07 – The Hunt for Colours Part 2 (28:25)

The Fiber Laser Learning Lab Series with Russ Sadler

In this Series, Lotus Laser have lent Russ a MOPA 20 watt fiber laser to “play with”. Although Russ has a moderate understanding of laser technology (his words) and how constant power glass tube systems work, pulsing fiber laser marking machines are shrouded in a deeper mystery than the glass tube machines. In this Session, Russ determines a method to get his color fiber laser engraver to output a range of different colors.

They have been designed for high speed marking and the technology has been well tried and proven. There are limited “tricks” that the pulsing laser technology can perform. You enter predefined parameters for each marking “trick” you wish the machine to deliver , then stand back in amazement. Most correspondents tell Russ that they have bought their machine direct from China and received a machine and EZCAD software, preloaded with a few default parameters. No other instructions beyond the EZCAD manual are forthcoming.

Russ states “I am neither a teacher or expert in this field so you join me in my learning adventure with the warning that I have a simple but inquisitive mind and will probably make mistakes on my way to discovering the truth. I WILL oversimplify and maybe distort the scientific detail in my quest to build a simple picture of why and how this technology works. I am not trying to reverse engineer anything, just to break through the seemingly impenetrable ‘techno cotton wool’ that surrounds this amazing piece of science.”


Russ continues in his search for colour using his color fiber laser engraver. While there seems to be a variety of colors and shades attainable, not all is as it seems. Many of the colors attained are only visible at certain angles and discovers that there are a number of different mechanisms in play to attain colour with a fibre laser.

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Color Fiber Laser Engraver - Example Color Matrix
Color Fiber Laser Engraver – Example Color Matrix

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Transcript for The Hunt for Colours

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0:00but welcome to another fiber laser

0:02Learning Lab we finished off the last

0:05session with a quick sort of scattergun

0:08approach to checking whether or not we

0:11could get any sort of colors on

0:12stainless steel we got these results but

0:16these are an enhanced Photoshop picture

0:20of my photograph and they exaggerate the

0:22colors quite considerably I mean I

0:25looked at all these speeds and

0:26frequencies to see whether or not there

0:29was any pulse rate or on/off ratio that

0:35I could mix together to get some sort of

0:38idea of whether or not I was getting

0:41into the right sort of region to get

0:45between these colors here I mean the

0:47gold and the blue after a lot of time

0:50spent hunting for some magic numbers

0:52everything was common here except the

0:55speed and at a speed of 500 I got gold

0:59and a speed of 200 I got blue ish as I

1:04said this is a gross exaggeration of

1:06reality but it was a bluey hue that I

1:10got so it seemed as though speed was the

1:15magic number now have to also add that

1:19for six nanoseconds which was the

1:22critical factor that I was using I

1:24wasn’t actually using the correct peak

1:26power I should have actually been using

1:28320 kilohertz for peak power so 400

1:32kilohertz means I’m running faster than

1:35I should do so that probably means that

1:36are not allowing all the electrons to be

1:39promoted to their excited state before I

1:42push the pulse through and try and try

1:45and get to peak power so that probably

1:47gives me another way of controlling the

1:49power into each pulse so we’ve got

1:53several strategies that we can adopt I

1:57think the last time we looked at it we

1:59found that this gold one here was

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

2:03actually caused by lines and in the

2:08lines we were finding gold pattern

2:12so what this tends to indicate is that

2:15my little pattern of interference colors

2:17which is you can surf managed to get

2:19them back by using not daylight but the

2:24halogen work lamps as opposed to LED

2:26work lamps have got a wider spectral

2:29range and I can see the real colors in

2:32this light but what this does mean is

2:35that the pattern that you’ve just seen

2:38has caused by a variation in the

2:40thickness of this as we said before T

2:43which is the thickness of the oxide film

2:47now there’s no doubt that the thickness

2:50of the oxide film is the cause of the

2:52colors but but what these tests show is

2:56that because we’ve got lines with colors

2:59in them we must be forming this oxide

3:03layer in a different way than what I’d

3:05originally anticipated

3:06and whereas I thought that we might have

3:10to fiddle around with this surface here

3:12and build the layers up and down I think

3:15that what we’re doing we’re cutting into

3:18the surface and melting the surface so

3:21we could either be melting the surface

3:23and when the surface resolidify x’ we’re

3:27getting this oxide fill on the surface

3:29or we’re vaporizing this area and we’re

3:34leaving an oxide film on the surface

3:36within the groove that’s what it looks

3:39like from the pictures under the

3:40microscope this second situation this

3:43opens up many possibilities first of all

3:46if we’re doing deep grooves like this

3:49we’re into one sort of heating situation

3:52and that is very possible because

3:54remember the beam that we’re firing at

3:58the work although it is only somewhere

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

4:01in the region of about 0.06 five

4:04millimeters diameter it is not 0.065 of

4:09uniform energy the energy distribution

4:12in that beam

4:15is Gaussian in other words we’ve got a

4:17high power right in the center of the

4:20beam and it drops away to nothing

4:22towards the outside so that would

4:24account for why we’ve got a bit of a

4:26groove when we do our burn and why we

4:30see these patterns of speckles which

4:34tend to be along the edge rather than

4:37the center and we tend to get a bit of a

4:39black mark along the center of our line

4:42so observation tells me that we’ve got

4:44lots and lots of strategies to play with

4:47here now as we found out from here there

4:50are rules that govern these colors and

4:53those rules are these very simple

4:55temperatures so what we’ve got to do is

4:59find a way of somehow inducing these

5:03sorts of temperatures into the surface

5:05now if we’re melting then mm that’s a

5:09bit interesting because you remember

5:12that when we heated this surface up in

5:14the middle here to red hot it cooled

5:15down to blue so I don’t know where the

5:19melting I don’t know how melting is

5:21going to give us this yellow color I

5:22suspect we’ve got a very large thermal

5:24gradient away from where the actual beam

5:27is to the very small area around it so

5:33I’ve got this problem of trying to work

5:35out how to keep the heat energy into a

5:39specific area we’ve got to raise the

5:42temperature quite high to get some of

5:44these colors now from some of the colors

5:48that I’ve seen other people achieve

5:50they’re not on this spectrum but I

5:53suspect if we’ve got careful control we

5:55may well have them somewhere in this

5:57spectrum so the first thing I’m going to

5:59do is to see if I can replicate this

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

6:03approximate pattern now as I said it

6:05didn’t go from gold to a lovely pale

6:07blue like this it was quite a reasonable

6:10gold to a blue hue we’re not going to

6:15carry it out in a scattergun approach

6:16we’re going to be in we’re going to

6:18adopt a lot more logical approach and a

6:21recording approach to all the results

6:24and data that are finding

6:26so I’m using my 304 elf stainless steel

6:28and I’m going to be using that grid

6:30pattern and recording the data aha now

6:34what have I done here I’ve got a

6:37temperature measuring system which will

6:40record the maximum temperature that I

6:43see and just here we’ve got a k-type

6:48thermocouple which I’m going to set in

6:52the center of my engraving pattern now

6:57that looks thermocouple bead there are

6:58sitting up above the surface so when I

7:02put my pattern there the thermocouple is

7:09touching under the center of that square

7:12so that means that I will now be able to

7:15record not the surface temperature but I

7:18shall have an idea of the amount of heat

7:22energy that’s going into each one of

7:23these tests by virtue of the conducted

7:27temperature onto the back surface now

7:30the reason I’m doing this is because

7:31it’s not obvious sometimes that when you

7:35change the pulse width the frequency the

7:40speed exactly what you’re doing you have

7:43to sit down and think about it very

7:45carefully because it’s quite a complex

7:47combination of data and then you’ve got

7:49the other thing which is the line width

7:52spacing between the scans and the

7:55pattern of the scans as well so

7:57hopefully with the aid of the

7:58temperature data we may be able to home

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

8:01in on some of these colors because the

8:03colors around the outside the yellows

8:05and the Browns around the outside are

8:08relatively low temperatures and the

8:10Blues in the center are high

8:12temperatures so that would imply that we

8:15need to have a fairly high temperature

8:17in our scan to produce a blue so the

8:22first test that we’re going to do is the

8:24gold to blue test so we’ll jump down

8:28probably in intervals of 20 millimeters

8:33a second to see if we can find a pattern

8:35of change in the color

8:38so we do the first one or two just to

8:41show you the method and what I’m doing

8:42and then after that I would just plot

8:45away on my own and see what I could find

8:48recording the data as I go and then

8:50coming back to you from time to time if

8:53I can find something that’s interesting

9:02I think it’s pretty obvious we’ve gone

9:06from a very very pale gold silvery color

9:08almost through Browns to sort of a

9:13purpley color and eventually down into a

9:17blue it’s not a strong blue you have to

9:20catch in the right light to see as a

9:22blue but that may well be because I’ve

9:25got the line spacing at the moment at

9:27point one

9:28I’ve got gaps between the lines we’ll

9:31repeat this test but with a line spacing

9:34of 0.05 which is just below supposedly

9:38the thickness of the beam spot size even

9:42in this halogen light it’s still not as

9:45good as daylight well if I hold it in

9:47the light right I’ve got a range of

9:50colors there but they’re to be honest

9:52they’re pretty pathetic and weak colors

9:55most of them the golds and the Browns

9:58are fairly positive but it seems as

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

10:01though almost everything comes out gold

10:03or brown so at the moment I’m not

10:05producing huge temperatures you can see

10:08they’re 31 36 38 48 when I get to this

10:13latter set here which was point zero one

10:16in other words the spacing between the

10:18lines was very close so I was over

10:21writing several times the same spot

10:25almost then the temperature started to

10:28go up it was 83 up to 132 and by the

10:33time we finished the test at 200

10:35millimeters a second rocked 199 degrees

10:41C you think Oh 199 I should get a little

10:46bit of color there I’m sure as I fail it

10:49with my fingernail both of these colors

10:52d1 and d2 have suffered surface damage I

10:57can feel a real depth to that cut okay

11:02it’s not very much it might only be

11:03about 0.2 0.3 of a millimeter but

11:06there’s definitely material missing from

11:08the surface now so the only reason

11:10material can be missing from the surface

11:12is because we’ve evaporated it

11:14and if we’ve evaporated we must have put

11:16a very very high surface temperature

11:18into there and in doing so is I suspect

11:21that we’ve gone beyond melting the

11:23surface and just allowing it to reform

11:26we may well have messed around with the

11:27chemistry of the material itself and in

11:31which case that would account for why

11:33these particular colors are more solid

11:37more pigment like than the others I mean

11:40the others are definitely they change

11:43very much with the light now got to be a

11:46little bit careful here because it’s

11:48possible that when we come across these

11:50matte blacks and browns we’re actually

11:53messing with the chemical composition of

11:55the steel itself we’re melting it and

11:58causing some elements to vaporize away

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

12:02and change the chemical composition of

12:04the surface of hence the color I don’t

12:06think that these are representative of

12:08the colors that we’re looking for so we

12:11need to go hunting in a different area

12:13we’ve found the golds and the Browns and

12:15a hint of blue but we haven’t got any

12:18other colors not entirely true if we

12:22take a look at on my grid pattern there

12:25this is the top of the a that I’ve drawn

12:28in and here we can clearly see what I

12:30was speaking about earlier the thin line

12:33down the center where we’ve got maximum

12:35power at the centre of the beam and then

12:37around the edge here we’ve got the lower

12:39power which has given us the yellow or

12:42the Goldy color very distinct Brown a

12:44yellow color this is a 6 no no second

12:47pulse 400 kill Urtz appoint one line

12:52spacing so the line spacing is bigger

12:54than the spot size and it was done at

12:59460 millimeters a second now you can

13:03clearly see there some of the out some

13:05of the things that I’ve described to you

13:07before was I was expecting we’ve got

13:09yellow spots on the side and we’ve got a

13:12black line down the center where maximum

13:16power seems to exist so there’s our

13:19yellow grid line

13:22and here’s what’s supposed to be blue

13:26we’ve got this black line right along

13:29the center again which is the dick cut

13:31right at the center of the beam I don’t

13:34see any blue in there and then we’ve got

13:36these markings on either side which if

13:38anything are a sort of a bit of a hint

13:41of yellow on them still and that’s a

13:45scan at point zero five where the lines

13:49are probably just beginning to overlap

13:52but you could still see the black lines

13:54there which are the center of the beam

13:56the burn line on the beam

13:58so we’re burning into the material so

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

14:00that’s 10 microns spacing and all of a

14:03sudden we’ve lost the center of the

14:05lines because I suspect that what we’re

14:07doing there we’re melting the surface

14:09and it’s just flowing together for the

14:12steel to melt it’s got to be up to

14:13something like about 1,400 degrees C and

14:16we’ve got to burn through the the oxide

14:19layer to start with which has got a

14:21melting point of about 3,000 degrees C

14:23now we’re not seeing anywhere near those

14:26sorts of temperatures projecting through

14:29to the back of a half mil sheet of

14:31material but we are getting up quite

14:33high at 199 degrees C when we do

14:36something like this yeah this is all

14:38interesting stuff but it’s not getting

14:40me pinks and reds and greens got good

14:43yellows good golds they seem easy to get

14:46well here I am in the office at the

14:48moment because it’s a bit cold out in

14:50the workshop and I thought well I’ll

14:51I’ll find an excuse to go inside in the

14:53warm and maybe I’ll edit the material

14:55I’ve done so far it’s sometimes great to

14:59stop and have a bit of a think because

15:01when your brain is running in a straight


15:04sometimes it’s got its own momentum and

15:07it can’t stop well this is a natural

15:10break and it gives me an opportunity to

15:12look and review what I’ve found so far

15:15now it’s interesting when I look back

15:18and say this little shape here which is

15:23the cut seems to produce some sparkles

15:28on the side we seem to get color down

15:31the center and as you have watched this

15:32video already you’ll understand what I

15:34me as I move through the video I

15:37mentioned some of the fact that these

15:41colors here and the ones down here which

15:44were done and a much finer resolution

15:47first of all they deeper which means we

15:50have evaporated material will remove

15:52material but we’ve also probably it

15:56looks as though we have destroyed the

15:58surface of the material as well when I

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

16:00get towards the end here and we start

16:02looking at the different line spacing

16:04that I’ve been using for some of these

16:06we find it there’s my point one cut with

16:11the black heavy line down the center but

16:14you can see the live of glittering bits

16:16on the side that are producing some

16:18color my thought was that that color was

16:22being produced on the side by the thin

16:24film effect because obviously we’re not

16:29getting this thin film effect on a flat

16:31surface as I was getting with my oxide

16:34films when I heated the material up with

16:38we might have the same mechanism but

16:40it’s not happening in the same way so

16:42for me to try and copy that thin film on

16:45the surface is not going to give me what

16:48we’re looking for so I’ve got to look

16:50for some other mechanism and I’m finding

16:54the clues here now as I look back

16:55through these results so there we go

16:58look I’ve now moved on to a point O 5

17:01pitch so the lines are so much closer

17:04together that’s supposed to be a sort of

17:08a a bit of a blue and in the right light

17:11it does show up as a pale blue a bit of

17:14a weak pathetic blue but it’s still blue

17:18but then all of us have now change the

17:21that pitch between the lines 2.01 10

17:27microns and I get this weird effect

17:30which looks like a mat you know a piece

17:34of fabric or something

17:36it’s very strangely textured the surface

17:41now that does not look like melting it

17:45doesn’t look like

17:47anything that I can imagine except a

17:50piece of fabric as I sit here I think to

17:53be some fabric my wife loves iridescent

17:58fabrics iridescent butterfly wings

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

18:05scales I remember back to watching some

18:11very interesting scientific programs on

18:13that the color is not coming from the

18:16reflection of two surfaces it’s coming

18:20from maybe two surfaces but a pattern of

18:25surfaces not just a single flat surface

18:29scales peacock feathers butterfly wings

18:34they’re all made up of micro structures

18:37nano structures of material which

18:41reflect the light in different ways so

18:44maybe as I sit here and look at that

18:46picture I’m looking at a clue to how

18:50these colors actually exist so we’ve

18:53gone beyond the possibility of producing

18:54these colors by a thin film interference

18:57pattern from a flat surface to maybe the

19:02same mechanism appearing on earth

19:04geometrically repeating rough surface

19:08okay I’m live on the screen at the

19:10moment let me do a little bit of

19:11googling and see what we can find

19:13interesting you look iridescent it’s

19:17still caused by thin film interference

19:19patterns we’ve got oil on water and

19:22we’ve got soap bubbles and here we look

19:28as though we’ve got butterfly wings or

19:30peacock feathers now I don’t know what

19:32they are

19:32oh there’s a peacock feather but this is

19:35what I’m interested in particularly this

19:37is what I do remember butterfly wings

19:39and over here look we’ve got this

19:40pattern which is a repeating pattern

19:44that causes iridescent it’s reflections

19:50off of repeating surfaces so we’ve got

19:54not only one destructive or constructive


Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

20:00reflection we’ve got lots and lots of

20:02them mixed together so here we’ve got

20:06some interesting data this looks to be a

20:10a scale of about on this basis ten

20:14microns point zero one which is exactly

20:18the area where I’m working at at the

20:20moment with that yellow gold pattern

20:22that all of a sudden appeared I’m trying

20:25to get an idea now of what sort of

20:29surface we require to produce this

20:32effect because we’ve got a machine here

20:34which is capable of producing some very

20:36accurate and repeatable patterns on the

20:39surface the real answer to how we can

20:41get colors they’ll still be iridescent

20:44and changing colors but they will be

20:47more solid than the strange colors that

20:49I’ve been able to get so far so there’s

20:54even a bit of a description here about

20:55how we’re able to get color from our

20:58little V grooves it’s no longer a matter

21:02of reflection off of a shiny top surface

21:05but how can we produce a structured

21:09surface to reflect the light in the same

21:11way that these feathers and these

21:14butterfly wings do right let’s get to it

21:17so I’ve gone for some extremes we do do

21:19we’re going to do a speed of 2000 pulse

21:22of 2 nanoseconds 850 kilohertz and a

21:26pitch of 1 micron very very fine pitch

21:38speckled but it’s gold one of those easy

21:41colors to find two thousand millimeters

21:45a second means I’m actually spacing the

21:48dots out quite a lot so although they

21:50are tight

21:52this way I’m spreading them out that way

21:55here I’ve got my calculation my pulse

21:58rate chart which tells me to stand speed

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

22:01against the number of pulses per minute

22:04the pulses per millimeter holster I’ve

22:06got the scan set to 1 micron which is a

22:08thousand increments per millimeter or a

22:11thousand scans per millimeter so I did a

22:18quick test at a thousand scans in the

22:21other direction as well which is 800

22:23speed and that got me from gold to

22:28copper so maybe let’s go right to the

22:32other extreme and go down to something

22:34like about 300 so now I’m doing nearly

22:373,000 pulses per millimeter across so

22:42now thought you’re so very brave you

22:43certainly didn’t want to sit around and

22:45watch me doing all this stuff but hey

22:47look at see one there that’s a sort of

22:51olive green with a blue and a pink and a

22:59dark magenta gold blues pinks for a

23:04change I’m hand holding the camera

23:05because I need to pan around this

23:08picture we’re looking at it in

23:10artificial light I want you to watch

23:12these colors here and I want to watch

23:14these Pink’s here these blues as I move

23:21around them

23:25or changing

23:32but the Pink’s are not and some of the

23:36other colors are not changing well it

23:43means there’s a definite difference in

23:45the surface texture of the material I

23:49think we’re getting somewhere

23:52now I have just remembered a very very

23:55old friend I’m gonna have to go crawling

23:59around in my loft space and see if I can

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

24:03find it look at this rust dust this is a

24:15piece of junk that I recovered from the

24:18scrap bin of a company that I work for

24:21in Southern Ireland it’s a big American

24:25company and they use these on their

24:28production line and when something went

24:29wrong with them they literally just used

24:31to unclip them and throw them in the bin

24:36when the spillage was full it would be

24:38given to the scrap man well I recovered

24:40several of them from the scrap bin and

24:42made this Franken microscope and then I

24:45built my own base this was 40 years ago

24:49remember 1980 I thought it was too good

24:52to throw out at the time because the

24:54kids would make use of it looking for

24:55looking at bugs and various other things

24:57mmm they weren’t particularly interested

24:59in it so it’s that up in the loft for

25:01years and years and years hey whoever

25:05thought that I would be recalling the

25:08services of this good old friend even a

25:11silly little like work they didn’t have

25:13LEDs in those days this is just a

25:16filament lamp now the interesting

25:18difference between these colors and the

25:20ones that I’d been finding previously

25:22most of these colors do not change as

25:25you put the light in two different

25:27directions whatever is happening now is

25:29definitely on the surface of this

25:30material I’m hopeful that because this

25:32is a stereomicroscope I will be able to

25:34see exactly what the difference is

25:37between some of these surface textures


25:40oh it’s not an LED so that light

25:43actually gets hot now the problem with

25:45this wonderful microscope is you can’t

25:47see what I can see I can only give you a

25:50little clue as to what I can see if you

25:53take a look at the corner of that D

25:55there that’s just about what I can see

25:58in the microscope that just gives you an

26:00idea of the magnification that I’ve got

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

26:02it’s not a huge magnification it’s

26:04probably only about somewhere between 40

26:06maybe 60 at the most magnification now

26:10this might not be very exciting video

26:12for you but all I can say is Wow and now

26:18I’m going to take a look at one of the

26:20colors looking at the dark red mark

26:22we’ve just got a few sparkly stars in

26:26the sky just a few with some green ones

26:29when I moved to this one which is the

26:32slightly lighter movi pink all I can say

26:37is look this is my white phone cover

26:39that’s what I’m seeing now I’m afraid I

26:42don’t have an electron scanning

26:43microscope in my workshop that allows me

26:46to examine the surface of this in great

26:47detail this stone age technology is

26:51about as close as I can get at the

26:53moment but what we can do is to try and

26:56upgrade this with the aid of an HD

26:59camera so that you can see what I can

27:03see but at 40 maybe 60 at the most

27:07magnifications with this lovely piece of

27:10kit it’s not enough for me to see the

27:13granular structure right on the surface

27:15of the material where the damage is

27:16taking place now this looks like at the

27:20moment a crystalline structure but I

27:24have got a little toy a plastic toy

27:26microscope which I’ve also used which I

27:32won’t even show you because I’m

27:33embarrassed about it but it does show me

27:35that maybe there’s a different picture

27:38to the one I’m seeing here with this

27:41device at the moment I’m seeing what

27:43looks like a crystal type

27:45reflection but it might not be that when

27:48we get down and have a real look at the

27:49surface and to do that I’m gonna have to

27:51purchase a proper compound microscope

27:53that allows me to get to anything maybe

27:56between 200 400 600 or even a thousand

28:00times magnification so that we can

Transcript for The Hunt for Colours – Color Fiber Laser Engraver (Cont…)

28:02really examine the surface and work out

28:04what damage this beam of light that

28:08we’re able to control is doing to the

28:11surface so we’ll stop there for today

28:13now thank you for your time and we’ll

28:16catch up with you in a future session

28:18when we suitably kitted up to reveal the

28:20secrets of this surface

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Last updated August 26, 2021


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