Deciding on whether to have your plaques or signs engraved or etched can be a tough call, especially when some people tell you that these two marking methods are the same. Well, guess what? These two are not the same. They may be somewhat similar in that these can have designs and characters that are either recessed or raised, (and are pretty durable because of these features) but that is where their similarities seem to end.
These two marking methods can and may produce rather similar looking results, but there is actually a difference between the markings that each one produces. These are also manufactured differently, with one being marked with the use of mordants (or material eating acids) and the other is created with the help of gravers. The materials that you can use for each when it comes to plaque creation, or nameplate manufacturing for that matter, also differ from one to the other.
For those who are looking to use materials other than metal, like plastics, wood or even stone, the marking method you can use in order to produce the kind of signs and plaques you need is engraving. This is because this production technique can be used in almost any kind of material, as long as these are hard enough for the gravers to work with. For those who are thinking of using metal, while engraving can still be used for this, etching is actually considered a better option, and for a wide variety of reasons.
For one, etched plaques and signs can be made as intricately as needed with the use of etching, with the lines that are being produced ending up really clean and crisp. Really fine details and lines, like the ones needed for portraits and scrollwork, can be easily achieved with etching as well. Some people may argue however that etching produces fuzzier results when compared with engraved items, and this can be true, depending on what kind of engraving machine is used as well as how well the artisan creating these plaques and signs are.
Some of the finest engraving work can be had with the use of laser engraving machines. This is because of the precision that these have in terms of cutting, also because of the use of computers in guiding the creation of the designs. The use of laser engraving machines however comes with limitations since there are some materials that cannot be used with it.
Metals, some plastics, and a few other materials cannot be used with this particular engraving machine because of a number of reasons. Some plastics emit a noxious gas when the heat of the laser hits it, making it somewhat dangerous to use such a machine on them. One example of such a material that does not work well with laser engraving machines is Kevlar. While it can be marked with a laser engraver, it does produce deadly cyanide gas in the process. This will require constant ventilation and safe dispersal of the fumes created for this particular material to be safely engraved with lasers.
When it comes to metals and marking methods, your best bet is still etching since some engraving machines cannot be used that well with all types of metal, particularly laser engraving machines. You will need a special kind of coated metal when you use laser machines for engraving, or you will have to set it at rather short wavelengths for it to work well with ordinary metals used to create etched plaques or engraved nameplates.