The Limitations of CO2 Lasers for Product Marking


CO2 lasers are the original. They were one of the earliest lasers to be invented and are still one the most powerful and widely used continuous-wave lasers available. Let’s take a look at why they have been around for so long, their limitations and some newer alternatives that might be more suitable for your product-marking or part-marking needs. 

CO2 lasers tend to be divided into two groups: lower-power marking lasers with wattages between 20 and 100 and higher power cutting lasers that operate at thousands of watts. Lower-wattage marking lasers are able to produce high-quality engravings on various materials for many different purposes. For example, CO2 lasers are often used for building materials like wood, glass and stone. They are also a popular choice for marking textiles, leather, paper, plastic and foam. High-power CO2 lasers are more specialized and primarily used to cut through thick materials, including metals.  

So, what’s the rub? 

CO2 lasers have dominated for years in different industries, from aviation to food packaging. But they are increasingly being swapped out for newer machines due to their limitations.

Limitations of CO2 Lasers Blog Image

One of the significant limitations of CO2 lasers is their inability to mark hard, reflective metals permanently. While high-power CO2 lasers can, and are often used to, cut metal, they can’t directly mark on reflective surfaces due to their relatively large wavelength, which causes enough of the beam’s light to be reflected and damage the lens on the gantry.

When CO2 lasers are used to mark metals, they either remove coatings like anodized aluminum or burn paint into metal surfaces like steel, like a pad-print. But neither of these markings are considered permanent. This is fine for hobbyists using lasers to customize items, but they are simply insufficient for metal products that need permanent markings like barcodes or product ID numbers.

Another major drawback is CO2 lasers are sensitive machines that are expensive to maintain. To produce a beam, these lasers use delicately placed mirrors, bellows, and gases. Any misalignment or worn-out parts can cause significant manufacturing downtime.

In addition to their maintenance requirements, CO2 lasers use more power and consumables than newer lasers with more advanced technology. Newer lasers can also mark products at significantly faster speeds. Speed, combined with maintenance-related downtime and consumables, makes CO2 lasers inefficient for industrial manufacturers.  

CO2 lasers also have a relatively large dot size. Lasers capable of producing narrower beams can achieve higher resolution marks on smaller products. 


If not CO2, then what?

There are newer, more efficient alternatives to CO2 lasers. Fiber lasers, green lasers and vanadate lasers can do everything a CO2 laser can and more, with fewer consumables, less energy and less maintenance. 

At RMI, we make three different series of fiber lasers, a standard, heavy-duty and scalable-pulse MOPA, each suited for different purposes. Our standard fiber lasers operate at 20 and 30 watts and are an excellent option for high-resolution markings on both metals and plastics. In contrast, our heavy-duty fiber laser, operating at up to 50 watts, is better for deep engravings on hard metals. RMI’s MOPA laser offers the best of both worlds. It can operate at 20, 30, or 60 watts and mark in different colors on a wide range of materials at incredible speeds. 

In addition to fiber lasers, RMI also makes a series of green lasers. Named for the visible green beam of light they produce, green lasers operate at five watts and are perfect for marking softer plastics, PCB Boards, IC Chips and solar cells. 

Our most versatile machines are our YV04 diode-pumped solid-state lasers. These lasers are strong enough to create dark marks on metals while being sensitive enough to change color on plastics without any foaming.

All of these lasers surpass the limitations of CO2 lasers and can be an efficient and cost-effective alternative for manufacturers.

To request a laser marking demo or sample from RMI Laser, fill out the form at the top of this page.