Laser Drilling – a Definition and Jargon Buster

With many different types of laser processes available, each with their own set of unique qualities and benefits; it can sometimes be hard distinguishing between the different types and figuring out which one would be most suited to you.

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Laser drilling

To help break this process down and make it a little easier for you, we’ve put together the following succinct definition of laser drilling, and busted the jargon that surrounds the application.

What is laser drilling?

Laser drilling, as the name might suggest, is the process of drilling into a material using a laser. It differs from conventional twist drills in that it is a non-contact process, meaning the laser doesn’t physically touch the material that it is working with.

Instead, the laser beam is focused repeatedly onto a specific area, vaporising and melting it layer by layer until holes are created. These holes will vary in diameter and depth, with some holes being thru-holes, while others are created only part of the way down into a material.

Laser drilling offers the user a great deal of control when it comes to beam intensity, heat, and duration, and this allows holes of all sizes and shapes to be created. It also means that laser drilling is effective on a number of different materials, including metals, plastics and glass. Furthermore, only one laser drilling setup is needed to complete this wide range of applications, and so there is no need for multiple drills or machines.

Thanks to innovation and development, laser drilling has become a much more widely used process in recent years, as it provides a number of benefits that more conventional methods cannot. Chief of these being that laser drilling can create incredibly small holes that were previously not achievable, as other methods could only create holes with diameters of around 0.003”. As a result, it now finds important uses in a variety of industries, including in the aerospace, automotive, semi-conductor, and electrical industries. Laser drilling also finds many uses within the medical sector.

There are several types of laser drilling process, which have been explained in more detail below, and these are known as single-pulse/shot laser drilling, percussion laser drilling, trepan laser drilling, and helical laser drilling. You may also occasionally see laser drilling referred to as laser ablation, which is similar in that it involves removing the surface of a material layer by layer using a laser. The difference with laser drilling is that it is generally used to create thru-holes in materials.

Jargon busting the laser drilling process

The above provides a brief overview on the definition of laser drilling, and below we have listed out some of the jargon that you may find commonly associated with the laser drilling process.

Beam duration

This is how long you focus the beam on the material during the laser drilling process. There are varying reasons for using short bursts or a continuous beam, and the different laser drilling process have different duration lengths. We have explored this in more detail below.

Beam intensity

This is how powerful the beam will be during the laser drilling process. At the time of going to press our range of fiber lasers can operate between 20W and 6kW, and so the beam intensity can be varied.

Laser drilling jargon buster

We hope our jargon busting makes the laser drilling process a little clearer!

Helical laser drilling

Helical laser drilling is used to create larger, deeper holes. Several pulsed lasers are used to create these holes.

High-aspect-ratio holes

This refers to depth-to-diameter ratio, and a high aspect is greater than 10:1. This is one of the greatest benefits of laser drilling, as conventional methods aren’t able to achieve ratios like this.

Laser ablation

Laser ablation is another laser process which is similar to laser drilling in some ways and the two are sometimes linked, and it involves the removal of the surface of a specific material layer by layer.


The laser drilling process works by melting away the layers that it is working with. This excess melted material is removed, leaving a hole behind.


Laser drilling is a non-contact process, another of its biggest benefits. The laser itself won’t physically touch the material, and it’ll only melt away the section that it is working with. This leaves the rest of the material untouched and undamaged.

Percussion laser drilling

Percussion laser drilling is used to create either small dented holes or thru-holes in a material, and works by using a series of laser pulses with a small amount of energy and duration.

Thru-holes / Popped holes

The main reason for using the laser drilling process is to create thru-holes or popped holes, which are just clear holes that go right through.

Trepan laser drilling

Trepan laser drilling is the process where a laser pierces a material, and then cuts a hole in it using a motion system. This allows for the creation of shaped holes.

Have more questions about laser drilling?

Above we have provided a brief overview of laser drilling and the jargon involved in the process, but if you still have further questions, simply get in contact with one of the SPI Lasers experts.


Image credits: blickpixel


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