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Metal Etching 101
Etching is a method of using chemicals to cut a design or pattern into a metal surface. Etching your own designs into metal is easier than it may sound, and it can be a fun and rewarding way to make your own jewelry! Learn the basics of how to choose your metals, choose your etchants, create or transfer your images with resists, and complete the etching process. Discover how to make a float boat for suspending your designs in etchant — plus find basic etching safety precautions, design considerations, and free projects. You may also want to shop our
etching chemicals & supplies, including our
exclusive etching tool kit.
Because chemical etching actually cuts into the surface of the metal, you want to make sure your plate or sheet of metal is thick enough to hold an etched design well. We recommend using 22-gauge or thicker metal sheet and pre-cut metal blanks. Options we carry that will work with ferric chloride (see next section) include:
Etchant is the chemical (or mixture of chemicals) that you'll use to cut into unprotected parts of your metal and create the finished etched design. It's important to match your metal with an appropriate etchant, because the same metal will react differently to different chemicals (and vice versa).
.999 fine silver & .925 sterling silver can be etched using a ferric nitrate solution or nitric acid. Both these etchants are more dangerous to use than ferric chloride.
Aluminum etchants include hydrofluoric acid, Kellers etch, and homemade solutions made with copper sulfate and sodium bisulfate.
Types of Resists
A resist is what you use to protect certain parts of your metal from the etchant. Resists are typically inks (and tapes). You will apply a design or pattern to the metal with your resist. Then, when you dip your metal into the chemical bath, the covered areas will "resist" being eaten away. Those covered areas will be the high points of your design once the etching process is complete.
Different artisans use different resists, and different resists work better with different aesthetic styles and methods — for example using rubber stamps, making a photo transfer, drawing by hand, etc. With practice and experimentation you'll figure out which mediums and methods you prefer, too.
Resists that work on copper, brass, and nickel silver include:
StazOn® & Perfect Medium™ Ink Pads work great to add rubber stamp designs to metal. StazOn Cleaner allows you to removed smudged immpressions and start over till the image comes out to your satisfaction.
Press-n-Peel Transfer Film provides an easy way to create detailed photo etched designs. Use a laser printer or copier to print onto the paper, then transfer the image to metal with an iron.
Sharpie Permanent Markers are a great resist for hand-drawn designs. Just keep in mind that etchants can undercut designs a little. Don't draw with too fine a line, or details could be lost.
Duct Tape works great to cover the back of your metal (unless you want both sides of your metal to be etched), and or to create a frame/border around your design.
Etching Tutorials & Projects
Use our blog post below to take you through the full process of etching a design into metal — including the innovative use of a "float boat" instead of tape to suspend your designs in the etchant! Find more helpful hints in our safety precautions and design considerations. Get inspired with free projects.