The Engraving Process: Engraving Methods

En-graving \ in-' gra-ving \ -

  1. to produce as letters, lines, or designs by incising a surface
  2. the art of one who engraves.

For many readers, the following chapters are specifically why you purchased this book. The processes or techniques used when engraving may not be fully understood. Perhaps you already own equipment and you would like to explore new approaches to engraving. Maybe you hope to learn a few new tricks. Whatever the reason, my hope is that chapters 5,6 and 7 will take some of the mystery out of engraving and answer some of the more nagging questions you may have. Good reading.


To understand the process, we will start by describing the visible process; that is, the processes we see when we watch others engrave. Understanding these will help you to appreciate some of the engraving fundamentals.

Following are the three recognized methods of engraving. These represent the common processes performed in most engraving shops. Choosing one or more depends upon your desired result. Benefits and drawbacks are listed for each method. Techniques for each method are presented in more detail in Chapter 7.


This method uses a non-rotating tool with a cone-shaped diamond tip, which is dragged with pressure through metal, leaving an impression. Diamond-drag creates quality engraving that compares to hand engraving. The width of stroke is constant and does not vary in depth. Diamond-drag is recommended for soft metals such as aluminum, brass, silver, pewter and gold. It is ideal for engraving jewelry, trophies and awards.


+Generally the fastest form of engraving.

+Width of stroke allows for small engraved letters.

+Least expensive.

+Does not require an engraving motor.

+Quiet - can be used in environments where noise is an issue.

+Easiest form of engraving - requires less training.

+Wide variety of objects can be engraved using this method.

+Has great eye appeal.


-Limited stroke width.

-Cannot be used with soft materials such as plastic.


The second method uses a rotating tool with limited pressure, either carbide or a diamond cutter of varying tip width, to remove the top coating or layer of material resulting in a smooth, polished finish. Burnishing can be substituted in many applications where diamond drag is used. Diamond burnishing is specifically used when cutting glass. Burnishing is still a new process for many engraving shops and has only recently been explored by many.


+Virtually unlimited stroke width.

+Larger letter heights can be achieved using this method.

+Excellent on plaques and trophies.


-More expensive - tools are over $20.

-Requires an engraving motor and can be noisy.

-Requires the addition of a burnishing adapter.


The last method uses a single or multiple fluted cutting tool which rotates through the work to remove material, leaving a trough of exposed core. As compared to diamond-drag, rotary engraving may result in deep cutting or the complete cut-out of a letter or object. The cutter's tip size determines the width of the cut. In most applications, the spindle micrometer setting controls the depth of cut. This process is suitable for most commercial and industrial work. Unlike diamond-drag, rotary engraving is the only means of engraving plastic materials.


+The most permanent form of engraving.

+Allows the engraver to cut into plastics, wood, and ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

+Virtually any size letter can be made - either routed or cut out -limited only by the size of engraving equipment.

+Can achieve two- and three-dimensional appearances.


-Requires a wider selection of cutting tools.

-Requires a rotary spindle and engraving motor.

-Generally requires clean up after engraving, specifically chip removal.

The Engravers' Bible © 1999 by Rich Zydonik/National Business Media, Inc. Printed and Bound in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this self-study manual may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author/publisher. Additional legal, financial and professional management advice and/or assistance are encouraged.