Laser Engraving the iPhone 4

Jul 13, 2010

Sara at In a Flash Laser was kind enough to be the first to laser etch the new iPhone 4. So emboldened by the fact that we knew they wouldn’t explode, we decided to put our personal phones on the line, and try it ourselves.  Thankfully, it all went pretty well.

The material sometimes reacts inconsistently from one area of the phone to the next, so some areas required a second pass to get the nice bright white look, but aside from those minor issues, it was a smooth process and we’re very pleased with the outcome.  These photos look a little overly faceted (‘blingy’), but in person, the engravings are a very clear, and quite sharp.

As with most existing objects we put in the laser, we cut a jig to aid in positioning, then masked the phones and ran the job at very low power to do a test etch.  Once we we satisfied with the image position, we removed the mask and lasered straight onto the glass.  When lasering normal glass, you can get more consistent and sometimes brighter results by using a wet paper mask. The reason for this is subject to debate, but most likely relates to reducing surface reflectivity, and regulating the thermal transfer to the work piece.  In this case, we actually got the best results running without such a mask, and at the full recommended power (we generally run a little lower than recommended when doing glass.)


Engraved Logo on iPhone4

Since this was our first foray into alumino-silicate glass, we’d have preferred to do some more extensive testing beforehand.  However, replacement back glass from Apple runs about $170, and we haven’t been able to determine exactly what formulation they used so we haven’t made much progress in attempting to source it elsewhere.  If you know of a more reasonable source for the new back glass (not the front), or know of a good source for the right formulation, please let us know. It is speculated to be Corning Gorilla glass (pdf), but there has been no official confirmation on this yet.

As a final note, the engraving on Michael’s phone is something of a personal mantra for him, and is drawn from a cartoon by artist and marketer Hugh MacLeod.  We are both fans, and we highly recommend checking him out.