Engraving..To Mask or Not to Mask...That is the Question

I’ve just purchased a number of boards from another vendor, which are not masked, and I am wondering if folks would recommend I mask the boards before engraving or if there is some other way to deal with the burn.

The wood is 1/8" baltic birch.

I’d appreciate any info.

Thank you

I would mask for the engraving. Cleaning smoke and char residue afterward is not always successful. If you do laser cuts and care about how the back side of the board looks I would mask there too.

Easiest way to answer most questions is to personally test. Our answers may be helpful, but lets face it, eventually you’ll need proof.


My answer is a little conditional. It depends on whether or not you are doing vector engraves/convert to dots or if you’re doing 3D engraves/vary power. If you are doing 3D engraving, like in the case of engraving a photo where the grayscale needs to be preserved… Then I would say definitely do not mask.

The masking will get in the way of the really fine parts of the engrave.

If you are doing vector or a convert to dots engraving, then masking isn’t as necessary, since the Glowforge will be engraving at high power everywhere it goes. The masking doesn’t matter as much at that point, the laser will burn right through it.


It depends on the nature of the engrave and the desired look of the finished product. There is no one answer.

“3d engraving” (vary power) is generally not useful on plywood, but that can also depend on the nature of the design.


Thank you for the replies. I guess I’ll do sone tests to see what it does.

I also just read a thread on flashback. I’m not sure what it is. But it seems like if I put paper underneath it will help with that…

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Sounds like you understand it pretty well to me!

Flashback is when the laser cuts through your material and then bounces back up from the honeycomb tray to scorch the back of your piece. The paper behind it can absorb the extra laser energy and protect the wood.

This is why you want to test your settings to use just enough power to reliably cut through the wood, and not much more. Generally, too much power leads to excess flashback and charring on the cut.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s my test method, check out #6:

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Because i hate sanding, i mask most things with the exception of photos like @evansd2 mentioned.

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If your engraving will go to every part of the area there is not much point in masking. You have to stay shallow and go through no more than the first layer, Here is the 1/8 baltic box I made, however…

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That looks very nice!

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one other additional condition for me, if i need to sand it afterward anyway, then i don’t bother masking. it adds work/cost that are meaningless if you’re sanding anyway.

i don’t do a ton of plywood, tho. when i do, it’s baltic birch and i may or may not mask vs sand depending on the end product. but hardwood, i always want to sand afterward. even if you mask, the masking on unfinished wood can pull up the grain a little. so even if i sand it down to 1000 grit before, if i mask it, i still need to sand with the 1000 again lightly just to get that little bit of picking at the grain.


I am very anti-masking on wood. I find it to be a waste of time and material. Sanding afterward is quick and easy, and I love the softening effect on the hard lasered edges. I sand even if I’m going to paint it. For me, sanding elevates the work from looking cheap to looking artisanal.


I mask all my wood when cutting or engraving. The only time I don’t mask is when I cut only & then paint it.

I do a lot of engraving on 1/8" wood and have never masked and never had a problem. My advice not to mask.

Absolutely totally agree with you. :blush:

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