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Laser used to remove graffiti in Florence

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Volunteers in Florence, Italy, are using an infrared fibre laser donated by Italian laser group El.En to erase graffiti on the Ponte Vecchio stone bridge over the Arno River.

The volunteers, dubbed the ‘Angels of Beauty’, are determined to restore famous monuments to their former glory using El.En’s 50W infrared 'Laser Blaster', which the firm says is the first fibre laser to be designed specifically for the removal of graffiti. It is able to strip dirt from everything ranging from frescoes to statues and bronzes.

‘The laser evaporates the graffiti, without damaging the stone underneath,’ explained Daniela Valentini, who heads up the Angels' team of cultural heritage restorers. ‘Some graffiti is more difficult to remove, certain colours like silver and red for example. And it also depends how long it has been there and how porous the stone is.’

The dedicated graffiti removal laser, available in 20W, 50W and 100W models, is the result of El.En combining its developments for fine art cleaning with precise scanner technology derived from its experience serving aesthetic medical applications. The firm is also developing a 300W version of the Laser Blaster, in addition to a 1kW version for industrial purposes.

El.En's Laser Blaster has been designed speciffically for the removal of graffiti (Image: El.En)

While the Laser Blaster does speed up the task of removing graffiti, and can do so without damaging the underlying surface – unlike commonly used sand-blasting techniques – it is still a relatively lengthy task. Restorers using the near €60,000 device can take up to 20 minutes to clean a single 10cm2 piece of wall.

According to Paolo Salvadeo general manager of El.En, the firm’s lasers have been used to clean up areas in at least 28 UNESCO world heritage sites around the world. It has also donated devices capable of restoring artwork in museums around the world, including the Mueseum of Modern Art in New York, and the Vatican.

'Another 50W unit is cleaning frescos in the Second Raffaello’s Loggia in the Vatican Holy See, and has been used for cleaning the armors of the army of Pope Julius II in the Vatican Museums,' he confirmed.

El.En specialises in designing and manufacturing medical and industrial lasers.

Top image: AFP/Tiziana FABI