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Metal Etching 101

Click to see our blog tutorial. 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 full line of etching chemicals & supplies, including our exclusive etching tool kit.

Table of Contents

          What Metals can be Etched?
          Choosing the Right Etchant
          Types of Resists
          Etching Tutorials and Projects
          What's the Difference between Etching & DecoEtch™?

What Metals can be Etched?

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:
22-Gauge Copper Blanks
22-Gauge Copper Blanks
22-Gauge Brass Blanks
22-Gauge Brass Blanks
20-Gauge Nickel Silver Blanks
20-Gauge Nickel Silver Blanks
20-Gauge Copper Sheet
20-Gauge Copper Sheet
20-Gauge Brass Sheet
20-Gauge Brass Sheet
20-Gauge Nickel Silver Sheet
20-Gauge Nickel Silver Sheet
19-Gauge Copper Blanks
19-Gauge Copper Blanks
19-Gauge Brass Blanks
19-Gauge Brass Blanks
Click to buy 18-gauge copper blanks.
18-Gauge Copper Blanks

24-gauge sheet metal and 24-gauge pre-cut blanks will also work — just be sure to leave 24-gauge items in the chemical bath for less time than you would a thicker metal. See all gauges of metal blanks for more options.

Choosing the Right Etchant

Ferric chloride for metal etching. 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).
  • Copper, brass and nickel silver can be etched with ferric chloride.

  • .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:

Perfect Medium ink. 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.
PnP blue transfer film. 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.
Click to buy extra fine point Sharpie markers. 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 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.

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)
Copper Etching Tutorial

Blog Post
Click for a tutorial on how to etch with ferric chloride.

Safety Tips for
Metal Etching

Blog Post
Click for metal etching safety tips.

Design Considerations
for Etching Metal

Blog Post
Click for metal etching design tips.

"Pleasant Dream"
Etched Barrette

Gallery Project
Click for tips on making an etched barrette design.

How to Make an Etched
Metal & Leather Bracelet

Blog Post
Click for a tutorial on etching bracelet focal plates.

"Sonya Snow Skater"
Etched Necklace

Gallery Project
Click for an etched necklace tutorial.

For an illustrated step-by-step guide that's easy to print, see our Metal Etching 101 PDF.

What's the Difference between Etching & DecoEtch™?

Click for embossing tools and tutorial. "DecoEtch" is a trademarked name for a type of pattern die used with the Vintaj®-edition BIGkick™ machine by Sizzix®. This mini rolling mill is a great way to make embossed designs in metal.

DecoEtch™ dies offer finer lines than DecoEmboss™ dies, but the process is still embossing — there are no chemicals involved.

Embossing is a great way to create patterns in metal without using chemicals!


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