Photo Chemical Etching vs Laser Cutting

Photo Etching vs Laser Cutting: 4 Factors Manufacturers Should Know

Photo etching and laser cutting both provide precision cutting at competitive prices with fast lead times—but which one is best for you?

The answer: it all depends on your application.

Each cutting process has its own strengths and weaknesses. What you need for your part will determine which process best suits your specs.

Let’s look at four factors you should consider when comparing laser cutting and photo etching.

1. Part Thickness

A general rule of thumb: the thicker the part, the longer the photo chemical etching process takes.

If there’s more material, then it takes more time to etch through it.

As long as your part fits within the thickness limitations for laser cutting, material thickness should not increase time so much.

2. Part Complexity

When a part is laser cut, the details are individually cut from the source material. This means that more complex designs require more time and more cuts.

Photo chemical etching, on the other hand, etches all details simultaneously. This means the photo etching process requires the same amount of time to cut one hole as it does to cut a thousand holes.

3. Material Stress

Remember that laser cutting is a thermal process, so it does alter the material properties. For example, laser cutting can result in thermal stress near the cut edges.

How much the thermal stress affects your part depends on the material and your specifications, but it’s an often-overlooked aspect of the cutting process.

Photo etching, on the other hand, does not change the properties of metals with regard to hardness, grain structure or ductility.

4. Cost

Now we come to the comparison most people want: cost.

We saved it for last because it is contingent upon factors like thickness and complexity mentioned above.

A thick part with minimal complexity, for example, is likely better suited for laser cutting because photo etching would require too much time and cost.

Similarly, a thin part with complex geometries is much more appropriate for photo etching since lasers would need to make each cut individually, which requires more time.

If you’re somewhere in the middle – contact Newcut. You can speak with an engineer to discuss which cutting process is best for your design, or we can quote your part with both laser cutting and photo etching so you can compare price and lead time.

Advanced photo etching tips design engineers should know.