Two types of custom dog tags are being used by many types of businesses and individuals for promotional purposes: authentic military dog tags and military “style” dog tags. From wedding and party favors to tradeshows and conferences personalized dog tags are gaining in popularity. Authentic military dog tags are embossed, a process involving letters, numbers and some special characters being stamped into the metal giving the text a raised look. These tags are made from stainless steel and feature a rolled edge. Embossed stainless steel dog tags have been used by the U.S. armed forces since WWI. Military style dog tags are made from anodized aluminum and lack the rolled edge. These dog tags are personalized using a method known as laser engraving to reproduce text as well as logos on one or both sides. Whereas authentic military dog tags are typically produced in silver or brass, military style engraved dog tags are available in a wide variety of aluminum colors (i.e. black, blue, red, green, purple, gold etc.). Both styles of custom dog tags can be outfitted with rubber dog tag silencers as well as neck chains or split rings for keys. Other less common customizing methods for personalizing dog tags include pad printing and full color process printing. Both of these methods are capable of reproducing designs in one or more colors whereas laser engraved designs show up bright white. This article is concerned with the process of laser engraving to produce custom engraved dog tags.
LASER is Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A process when applied to anodized aluminum and other materials produces a permanent mark that won’t rub or scratch off. Laser engraving is a superior marking process to conventional screen printing and pad printing which wears off over time. Laser engraved dog tags will keep your name, logo or message visible at all times…a clear advantage for a promotional product.
Laser engraving produces custom dog tags by removing the colored anodized coating exposing the raw aluminum beneath the surface. The process of anodization is used to produces a durable coating on the metal which can also be of a certain color. In addition to colorizing the metal it also serves to protect the surface from becoming weathered and scratched.
So how does a laser work it’s magic to produce custom engraved dog tags? There are two types of laser engraving systems being used to customize dog tags: CO2 systems and Nd:YAG systems. To engrave, both systems focus a beam of high intensity light through a lens. This high-powered focused beam of light has enough energy to vaporize the anodized coating exposing the aluminum beneath the surface thus producing a visible mark on the material. A CO2 system manages the forming of the image much like a conventional dot matrix printer scanning left to right as it moves down “through the image” while pulsing it’s vaporizing beam onto the material. The Nd:YAG laser system achieves the surface image by steering the beam of light through a lens by means of mirrors controlled by a computer.
When it comes to producing engraved dog tags both systems are not equal. The much slower CO2 system produces marks of varying quality depending on the product color (anodized coating) being marked. Quality is defined in terms of brightness of the mark. The brighter the better. A high quality laser engraved mark appears bright white no matter what the color of the material. With CO2 systems, some marks take on the color tint of the material being marked resulting in a less desirable looking image. Trouble colors include red, blue and black. Rarely, if ever will a CO2 laser produce a bright white mark on custom dog tags of these colors. Take home message: when placing an order for laser engraved dog tags always inquire about the equipment being used. If it’s a CO2 laser you can expect that your image on some colors will not look very attractive (for example it will look pink on red, light blue on blue and grey on black colored products). A more consistent and higher quality engraved dog tags is achieved with Nd:YAG laser systems. In addition to producing the desired bright white mark that screams quality, Nd:YAG lasers are much faster than CO2 lasers resulting in lower run-time costs and savings for you. Custom laser engraved dog tags personalized with names, logos and messages are promotional products that will sure to make a great first and lasting impression on the recipient.
Article written by Scott Shenkel