. It’s cost-efficient, and the results are precise.

If you are etching with the traditional method, that is where the cons come into play. With the traditional method, you will need to work with harsh chemicals. Anytime you work with harsh chemicals, there is always a risk of contamination.

Which One Should I Choose? 

Etching or engraving – which one is right for you? It all depends on your project and the material. Now that you know a little bit about the history and process of each, you may be able to see which process your project will benefit from quickly.

Although both etching and engraving are used for the same purpose, the method you choose will depend on the material, the skill required, and your desired outcome.

The best way to see which process is the right one is to test a sample piece of material and see if you are happy with the results. If you are still unsure, you can always consult an expert.

Etching vs. Engraving: It’s up to You

Etching and engraving both deliver similar results. It’s easy to see why people confuse the two processes. The difference between etching and engraving lies in the process.

Modern-day laser etching and engraving complete a similar process without using chemicals or tools.

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