DIY Photo Etching

Written by aryeh raphael
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Photo etching is a process of creating an image by removing all but specific parts of a film on a metal object. Using a photo mask will allow you to create an image by limiting the etching to desired areas. Photo etching is commonly used in making circuit boards or creating finely detailed pieces for model projects. Although the procedure is straightforward, you will need to work with chemicals and devote a significant amount of time to getting your etching right.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Transparency paper
  • Printer
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Panes of glass
  • Photo-reactive brass or copper board
  • UV exposure light
  • 5 heavy books
  • Caustic soda
  • Water
  • Plastic container
  • Thick rubber gloves
  • Goggles
  • Respiratory mask
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Concentrated muriatic acid
  • Cotton swab
  • Rubbing alcohol

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  1. 1

    Print your design on transparency paper, printing only with black ink. Make sure the contrast and resolution on your printer are set at their maximum for best etching results.

  2. 2

    Cut out the design from the transparency paper with scissors, leaving 2 inches of blank paper around the image as a border. Tape the image flat onto a pane of glass with the right side facing the glass.

  3. 3

    Place the photo-reactive metal board directly on top of the image and tape it securely to the glass. The transparency paper should be sandwiched between the glass and the board.

  4. 4

    Open the UV exposure light and lay the pane of glass on the bed, with the image facing down and the photo-reactive board facing up.

  5. 5

    Lay another pane of glass on top of the first to hold the image and the board firmly between them. You should also set five heavy books on top of the glass to hold it down.

  6. 6

    Turn the exposure light on and let it run for one minute. If you are exposing a very large image or have a weak exposure light, you may need to expose the image longer.

  7. 7

    Stir 1 tsp of caustic soda into 1 litre of water in a plastic container until the water is clear. Remove the metal board from the glass pane and gently place it into the water solution.

  8. 8

    Put on thick rubber gloves, goggles and a respiratory mask. You should leave on the protective wear until you are finished treating the metal board.

  9. 9

    Agitate the metal board with your fingers for five seconds and then rinse the board under running water. Repeat this as many times as you have to until the image is clearly visible.

  10. 10

    Empty the plastic container of the soda solution and add in three-fourths' cup of hydrogen peroxide. Slowly pour one-fourth cup of muriatic acid into the hydrogen peroxide and stir them together.

  11. 11

    Put the metal board into the acid solution and gently shake the container until the image becomes completely etched. Do not shake the container hard enough to spill the solution.

  12. 12

    Set the container in a sink and let water run into it, making it overflow. Do this for two minutes to entirely dispose of the acid solution.

  13. 13

    Take the board out of the container and rub the photo etching with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol.

Tips and warnings

  • You can drill through the metal board once you have photo-etched your image, just as you would any piece of metal.
  • If you perform photo etching frequently, you will need to have a disposal company collect your muriatic solution because excessive exposure of your pipes to the acid will cause deterioration.

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