Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Which (if any) of these adjectives would you use for describing a surface that has been cut using a laser beam:

  • a laser-etched surface
  • a laser-engraved surface
  • a laser-(something else) surface
  • a something else surface

So far I have found out that etched is generally lighter and made with acid, while engrave refers to a deeper trace, usually done with some physical tool.

But in the context of lasers, I have seen both words used. Are they interchangeable, or is there some difference in nuance?

share|improve this question
    
it does seem that etching and engraving are synonyms for people who have no direct experience with the process(es) involved. "to grave" means to sculpt or carve and "etch" always involved chemicals. Common use seems to merely be concerned with the output however. –  horatio Dec 27 '13 at 18:02
add comment

4 Answers

I think which one you would use also depends strongly on the context in which you are working.

If you are working on marketing material, for instance, I'd probably lean towards "laser-engraved." On the other hand, if you are writing a technical work, then I would comment that a search in Web of Science (note: subscription required), actually returns more than an order of magnitude more links for "laser etch*" (nearly 40,000) versus "laser engrav*" (about 3,000). So, for any sort of technical writing, laser-etched is actually preferred to laser-engraved.

A Google Scholar search is even more lopsided in favor of "laser etching":

share|improve this answer
1  
Per my comment to @Kris's answer, this sounds right to me. +1 for the supporting reference, even if the rest of us can't actually follow it up. –  FumbleFingers Dec 27 '13 at 18:16
    
@FumbleFingers: I've added a Google Scholar search and included the links, which should be more easily traceable. –  aeismail Dec 27 '13 at 18:27
1  
If I could, I'd give you another upvote for that update! I didn't know about "Google Scholar" until now, but I'm sure I'll find it useful in other contexts. –  FumbleFingers Dec 27 '13 at 18:35
    
Note that the reference suggests that this is the right answer, even though it does not correspond to the traditional meaning of etch. –  Colin Fine Dec 27 '13 at 23:30
    
@Colin Fine: It seems to me the associations of etch lie with eating away material using "soft" things like liquid acid or corrosive gas (whereas engrave is about carving using a "solid" hard/sharp cutting tool). From that perspective, I at least see laser light as soft (it's so insubstantial it doesn't really even weigh anything). I also see a difference between engraving initials on a personalised item, and etching a "surface" (maybe not even with a recognisable pattern, let alone precision ID lettering). –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '13 at 0:19
add comment

Engraving is a process of creating depth patterns in a surface by direct incisions. Etching is a form of surface marking done via chemical corrosion, which if prolonged, can definitely result in deep markings, but otherwise etching usually results in a textured effect (googled etched glass). Lasers are useful in that there is great control over what you want to accomplish be it an textured effect similar to chemical etching or deep engraving and even cutting all the way through the material.

share|improve this answer
    
Note that etching often is achieved by applying an acid resist material and engraving the lines you want to etch into this material. –  horatio Dec 27 '13 at 17:59
1  
But that's true of many scientific terms compared to their "traditional" counterparts. "Effusive," for instance, has very different meanings in non-technical usage, in chemistry, and in geology. –  aeismail Dec 27 '13 at 23:35
add comment

Laser engraving seems to be the preferred term and also more common. Wikipedia considers the term as synonymous with Laser etching.

However, Laser etching is also used, to a far lesser extent.

Furthermore, some appear to use the term engraving in a broader sense "including cutting, marking and etching".

share|improve this answer
    
I disagree. Although it's true there seem to be more instances of the collocation laser-engraved in recent decades (as shown by Vilmar's chart), I think that version is more associated with contexts involving identification marks (production process, owner's initials, etc.). In the specific context of OP's laser-etched surface, Google Books claims 136 written instances. The only instance of "laser-engraved surface" seems to be a non-native speaker's technical reference. –  FumbleFingers Dec 27 '13 at 18:13
add comment

In addition to @Kris's answer I'll throw in an ngram plot:

enter image description here

We notice that "laser engraved" is used more widely in books since 2000.

share|improve this answer
    
Could add laser marked to ngram –  jwpat7 Dec 27 '13 at 16:14
    
Yes, by a whopping 0.0000006% in 2005. –  J.R. Dec 27 '13 at 20:17
    
(cont.) My point being, neither is a very commonly used term. –  J.R. Dec 28 '13 at 3:27
    
@jwpat7 laser marking is a hyponym of laser engraving. –  Kris Dec 28 '13 at 5:51
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.