Advantages and disadvantages of Laser-Induced Forward Transfer as a digital printing technology

Lasers have been used for many years in a variety of different ways. The traditionally laser works by blasting a highly focused stream of energy at a given target and removing or reforming the top layer of cells to either cut the material or transform it as required. A laser induced forward focusing device works on the bottom surface of a material. It passes through the substance and the absorbed laser particles effectively blow a hole in the material. There are some significant advantages of this type of technology:

Create very complex shapes in one go

Traditional laser techniques are very versatile but cannot be easily adapted to create very complex shapes and designs. In order to achieve these complex shapes they must be scanned with a laser several different times. Each pass will require a re-programming and possibly formatting of the laser and material to achieve the desired result.

Laser Induced Forward Transfer (LIFT) does not require this repetitive adjustment. As the laser works according to a specialist surface under the material, this can be shaped exactly as you require the finished product to look. The laser can then do its job in one pass.


Lack of potential damage to product

Repeated exposure to lasers can damage the product; each pass of the laser emits a high powered beam which can damage or destroy a cell; of almost any material. This means that a traditional laser has a much higher chance of damaging the product it is attempting to cut. LIFT uses only one pass and dramatically reduces the likelihood of damage to the product.

Viable for almost any material

Lasers can be used on almost any type of material; LIFT opens the options up even further. Because its energy is designed to go right through a material and impact with the material underneath to cause a microscopic explosion it can be used effectively on any material.

Quality of product

Lasers can leave some damage to a product, particularly on the leading edges where the laser struck. This is, again, made worse by repeated use of the laser. Additionally, conventional lasers are looking to damage or cut a cell; this increases the likelihood of surrounding damage. The LIFT passes through the material and works from the back, keeping the front appearance perfect and maintaining the quality of any product.

As with any product or new development there are some downsides:

Specific base required

LIFT requires a specific base to be designed and installed in your machine. This is essential to create the pattern required. Without the base the laser would continue onwards and potentially damage other components. If you are producing the same product over and over again this could actually be seen as a benefit. However, if you are looking to create a few, one off pieces it will add considerable time and hassle to a job.

Set-up more complex

The support for the substance must house the plate which creates the mold you wish to produce. This means that the set-up is more complicated, every item to be cut needs a specific template created. In addition to this the machine must be set to take into consideration the type of material and surface morphology.


As there is a more complex set up procedure and more initial templates required the cost of completing a job via LIFT will be more substantial than a conventional laser. Of course, if you are intending to print the same design many times the plate will be worthwhile and can be kept for use again in the future. LIFT is not a technology to be used for small scale jobs unless you have a large budget!

Commercial laser marking has gone through some serious changes over the years. Right now, increasingly more companies are using lasers to mark their line of products and thus keep track of them much easier. Whether we’re talking about LIFT (laser-induced forward transfer), engraving, etching, dicing, or laser drilling, one thing’s for sure – we have a type of technology on our hands that’s not going anywhere any time soon. On the contrary, it is advancing and more companies will acknowledge the great benefits of lasers.

By Mike Hans and!

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