Posts Tagged ‘permanent marker etch resist’

DIY copper etching tutorial

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

It is easy to etch your own designs into metal for jewelry. This tutorial will teach you how! (Check out our etching kit too!)


Rubber stamp designs etched into brass sheet metal.

Before you begin, please read the safety considerations for etching metal with chemicals blog post.

You’ll also probably want to read the design considerations for etching metal blog post too!

Now, here are the steps for etching metal with ferric chloride:

1. Choose your metal(s). Ferric chloride works on copper, brass and nickel silver. It will not work on actual silver (fine or sterling). Do NOT use ferric chloride on aluminum. Metal as thin as 24-gauge can be etched – just leave it in for less time than you would for thicker metal. If you want to etch both sides or etch really deeply, use at least 20-gauge metal.

2. Clean metal with Penny Brite (our favorite) or an abrasive cleaner and scrubbie. The metal must be very clean. Water will sheet off (not bead up) on the surface when it is truly clean.

3. Apply resist. Stazon ink, Sharpies, toner transfers – there are many options! (Read the design considerations.)


A combination of rubber stamps and hand-drawn Sharpie doodles decorate the large copper sheet. The “C” was done with a PnP blue toner transfer.

4. Cover all areas that should not be etched with ink or durable tape. This includes the back, sides and inside any holes.


It would have been less messy to ink the edges before putting the tape on the back.

5. Pour 3/4 – 1″ of etchant into a non-reactive container (glass or plastic). If you are etching more than one type of metal, use a separate container for each. If desired, add a teaspoon of citric acid to “boost” the etching action.


A little citric acid (from the grocery store) accelerates the etching action, but is not required.

6. Attach metal to a styrofoam float “boat” and place in etchant. Suspending the metal into the bath with tape is another option. Just make sure the metal is submerged yet isn’t touching the bottom of the container.


A boat ready to float!


Boat floating with metal face-down in the chemical bath.

7. Allow to float for 30-90 minutes, depending on depth of etch desired. Nickel silver tends to take longer than copper or brass because it contains just 65% copper. (The rest is nickel and zinc.)


Etched design is clearly visible – this piece is ready to be cleaned.

8. Scrub metal clean in a tub of water. Use baking soda to neutralize the acid if desired. Some people use a weak ammonia bath to really make sure the acid is removed. Cleaning all the etchant off is important, as it will stain.

That’s it! You’ll probably want to patina the metal with liver of sulfur or another oxidizer to really bring out the definition in your design.


Using steel wool to buff the patina off the high points.

Ferric chloride can be reused several times. Once it is exhausted (typically after about 3 uses), consult your local waste management system for guidance on disposing of it.

rita's etched bracelet

Rita wrote on a copper washer with Sharpie to make the etched center link on this bracelet.

Happy creating! Use the “print friendly” option to print these instructions – with or without pictures! Questions are always welcome too. ~ Cindy


Editor’s Addendum: Many people have asked “Where do you find these supplies?” So here is a linked list of sheet metal and etching supplies:

Roofers use 19- to 27-gauge copper sheet, but surprisingly the prices from most roofing supply places are higher than our prices. Fortunately, you can often find left-over roofing scrap at a local recycler, like Earthworks Recycling. The size of reclaimed copper scrap can be random, so bring a measuring gauge and gauge conversion chart to make sure you get the size of scrap or remnants you want, such as 20-, 22- or 24-gauge.

For more tips about etched copper, brass or nickel jewelry: Various designers at Rings & Things have etched jewelry designs (with free how-to’s — no login required!) in our Design Gallery.