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Milspin premium metal products manufactured in the USAMilspin premium metal products manufactured in the USA
Engraving vs Etching – What’s the Difference?

Engraving vs Etching – What’s the Difference?

MILSPIN engraved 3D Glock back plates


When it comes to the most popular firearm models, it’s easy to feel like you blend into the crowd at the range. That’s just one of the reasons why people are interested in customizing their firearms. But where should you start? If you’re looking for options, you’ve probably encountered discussions around etching and engraving.  But what is the difference between etching and engraving

In short, technique and results are the main differences of engraving vs etching. To give you a clearer picture of each process as well as their similarities and differences, we’re breaking down everything you need to know in this expert guide. 

Engraving 101

red and gold engraved slide back plate


To begin our comparison of engraving vs etching, let’s start with engraving:

  • Our deep engravings are created using high-wattage fiber lasers or are CNC-milled using tool bits.
  • While we choose to work with metal, craftsmen can also engrave wood and glass, among other media.
  • Engravings can be either very large or very small—as you might expect, large engravings are made with larger tools, while more precise engravings require smaller tools.

The most important thing to remember about the engraving process is that it removes material. So, the finished product creates a deep, sometimes 3D effect that you can actually feel when touching it. 

Some of our engraved items include:

Etching Made Simple

red back plate with a white etched design


There are many types of etching, but in our industry, etching primarily involves using low-wattage lasers or CO2 lasers to mark the surface of metal or coatings without removing material. This process can mark the surface of the metal or remove coatings like paint, anodizing, or cerakote, revealing the bare metal beneath.

Etchings produced through laser methods are shallow and lack texture, making them susceptible to rubbing away easily. Typical applications for laser etching include branding, marking, or serializing metal components in areas that are at less risk for damage from parts rubbing together or something bumping against the design.

Engraving vs Etching: Metalwork Practices Compared

Some similarities between etching and engraving include:

  • Their metal applications – Both of these tactics are simple and effective ways to create designs in metal objects. 
  • Fine craftsmanship – Etching and engraving are both done by expert craftsmen with specific tools and techniques. 

But when comparing engraving vs. etching, these two techniques also have some key differences:

  • Methodology – Engraving utilizes high-wattage fiber lasers or CNC milling with tool bits, whereas laser etching employs low-wattage lasers for surface marking.
  • Depth and Texture – Engraving creates deep, tactile designs, whereas laser etching results in shallow surface marks.
  • Durability – You’re much more likely to accidentally scratch or damage an etched design compared to an engraved one.
  • Application – Engraving is the preferred method for high-quality, durable gun accessories due to its deep markings and resilience. Since etching can be damaged, these designs are better suited for something you will display but not use.
A laser engraving machine precisely carves a piece of metal

Engraving vs Etching: Which is Better?

Now that you know what the difference is between etching and engraving, the engraving vs etching debate mostly boils down to application: while both can be done on metal, there are important things to consider about each technique.

  • When engraving metal, the material must be thick or hard enough to maintain its rigidity and functionality after carving some away. 
  • Etching is an excellent choice for thinner materials that can’t withstand carving and maintain structural integrity.
  • If the material or piece in question doesn’t serve a critical purpose (a decorative sign, for instance), either method is likely a viable option.

Which Is Best for Firearm Components?

When considering whether engraving vs etching is better suited to firearm components (like our back plates or magazine plates), let’s consider some important factors:

  • Structural integrity is key – Since firearm components must hold their shape and perform as needed in rugged conditions, they must be made from thicker metals. 
  • Sleekness is a priority – While 3D designs can complement firearms nicely, they shouldn’t get in the way of seamless operation: snagging on a holster or a case isn’t ideal, especially in a harrowing situation. 
  • Parts are small – Since firearm parts are generally on the small side, they require precision and fine tools for customization. 

When comparing engraving vs etching, engraving is typically the method of choice for high-quality gun accessories—particularly CNC engraving.

MILSPIN: The Home of American-Made Metal Products

Because of our dedication to quality, MILSPIN only uses engraving to create our parts. If you’re in search of custom firearm components and accessories, turn to the industry’s most trusted metal experts: MILSPIN, the American Metal Company. We’re proud to manufacture, machine, and engrave products from the highest quality metals, and our products are made by and for bona fide American patriots. 

Shop our collection of firearm components, accessories, EDC tools, and more.

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