How to Photo Etch Brass

Written by vera leigh
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How to Photo Etch Brass
Photo etch brass using ferric chloride. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Photo etching brass is a hobbyist and artist technique that allows you to use ferric choloride to eat away parts of a metal sheet to reveal designs that appear embossed. You should make sure to read the back of your ferric choloride solution bottle to make sure your solution is safe to pour down your drain after the craft project is finished. You also should contact your local hazardous waste centre to determine whether it is safe to pour ferric choloride down your drain. Ferric choloride is a salt solution that is acidic so make sure to cover your hands and eyes with protective gear.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Newspaper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Goggles
  • Brass sheet
  • Brass brush
  • Sponge brush
  • Acrylic paint
  • Masking tape
  • Overhead projector
  • Photo on a projector sheet (consult local copy centre)
  • Paint pens
  • Glass pan
  • Ferric chloride
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton balls
  • Rags or sponges

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  1. 1

    Prepare your workspace by covering it with newspaper. Place goggles on your eyes and rubber gloves on your hands.

  2. 2

    Scrub your brass sheet with a brass brush.

  3. 3

    Open your acrylic paint and squeeze a dollop on a sponge brush. Paint one side of the brass sheet or plate with the acrylic paint and allow it to dry. By applying acrylic paint to the sheet you are protecting it from being eaten by the ferric choloride solution. Allow the paint to dry and then cover it completely with masking tape. Think of this as Side 1.

  4. 4

    Plug in your overhead projector to a power outlet and place your photo transfer sheet on the projector. Turn on the projector. Place the brass sheet against a wall so that the photo image is displayed on the sheet. Use a paint pen to trace the photo image onto the brass sheet. You may need to adjust the projector to make sure the photo is minimised enough to fit on the brass plate.

  5. 5

    Pour the ferric choloride solution into a glass baking dish or pan. Place the brass plate with the paint pen design face down into the chemical bath.

  6. 6

    Wait about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Pull out the sheet to see if the plate is sufficiently etched.

  7. 7

    Turn on cold water and run the plate under the water. This helps to stop the etching process. Scrub the plate with a brass brush.

  8. 8

    Peel the masking tape off the plate. Remove paint on both sides with rubbing alcohol and cotton balls. Place the sheet under cool water again. Scrub the sheet with water, soap and the brass brush.

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