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Metal Etching

Characteristics & History

Of all the words the average person associates with etching, metal is not typically one of them.

Stone and glass are etched, but why etch metal?

Why use a material that offers seemingly way less tone, depth, and flexibility than other mediums? This is not to mention the unique and difficult challenges posed by trying to etch metal artistically.

Despite these considerations, metal etching does exist.

Furthermore, it is one of the oldest forms of etching there is. It dates all the way back to the Medieval ages when knights had their armor and shields detailed and decorated.  

Today, etched metal is one the most exquisite forms of art out there because it’s so unique.

A one-of-a-kind piece of metal etching can add an ambiance and charm to a home, restaurant, office, or art gallery.

The way light plays with metal is distinctive from basically any other substance, including other popular etching materials like glass, stone, or clay.

Metal tends to bend, fragment, and reflect light, creating an almost surreal visual quality. The energy this contributes to a room can create a contrasting effect with the rest of the décor, infusing dynamism in the lackluster.

Etching Metal

Etching metal can be a complicated affair, but let’s explore a popular way in which it’s done to better understand metal etching.

The first step is drafting the image that is to be etched.

This is the most creative part of the process. For those who may be skilled with metalworking but not drawing, basically any image online (that is etchable) can be printed out and used as the skeleton.

If you can, print the image straight out onto acetate film because it has to end up there eventually.

Clean the metal you are going to etch thoroughly.

Copper is a good material to begin with for the novice. It is one of the more malleable metals.

Next place the acetate film onto the metal and then place a piece of paper over the acetate and iron firmly. Do this for as long as it takes to transfer the image from the film to the copper.

At this point one can submerge the metal in a ferric chloride bath which will etch deeper the longer it is in.
Monitor this process to achieve the level of depth desired. Leaving the copper in the acid will eventually dissolve the whole thing.
So, do not set it and forget it.

Special metal paint can be applied once the metal piece is cleaned of chemicals and dried. Painting is optional but can specify a look or design more than a plain metal is capable of offering.

Let the piece sit for a while to make sure all is cooled and dried.

Then, enjoy the art you have crafted with your own two hands!