Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Etching revisited

My very first post for Art Jewelry Elements was about etching. Seems hard to believe that was nearly a year and a half ago! Since I am getting ready to teach my first Altering Metal class in the new studios, I thought I'd update you all on one way my etching process has evolved.

I've been using a vertical etching setup is based on an article by Melissa Cable in the September 2013 issue of Art Jewelry Magazine. I've modified Melissa's methods to suit my workflow and space requirements, so I'm not going to recap her work here, but I highly recommend investing in the back issue if you don't already have it - the article is really terrific and the vertical etching method is outstanding.


The metal prep is exactly the same - clean thoroughly with Dawn dishwashing liquid and a scrubby until the water sheets off. Then apply designs to the metal. The old stand-by is rubber stamps and StazOn ink or the PnP blue transfer paper, but because the PnP paper is so expensive, I've been experimenting with other toner transfer methods.


I found a method used extensively by folks who etch circuit boards and it turns out that it works beautifully for jewelry etching. Here's the overview:


Create your own designs or - like I did - use brush tools in a photo editing program to create stamped images. (I used Photoshop.) Then, print them onto magazine pages using a toner-based printer.


You read that right. Rip a magazine page out of an old magazine - any one will do, as long as it's glossy. Put it in the manual feed tray of a laser printer and print your images onto the paper. (A refurbished laser printer can be gotten on Amazon for under $100 - well worth it if you're doing a lot of etching.)

Cut out your images and arrange them face down on your metal sheet. Then, carefully place your metal on a hot plate. (I got mine for about $16 at Amazon, but I would imagine you could also use the coil on your electric stove top.)


The hot plate should be set to somewhere between "warm" and "low" or your paper will burn.


I forgot and set it too high when I was trying to take these process photos. Don't be like me.

Give the metal a few seconds to warm up and then carefully - without sliding the paper - start burnishing the paper down onto the metal. Use a pair of tweezers or another burnisher to hold the metal steady.


Remember those fake tattoos we used to get when we were kids? This is kind of like that. You're going to have the best result if you burnish all the toner down onto the metal.

Once the paper is thoroughly burnished down, remove the metal sheet from the hot plate (or coil) and put it someplace heat-safe to cool. When the metal is cool enough to handle, start peeling the paper off. It's going to stick like the dickens, but don't worry - it's ok.


When you've gotten off as much of the paper as you can, put the sheet under running water and rub off the remaining paper with your fingers.


Thoroughly dry your metal, and cover the back with duct tape. I like to leave little "handles" at each end so I can tape the metal to the plexi sheets I use in my vertical etching station, but they also work well if you're taping your metal to a styrofoam block for the floating method.

Stamped designs
Laser toner design panel #1

Laser toner design panel #2
As you can see, the level of detail I get with the toner method is much crisper than the stamp method. And I can also create my own designs while I save money - win/win!

How about you? Are you an etching fool like me? Does this sound like something you'd like to try? I'd love to hear how it turns out for you!

Until next time -


  1. Wow, this is so cool!!! Could you teach this at the Metal Retreat????

    1. Absolutely! That and enamels can be my contribution this year, since I didn't get to enamels last year. :-)

  2. I have yet to try the laser printing option (currently just use stamps and/or a sharpie pen) but it seems to give people very crisp, clean results so I may have to splurge on a printer!
    Great read - thanks for making me feel a little more confident on this process :)

    1. Ellen, you are so welcome - let us know how it goes!!

  3. I love etching! I've been using the PnP sheets with digital collage files I bought off Etsy. I use a household iron on top of a fire brick, and burnish it like you say with a popsicle stick once it seems hot enough. (Boy that brick gets hot after a while!) When I run out of PnP I'm going to try some old-fashioned transparency sheets I got at Office Max and see how that works.

  4. I love the crisp, clear images that this technique produces! I can't wait to try this, Francesca! Thank you for sharing!

  5. How cool is that! I love the laser designs the best!

  6. Great job. Thanks for all the hard work.


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