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Topic: Celtic arm band: Photo-Etching Tutorial  (Read 8112 times)
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I Eat Art
« on: January 02, 2005 09:59:28 AM »

This is a piece I did for a class a while ago (I posted it on the art forums) and since Photo-etching (the process used for the designs on the plates) is a pretty low-tech process I figured I could post a tutorial about it.

What happens is you draw a design on the metal, put the metal in the etchant, and the design (which is either printer toner or sharpie marker) acts as a resist, so only the part where the design isn't gets etched.

  • Copper, bronze, or silver. Copper and bronze work really well, silver works OK. I believe brass works too but I haven't used it.
  • Sandpaper if the metal is anything but shiney
  • A jeweler's saw (optional, used for cutting the metal into the desired shape).
  • A photocopier or laser printer
  • Transparency sheet (acetate)
  • a hot plate, pancake griddle, or in a pinch, an iron.
  • PCB Etchant. Gross, brownish liquid sold at Radio Shack.
  • An old tupperware container
  • duct or masking tape
  • a sharpie or gold paint pen
  • an old spoon (or burnisher, if you actually have metalsmithing tools)
  • tweezers
  • scissors
  • household ammonia
  • gloves (ok I never use gloves but YOU SHOULD!)

Cost: about $10 assuming you already have the tools. about $50 if you wanna use silver (I get mine from http://www.hooverandstrong.com). And probably a lot more if you don't already own a hotplate or iron :-P

1. cut the metal into the desired shape (or buy pre-cut shapes if you don't have a saw).
2. clean the metal. Sand it, scrub it with ammonia, make sure it is clean. Try to hold it by the edges at this point.
3. Draw your design on paper or on the computer. Remember that the black parts will be raised and the white parts will be lowered. Reverse your design if necessary.
4. Print or photocopy your image onto the transparency sheet. You must use a laser printer, ink jet will not work.
5. Turn on your hot plate. Carefully place your clean metal directly on it. Let it get nice and hot.
6. Roghly cut your design out of the acetate. Leave some room to handle it by, but not so much that it hangs waaay over the edges of the metal and you'll have trouble keeping it off the hot plate.
7. Place your design toner side down on the metal. Use tweezers. It's very difficult to move it once it's placed, so go slowly and make sure the first place you put it is the right one. Don't let the acetate touch the hot plate directly.
8. take the curved side of the spoon and rub all over the design (called Burnishing). You'll probably have to hold the metal down with the tweezers. Press smoothy and firmly, you're literally transferring the toner from the acetate to your metal.
9. Lift up the acetate. Slowly, starting at one corner. If the toner is coming with it, put it back down and burnish a little longer.
10. When your design is transferred, take the metal off of the hot plate and quench it in water. Or let it air-cool.
11. Fill in any gaps or flaws with the sharpie (which is acting as a resist).
12. Go along the edges of your piece with the sharpie to keep the etchant from eating away the sides.
13. Cover the back of the piece with duct or masking tape. Then use the masking tape to suspend the metal design-side-down in the tupperware container. You want it to lie fairly level, about a centimeter or two from the bottom of the container BUT NOT TOUCHING IT.
14. Fill the container with PCB Etchant until it just barely covers your piece.
15. wait.
Waiting is hard, because it takes different amounts of time depending on how old the etchant is. Check every 5 minutes until you get a feel for how quickly it is etching. It WILL eat through your metal if you leave it too long.
I've found that brand new etchant will be done in 20 minutes to an hour, and old etchant can take 8+ hours.
16. When your metal is sufficiently etched, take it out of the solution and rinse it. First rinse it in water, then rinse it in ammonia. If you don't rinse it in ammonia it will continue to etch over time. Plus the ammonia helps to get off the resist.
17. Pour the etchant back into the bottle, you can reuse it and it is VERY BAD FOR YOUR DRAIN. VERY BAD. When the resist is completely spent, throw it away in the bottle. Don't dump it. It will eat your pipes.

Viola! you now have a design on metal to do with as you please.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2011 10:25:21 AM by jungrrl - Reason: added working image » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2005 10:38:05 AM »

It is a lovely cuff I'm happy to see that wonderful work in copper. I personally love working with bras and coper thank you a lot for shearing it.
I use mixture of ammonia and salt fir making coper and bras green do you think that would also work to that project??


I Eat Art
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2005 10:46:18 AM »

sure, you can treat the metal however you like after it is etched, I used liver of sulfer to blacken the piece and then lightly sanded it to remove the black from the high areas. A green patina would work as well.

You just have to etch the metal before you color it, since it has to be clean to work.

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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2005 06:57:39 PM »

wow, I really like that arm band Smiley I wish I could do something like that!
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2005 01:09:52 AM »

Wow, that's so cool! How much would the etchant be? I can imagine doing a lot with this technique!
I Eat Art
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2005 07:25:00 AM »

About $5 for a bottle. http://www.radioshack.com/product.asp?catalog%5Fname=CTLG&product%5Fid=276-1535

The solution can be re-used for quite a while, it just requires longer etching times the older it gets.

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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2005 07:41:42 AM »

Awesome!  I did this once a long time ago in my high school jewelry class.  Yes, I realize what a lucky gal I am/was to have a high school that had jewelry as one of the art classes.  I've been wanting to do it again, but I couldn't remember what the chemical was.  Thanks!  I'll have to try this out very soon.

« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2005 01:42:15 AM »

That sounds absolutely amazing. Who knew that metal etching was so achievable? Not me;p Thanks for the tutorial!
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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2005 03:31:52 PM »

Now that's nice.  I never actually considered metalwork in any form as viable without taking a class or two, but now you've got me thinking.

(I actually tried to sign up for my college's art department's Introduction to Metalworking.  I'm a bio major, but I figured hell, I'd pay for it and it's an introductory class.  Yeah.  An introductory class with SIX PREREQS!)

Err, end rant.  Cheesy

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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2005 09:09:05 AM »

In 8th grade or so we learned you can use hydrochloric acid to etch copper. It's really damaging for your skin, so you need to be careful, and you can "clean drains" with it, and so on, but it is a bit more international than brand names, and maybe easier / even cheaper to come by?

I think you were supposed to use wax as resistant, or something similar

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...oh, if it wasn't clear, I'm rarely completely serious. Smiley
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