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April 26, 2006

Gadget Laser Etching Service

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The pictures of various laser cut gadgets that have recently surfaced are in a word, awesome. Someone should start a little company that will laser etch people’s stuff. The service could be similar to Colorware, a company which will paint your gadgets and also offers range of already painted stuff.

Some Back Story

My junior year of architecture school, the school invested in a modest laser cutter. And while we mostly used it for cutting cardboard and Plexiglas, it gave us all experience in using the machinery. Laser cutters really are not very complicated or dangerous, although they do make some pretty nasty fumes when cutting plexi. They can be pricey, but a laser cutter that only needs to etch into plastic and occasionally aluminum would not have to be very high powered or need a large bed, so it wouldn’t be too expensive, probably around $7000 but perhaps less.

Painting vs. Laser Etching

In some ways laser cutting is a lot easier than painting; no disassembly would be necessary as sensitive areas could probably just be masked with a thick piece of neoprene or other heat absorbing material. Also, laser cutting is extremely fast and aside from occasionally cleaning (and replacing) the laser lens, there really aren’t many parts to replenish.

The Service

Similar to Colorware, the service could sell new some stuff and let customers choose the laser etched design, or customers could send stuff to be laser etched. Customers could choose from a library of ready designs (similar to a tattoo parlor) or upload their artwork. The company could offer a “proof” which would be a digital image of the product with the artwork superimposed and any sensitive areas to be masked clearly marked out.

I would think the prices could be less than painting, and the pricing could be based on the number of square inches being laser etched. So if you just wanted a small design on the top of your 17” MacBook Pro you wouldn’t be charged for etching the whole thing.

Of course, the coolest implementation of such a service would be if there was just a kiosk in the mall that could bring your stuff to. It would be just like those stands that make custom embroidered baseball hats.

Some links

Quick Update

So it looks like Colorware already offers laser engraving for iPods to their "Corporate Branding" customers. They should really open this service up to all customers and laser engrave more than just iPods.
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