Engraving is the practice of carving a design, pattern, or message on the surface of a material. It is arguably the oldest form of art, dating back 500,000 years. The ancient people continued using engraving as their primary channel of visual art and communication until over 400,000 years later when they finally discovered that soot and animal fat, when dissolved in water or oil, could make paint. Surprisingly, even after the emergence and development of other art forms, engraving lingered. In fact, it is currently a booming $2 billion industry in the United States alone with an annual growth rate of more than 4 percent.
What to Engrave
Any material with sufficient hardness is a good candidate for engraving, but it has to be softer than the burin or any standard engraving tool to make incision possible. Early engravers used stone and metal because they are durable and accessible. Plastics and ceramics came in much later when engraving applications became more diverse. Wood was also widely used but not preferred for applications that require a hard-wearing output due to its poor resilience against the elements. Stone and metal are more suitable in this case.
One example of a stone engraving that has endured for a long time is the hieroglyphs of Egypt. Because they were engraved in stone, it would take more than the elements to wear them away. While metal is generally just as durable as stone, it has a weakness most stone materials don’t have—moisture. When exposed to oxygen or any corrosive substance, most metals would corrode and disintegrate. The rate of corrosion depends on the type of metal and the corrosion agent involved.
What Metals to Engrave
Metals react to oxidation differently. Some metals, particularly iron and alloys that contain iron, corrode very quickly, while others altogether slow down oxidation or repel oxygen by forming a protective layer, called patina. Metals that have high resistance to corrosion are well suited for engraving. This was known even in the ancient times, which is why they were able to tell which metal could last for many years as evidenced by the countless engraved metal artifacts found around the world, some over 5,000 years old. Most of these artifacts are metal plates with writing on them. Perhaps they were used for the same purpose paper is used today.
As expected, most engraved metal artifacts are copper-based, particularly containing if not completely made of bronze or brass, simply because these are the first metals to be discovered. Their resistance to corrosion is so great they can last for thousands of years. Unlike stone, however, they can still sustain significant damage from many years of weathering. Naturally, the patina formation will have covered the entire metal surface overtime and render the metal completely useless, especially because the patina may be difficult or even impossible to remove.
Why Engrave on Metals
Metals were not as appealing for engraving applications in the ancient times as they are now, and there’s a good reason for that. In the ancient times, metals were rare and quite difficult to produce. As the useful properties of metals slowly came to light, engravers became fascinated with them. Metals eventually replaced stone as the primary engraving material, leading the way to the creation of today’s rich and flourishing engraving industry. Here are three reasons why metals are a highly preferred material for engraving.
- Lightweight. As huge blocks, metals can be really heavy, but they also have unique properties that allow them to lose their weight without compromising density. Some metals are malleable and can be flattened into thin, light plates. Others can be alloyed with other metals to adjust their molecular structure in such a way that the resulting material will be frothy but tough.
- Flexible. Malleability allows metals not just to be flattened but to be molded into different shapes as well. Increased malleability even makes a metal easy to carve. Also, since most metals can be alloyed with other metals, you can produce alloys of different colors, textures, and sheen. You can even customize by combining different metals or manipulating their patina to achieve the right properties for your engraving project.
- Durable. With today’s technology, it’s quite easy to find non-corrodible metals on the market. It’s no longer difficult to find a metal that you can count on to last for many years, especially if you want your engraving to endure for future use.
Engraving played an important role in the progression of each era in history. During the Renaissance period, for instance, engraving was a well-utilized technology, particularly in producing images on paper in artistic printmaking, mapmaking, and reproduction and illustration for books and magazines. At present, it’s being used for quite a number of applications. Here are some of them.
- Interior Signs. Whether you want to put up a signage in your lobby with your company’s name on it to draw clients into your office or simple labels for each room in your office, engraving is a method that could definitely come in handy, and brass is the perfect material to use. Brass has the most appealing qualities among copper alloys, with a sheen comparable to gold, and is extremely durable as well.
- Award Plaques. While printed labels are a great option for adorning plaques and medals, nothing compares to the beauty and robustness of engraved labels. They look professional, just as important items like special awards should look like, and would absolutely hold up to the elements.
- House Nameplates. Having a nameplate for your residence is sure helpful for anyone who might want to visit your home. It wouldn’t be practical to use a printed nameplate as it will be installed outside where it’s completely exposed to the elements. An engraved house nameplate could last longer and would look at lot better.
- Pet Tags. Engraving also proves to be the most appealing option for making pet tags. An exquisite engraving brass with the name of your beloved pooch or kitty on it is certainly a lovely sight.
- Memorial Plaques. Engraving information about a person or event you want to be remembered is most efficiently done on a brass sheet as it promises fine and lasting results. Top engraving brass sheet suppliers such as Rotax Metals can provide you with a plate that has just the right grade for your needs.
No matter what you want to engrave, you must find the perfect metal to be able to produce guaranteed high-quality output. Of course, you can achieve this by trusting only the best supplier in your area. They can even teach you how to engrave brass or other metals if you ask them to. Most of these suppliers offer a vast selection of materials apart from engraving metal sheets and plates. If you need tubes, bars, or angles, they can certainly deliver.