Detailed Acid Etching With a Stencil





Introduction: Detailed Acid Etching With a Stencil

This will be a more advanced how-to with using heat transfer stencils to create intricate designs for acid etching.

This is a followup to my very first Instructable on basic acid etching. I won't go over all the mixing and such. Checkout the other how-to for that info.

Etching is a great way to personalize your knife. Maybe with a makers mark or just add some unique design to your boring EDC. Hopefully this provides you with detailed yet easy to follow instructions on how to acid etch your knife. I am still new to this whole etching thing and I won't pretend to know everything or have all the processes perfected, so feedback and tips are greatly appreciated.

FAIR WARNING!!! I can not be held responsible for any damages or injuries as a result of trying this process. (But if you hurt yourself then that means you really screwed it up...)

Step 1: Supplies


  • Ferric Chloride (PCB etch) - Found at electronic part stores and some say Radioshack.
    Premixed with distilled water.
    Link to Ferric Chloride information
  • Plastic container
  • Iron
  • Tape
  • Press-N-Peel Stencil transfer - This is what you'll use for your detailed stencil! :D
    Link to P-n-P
  • Etch resist/Stencil - IE. Nail polish, stickers, vinyl, electrical tape, Sharpie marker
  • Acetone
  • Cotton swabs and/or Q-tips
  • Rubber gloves and PPE (personal protective equipment)
  • Beer (optional and only if you're of age...)

Step 2: Designing and Printing the Stencil

I'm no good with photoshop/editing software so you'll have to look up another tutorial on how to use it!


  • Use photoshop to import your design onto a 8 1/2 X11 template
  • Size the image layer it over a sample picture to get an idea of what your result will be.
    I usually print out the image to see if I've sized it properly.
  • Create an 8 1/2 X 11 black template.
  • Make the image black and white, flip it horizontally and invert the colors.
    This is because whatever is white will end up black. Flipping is very important with lettering.
    Everything must be backwards!
  • Fill up a whole page with numerous images/designs. I personally use the same image at least 4 times in the event my heat transfer doesn't work and I have to try again.
  • Once the page is created you'll need a laser or toner printer. A photocopier will also work.
  • Print the prepped template onto the dull side of the Press-n-Peel sheet.

    You now have a sheet of one time use stencils!

Step 3: Prep Work

Preparation is the most important step in this whole process. If you don't prep properly the results will be poor and very frustrating.

  • Disassemble the knife. You don't want to get any acid on the scales, liners, or washers. Try to remember where all those little screws came from and store them safely in a container or magnetic tray. If you don't feel comfortable taking the knife apart then ensure to mask off any part of the knife you don't want to get the acid on.
  • Clean the blade with acetone. This will provide a clean surface for the etch resist to adhere to. Try not to touch the blade with your bare hands after cleaning. The oil from your fingers will mess with the etch.

Step 4: Applying the Stencil

Now the tricky bit!

  • I use a bright light to shine through the stencil so I can tell where the design will be. Use some tape to hold the stencil in place. Dull side down!
  • Use the iron on medium heat to press on top of the shiny side. A flat surface is easier but obviously a hollow grind blade can be done with some patience.
  • You'll know when the stencil has transferred when the toner is dark and the image visible through the shiny side.
    Don't skimp on heat and time! Make sure you are very thorough with the iron, move the iron around and use the tip to press the stencil down.
  • Rinse the stencil and blade under cool water to set the stencil.
  • Carefully peel the stencil from a corner and voila!
  • Use nail polish to mask off the remainder of the knife. Trust me, where ever there is exposed steel you will etch! Front, back, top and bottom. I also cover the back in electrical tape (Learned my lesson the hard)

Step 5: It's Etch-time!


Put on your rubber gloves if you haven't already from mixing the acid. Ensure you are in a well ventilated area. The acid is causing a chemical reaction and there is a vapour byproduct. Do this outside or under a vent/stove hood.

Use a cotton Q-tip to soak up a bit of acid. Apply the acid to the steel in the stencil. Rub the acid lightly into the stencil and you will feel the Q-tip start to "bite" the steel. The tip of the Q-tip will start to turn black as the acid removes some metal.

I have found that short (40 second) dips with quick rinses under the tap gives me the best results.

I do short dips because it gives me better control over the end result. This process also preserves any of the laser factory markings on the blade.

My actual timeline is approx. 40 second bath, 10 seconds in the air, rinse under the tap, 10 seconds in the air, then repeat. If this actual process makes any difference to the end result... I don't know. But it seems to be working for me.

Be careful of fingerprints. When rinsing the blade try not to touch it with your bare fingers You may leave behind a fingerprint mark on the blade.

Step 6: Cleanup and Reassemble

Use nail polish remover or acetone to remove the nail polish and the blue stencil transfer.

It will require a few cotton pads to remove all of the residue. I also use a Q-tip to get into all the nooks and corners.

Put your knife back together and enjoy your handy work!

Step 7: Results

Hopefully this tutorial has helped guide you through the stencil etching process.

Let me know if you have any questions :) Your best bet is to experiment with cheap knives before you move into $1000 customs. No one wants to see a bad etch job on a custom knife!

A few last things to keep in mind.

  1. The concentration of acid will change the etch
  2. The temperature of the acid will change the etch
  3. Different steels react differently to the acid.
  4. Acid is dangerous so close attention must be given at all times
  5. Drips of acid into your stainless steel sink will leave marks... don't ask
  6. The acid is dark orange and will stain your skin and clothing.

    Good luck and let me know how your project goes!

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Okay I have a quick question... At first you are using a Q-Tip to apply the acid to the stencil, but then you mention "Dips" after you apply a layer with the Q-Tip are you literally dippin gthe whole knife into the acid for 40 sec then into tap water for 10 sec and repeat? How many time do you repeat?

2 replies

I use the q-tip when I'm just doing stencils or detail etching. I do dips when I'm etching the whole blade.
I repeat until I've obtained the desired etch. It depends on the steel I'm etching. I would say 5 to 10 times.

How do you get the end result to come out darker?

can I draw my own designs on my pnp? I do not have a laser printer..

2 replies

No, you can't draw your own designs. You need to use a laser printer.
What you can do is draw your design then use a photocopier to transfer it onto the PnP

I was also wondering if the author is still checking in on comments. I don't know if this information will be helpful for what you are planning to do, but I acid etch on brass with ferric chloride and have been using a sharpie to draw my own designs for jewelry pieces like charms and pendants. I've had moderate success and was thinking about cutting stencils with self-adhesive vinyl sheets and my search led me to this page along with some others.

I know you can use sharpies for brass and copper and with feric nitrate or nitric acid for silver. I am not familiar with the process for etching other metals like you would for a knife blade. If you do a google image search for acid etched jewelry sharpie" you will see tons of amazing stuff that designers are drawing on themselves.

One tutorial suggests that Staedler (sp?) permanent markers (especially red) are the best for drawing resists that will hold up with the acid etch. Apparently they are used for writing on CD/DVDs and electronic circuit board etching. I looked for them on Amazon, but they were sold out and I haven't had a chance to look elsewhere.

My favorite jewelry designer is the person who suggested this in a jewelry etching tutorial for Jewelry Making Journal. You can see her amazing work at . She also uses PnP and another transfer process and I don't know how much of her work is done with each medium.

Amazing tutorial! Thanks for posting the detailed instructions. I came her in search of jewelry etching information, but I still learned a lot of information that I haven't found elsewhere. I also appreciate the way you give clear instructions and explain everything in detail. Some of us newer etchers aren't familiar with terms and some of the other tutorials I have found forget that part.

Oh gosh I just noticed no one has been here for a while. I hope I can get an answer.

hello ... i have a question ... what kind of stickers is the best to use. where can i get such stickers?


please help

Thanks - I learned some new stuff from your clear Instructable.

Suggestion: replace the word ACID with Etchant.

You don't use any acid anywhere in the whole process: Ferric Chloride isn't an acid.

Why does that matter? Well for centuries, etchers died young from the ill effects of using real acids for etching. While Ferric Chloride isn't exactly harmless and needs thoughtful disposal, it is SO much more user-friendly than Acids. People looking for a modern alternative would be put off by your title. David

3 replies

If the title hadn't said "acid etching" I wouldn't have found it. Sometimes it's okay to use colloquial terms so that idiots like me can find stuff.

Ferric Chloride diluted in water is quite acidic, so a change from

ACID to Etchant seems academic. It is a form of acid. Check the PH.

Thanks David for the information. I appreciate your time and information. I'll adjust the tut to accurately reflect the ferric chloride.
Have a great day!

I'm having trouble getting the press-n-peel to stick to the knife blade. The iron is around 300F but no higher than 320 (I melted the first one a little) and the last time I even left it on the knife for like 20 minutes. Should I try sanding the blade? I'd rather not because the scratches will show after taking the mask off.

2 replies

Nevermind, the press-n-peel website says Brother printers suck and I've been using the school's HL-6180DW. I'm sad because I already sanded my knife blade.

The press-n-peel can be a frustrating product to use. It is very... temperamental when it comes to heat and the metal you're applying it to.
how thick is the blade. The idea of the heat is to heat the metal so the stencil sticks to the metal. Not to melt the stencil to the blade.
Well, now that you've sanded the blade... You can experiment with some stonewashing or different grit sanding.
best of luck!

Cool and easy to understand instructions; and the way you deliver it just shows how many trials you had before perfecting your craft. Awesome job. Really funny side comments

1 reply

Thank you. It's been quite the process and I continue to try and refine it. Happy you enjoyed it!

Excellent work! Great instructable!

Could u possibly make a short video tutorial on this??!!