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Monday, March 27, 2017

Measuring Laser Marking Quality


There comes a time when you need to measure the output (markings) of your K40 with a known pattern in an accurate and repeatable way. This post focuses on tools to do just that. 


Please consider donating (button to the right of this post).
Your donations help fund additional research, tools and parts that I will return to the community as information.
For other information on the K40-S build use the  K40-S BUILD INDEX with schematics

Laser Marking Measurement Magnifier

This loop (not sure this one comes with the reticle) was acquired while I was developing laser printers. These magnifiers have optics and a removable reticle. The reticle in this loop allows you to measure lines spaces, line weights and spots.
Although this magnifier is nice because it has a reticle designed for measuring graphics art any magnifier with a graticule could be used and the phone table design adapted.

Some Other Magnifier Sources


Phone Holder Table

I wondered if I could get good quality photos from my phone (S7active) laying on top of the magnifier which is below a fixed FL table.
Answer: Yes!.

I designed a simple table from acrylic that can be of course cut on your K40.

Table with LED light source (HF). Phone sits on top.

Measurements Photos

1 line on 2 lines off pattern. Measured output of laser printer

Marking Test Patterns

The most critical part of this tool is of course the pattern. The pattern was created in Inkscape as vectors. Vectors were drawn at the pixel level to create various resolution patterns in horizontal, vertical and diagonal directions. Line patterns with alternating line weights and spaces are used to test the systems response and the edges of these patterns when vector drawn and raster-ized can easily show errors. Some measurement values in mm are included on the pattern for reference.

Pattern labels:  the patterns are labeled with line and space values that indicate line and space values respectively [line&space]. Example: 1&2  = "one line width* ON and 2 line widths OFF. 
* Line Widths are relative to the images resolution in this case SVG resolution or 90.07dpi. Also note that the resolution of Inkscape can change as its version changes.

The .svg file is Resolution Test Pattern. I will keep it updated as I improve the patterns.

This file can be used in at least two ways and in any position(s) on the work-space:
  1. Download convert to Gcodes in your favorite CAM tool, I use LaserWeb. Then print this file on the test material subsequently measuring the image artifacts to insure that line width, position, spacing and edge acuity is correct. This tests vector marking.
  2. Save the .svg file as a .jpg and convert the image to a raster scan Gcodes in your favorite CAM tool, I use LaserWeb. Then print this file on the test material subsequently measuring the image artifacts to insure that line width, position, spacing and edge acuity is correct. This tests raster scan marking.

Picture courtesy of and marked by +Chris Menchion

Picture courtesy of and marked by +Chris Menchion

A micrometer will work accurately if you measure across multiple strokes.
Picture courtesy of and marked by +Chris Menchion


This tool should be able to show errors caused by optics, electronics and mechanisms:

  • Errors in vector moves: "Positions, distance and start stop accuracy".
  • Raster scan synchronization from scan to scan: "Edge wiggling".
  • Resolution errors: "Lines not spaced properly"
  • Dot size adjustment errors: "Vector lines should create close to an even black fill if the spot size is correct"
The source of different errors can be isolated by comparing vector vs image marking of the same pattern. 
Example: vertical "wiggling" is noticed when marking. If there is no vertical "wiggling" on vector vertical strokes but there is on image vertical strokes this may indicate that there is a problem when the gantry reverses its horizontal motion. In the vector case the stroke is drawn vertically in one move. In the raster case the stroke is drawn by placing one dot under the other on each scan. When the gantry is scanning it marks a dot going right moves down a scan and then marks a dot going the other direction. Maybe a loose X stepper belt or its pulley?


This tool should help in optimizing for materials!

Marking quality with a laser has inherently two challenges:
  • The power in a laser beam is Gaussian distributed with less power at its perimeter than in the middle. Therefore when two perfectly placed lines are marked parallel to each other the lower energy at the edge results in lower surface exposure and a banding effect** can be seen. This uneven power characteristic of lasers complicates the selection of beam size. Increasing the spot or power can reduce the uneven exposure due to overlay, but at the cost of resolution. 
    A Simplified Explanation of Exposure
  • From material to material exposure (how it burns) characteristics can vary widely. What darkly marks one material at a certain speed, spot size and power may not even mark another material at all. In the case of wood moisture content can even cause differences in the same wood type. 
** Banding can be caused from multiple types of errors in the system, including exposure, optical, electronic positioning and mechanical instabilities. 

This tool will help with optimization by making it easier to measure position, line weights, spot sizes while viewing their effect on the visual appearance of the pattern.

Enjoy and comment,

Monday, March 6, 2017

Laser Response Charcteristics

Laser Response Characteristics

I moved the research that I have been doing into "laser response" to this post to capture it in a more focused way. 
Understanding the lasers response is an important part of getting to the best engraving control possible. The engraving control basics are described in Engraving-and-pwm-control.html. 
Understanding the relationship between the HV power (voltage and current), the tubes gas discharge characteristics and the lasing process of the C02 is integral to an understanding of how to optimize digital control of its power.


Please consider donating (button to the right of this post).
Your donations help fund additional research, tools and parts that I will return to the community as information. For other information on the K40-S build use the  K40-S BUILD INDEX with schematics as a source of information 

Links to Related Posts

Electrical Modulation of a CO2 Laser

"Low frequency modulation can be achieved by pulsing or chopping the electrical power to the discharge. As the frequency is increased, the effect of the varying input decreases and above a few kHz, disappears entirely. The output of a DC or RF excited CO2 laser are both CW beams.
(From: David Toebaert (
This remark really holds for any kind of CO2 laser (the effect gets worse at higher pressure). It's just nature: it takes time for the molecules to 'meet' one another causing the delay. For a laser at 100 mbar (around 76 Torr) and a typical gas mix, the cut-off frequency is about 3 kHz. Above that the modulation of the input power is strongly damped and hardly visible anymore in the output power.

Simply think of the discharge as a *low pass filter for the input power, no matter how you excite the discharge. Of course, it's possible to modulate the input power at much higher frequencies (e.g. an RF supply can easily be modulated up to 100 kHz, that is, the Mhz signal is modulated at 100 kHz), but from the point of view of wanting to modulate output power, it makes no sense. Maybe it's beneficial for other reasons (e.g., discharge stability)."

*Whats a low pass filter?

The Effect of Modulation Cutoff Frequency 

The article above says that the laser cannot transfer input power changes that occur at a rate > than 3kHz. That means that the max time between changes that will be useful is: 3kHz  = 1/3000 = .00033 = 330 us. 
This means that in the model above the suggested pwm period (200us = 5kHz) is longer than the response time of the lasers gas ionization. 

If that is true then:
  1. The PWM period needs to be much longer or the gantry slowed down considerably
  2. The much faster times I measured (2us) by monitoring current suggests that it is not a  indication of the speed of light output. Is the current flow during ionization much faster than the light output?
More testing needed :(.

Laser Gas Discharge Characteristics

Negative Resistance
Negative resistance of a gas discharge: the voltage and current increase as described by ohms law until the discharge point. Then rapidly the voltage decreases and the current increases.

The hypothesis used in testing (above) and modelling; that the current flowing through the laser tube can be used as a faximile of the response of its light output does not track with the above modulation information :).

Laser Power Sources

Electric Discharge

Pumping the Laser

This video shows measurements of response speeds in the 4ms region.

Laser Operation

Lots of info here: 

CO2 Info Summarized From Links

Gas mixture & its function:
13.5% N2 :    excited by gas discharge (pink glow) collides with and moves CO2 to level 3
9.5%   CO2: molecule that lases at energy level 3-2.
77%    He:    collides with CO2 at level 2 and then collides with tube walls for cooling
2%      H2:    gas discharge disassociates CO2 into CO and 02. H2 mixes with CO & O2 to regenerate CO2  

Ionization Voltage: 25 KV
Voltage at lasing:    13-15 KV
Negative resistance: 200-300K

Breakdown voltages

CO2: Air *.95
Air:  3,000,000 V meter

Laser Tubes

Synrad 40 W Lasers: Specifies a 100us rise time.

References To Aricles and Previous Work
Understanding CO2 lasers
Principles of plasma discharge
Dynamic PSpice Model of C02 Laser Tube
Gas Laser Electronics
Basic Laser Principles

Enjoy and leave comments and discussion;

Maker Don