Has Anyone Shot Lasers at an External Hard Drive?

I have a few different external hard drives that I’d like to etch my company name and stuff onto, for identification (and also fun).

Anyone know the best settings for such a thing? It’s mostly just anodized aluminum, so I assume MacBook Pro settings or iPad settings would be suitable, but if anyone has warnings or suggestions, I would be grateful.

In case it matters, I want to engrave a LaCie Rugged 4tb drive - though not the rubber part, obviously. I’d also like to mark up a few other LaCie and G-Drives. They all seem to have slightly textured anodization on them.

Is there any chance of the laser somehow damaging the data on the drive? I assume not, but just in case…

Thanks everyone for your smartness!


It would seem very unlikely. The laser operates by focusing a lot of heat in a very small area. The reason we can’t cut metals, or do much to them, is the heat dissipates so quickly. That said, that’s what backups are for.

I would search beyond the manual for anodized aluminum. Unlike many materials where a lower lpi is as good as if not better than a high lpi and entering the distance is important but not crucial, people report a high lpi is better and focus distance is very crucial. If you don’t have any sacrificial anodized aluminum to experiment with you can buy business card blanks or keychain fobs relatively cheaply.


just be aware that marks on gray/silver anodized aluminum may or may not have very much contrast. I would test first, on the underside or on a spare if available.

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I don’t think he’s engraving the platters - more of an identification/logoing of the hard drive case (he said external hard drives for identification).


Yes, exactly. I have a lot of drives, and would like to be able to ID them in a permanent way.


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I think I need to rewrite the saying about Measure twice, cut once to Read twice, post once.


Having spent about 25 years of my working career designing and manufacturing HDDs, I can say with little fear of contradiction that the laser won’t emit any fields that can harm the data on the drive. Assuming you’re talking portable drives, the housing is almost certainly ABS or HIPS if it’s plastic, and they may not engrave well. Anodized or painted/coated Aluminum will engrave quite nicely, though, so you could probably get away with engraving the raw HDD component too, if you wanted.

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I know if you put some paint on before the laser the paint may actually get “burnt or set” into the aluminum so that when you wipe off the paint after cutting it leaves black where the laser cut. Some of my platters did this and some didn’t so I’m not totally sure what happened. I used acetone to remove the excess paint and tried not to scrub too hard so as not to remove the design. If the paint does come off where the design is you will probably still be able to see it because there is a difference in texture and it’s also not shiny. (This means the designs show up on the shiny platters. I’m not sure how shiny the cases are, though,). You’re just going to have to experiment and if you don’t have the exact same material for each run the outcome is going to vary, which may or may not make a difference. If you have a drive with a large enough useable area you could just make your logo small and repeat printing it with variations of settings. Then clean it and see which setting works the best, if at all. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you what settings I used for my platters because I’m not home and it’s been a while since I did them.


Thanks everyone for your help!

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HDD platters are coated with a thin-film lubricant. Generally speaking, all the platters in a single disk should be the same. But some HDDs might have a platter on the top or the bottom of the stack that is only plated and lubricated on one side. So all the platters ought to mostly be the same if they’re from the same HDD. But different HDDs use different compositions and thicknesses of lube, so a random assortment of platters from different HDDs might all act a little different.

Yes, I had all sorts of HDDs and they were obviously different just by looking at them. Also the thickness of the spray paint changed the outcome, I’m sure. I also suspected at one point that one brand of paint worked better than another. There were so many variables that it was always a surprise as to how they would look when cleaned up.

So what happens to all the machines that were used to make hard drives? How long before they go the way of floppies?

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Well, we’re headed a bit off-topic, but… HDDs aren’t going away completely any time soon. The simple fact is, they will continue to be less expensive on a $/GB basis than SSDs for the foreseeable future. So you’ll still see HDDs in less expensive laptops. And the big data center guys like AWS and Azure and Google and Etc., need massive amounts of what they call “warm” storage - data that has to be accessible but not instantaneously so. They buy a lot of SSDs, but even more HDDs, and their storage is “tiered” with “hotter” data on the SSDs and “cooler” data on the HDDs.

The advantages of an SSD in term of performance is substantial. In fact, I tell all my friends that before they upgrade to a new PC they should replace their HDD with a SSD. But SSDs are more expensive. And SSDs are a consumable medium, they wear out. Most PC users won’t manage that feat before they’re ready for a new PC anyway. But the data center guys wear them out fairly quickly (which of course, I love, because I make SSDs now).

SSDs are catching up on cost, though. When I started doing SSDs we were selling for almost $2/GB, now prices are getting below $0.10/GB (so a 1TB SSD for $100). But HDDs are still better than 1/4 that price point.

In the old days of HDD manufacturing, the machines that made them actually used a laser interferometer for position control. So I know lasers don’t effect HDDs. We had one operating continually inches away from each HDD the machines made.