Introduction: Detailed Acid Etching With a Stencil

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!


onekindredtribe (author)2017-12-11

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.

LeyLey45 (author)2017-12-09

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

onekindredtribe (author)LeyLey452017-12-11

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.

LeyLey45 (author)2017-12-09

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

zeitgeist76 (author)2016-12-20

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


please help

manarae (author)2016-12-07

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?

R_Newtron (author)manarae2016-12-07

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.

davidhalfpenny (author)2016-03-18

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

salazam (author)davidhalfpenny2016-10-22

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.

R_Newtron (author)davidhalfpenny2016-03-18

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!

salazam made it! (author)2016-10-22

Had to save up for a Canon printer but I finally got it. You're right about the thickness of the metal being trouble. I ended up having to paint about a half inch of the design by the bolster by hand. Thanks for the knowledge and inspiration, I can't wait to make more!


salazam (author)2016-07-27

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.

salazam (author)salazam2016-07-27

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.

R_Newtron (author)salazam2016-07-27

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!

EthelbertM (author)2016-03-30

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

R_Newtron (author)EthelbertM2016-07-27

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

matiasc24 made it! (author)2016-03-31

La verdad, muy buen trabajo y creo que comenzare a grabar los cuchillos de mi producción. Excelente !!

mlawing (author)2016-03-18

Excellent work! Great instructable!

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

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

R_Newtron (author)ShawnM382016-03-17

I don't have the camera or time to do a video tutorial. Sorry

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

I'm kinda confused how u go from a paper image to a press n Peel sheet-- never heard of a press pull sheet. Is that what keeps acid from burning everything else??!! Never used acid etching before.

R_Newtron (author)ShawnM382016-03-17

The acid only reacts with exposed metal. It is not a super caustic acid. It doesn't react with plastics.

R_Newtron (author)ShawnM382016-03-17

The paper image is just for sizing the image. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and want the stencil image to be just the right size.
The P-N-P sheet is put into the printer and printer on like a normal piece of paper.

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

Incredible work guy, looks awesome!!

R_Newtron (author)ShawnM382016-03-17

Thank you

treymartin82 (author)2016-03-17

Can this process be done on other kinds of metals??

R_Newtron (author)treymartin822016-03-17

Yes, The PCB acid (Ferric Chloride) is actually designed to etch Copper.
I don't know exactly how it will react with different metals but I suspect you'd have good luck with copper, brass, and high carbon steels.

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

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

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

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

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

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

ShawnM38 (author)2016-03-17

I'm kinda confused how u go from a paper image to a press n Peel sheet-- never heard of a press pull sheet. Is that what keeps acid from burning everything else??!! Never used acid etching before.

chaydgb (author)2016-03-17

I would never have considered toner transfer etching for any use other than PCBs, this is really cool! (*looks for something metal to etch*)

R_Newtron (author)chaydgb2016-03-17

Haha! Happy to inspire! Everything in the house will have a mark on it now!

John T MacF Mood (author)2016-03-16

Well done. Nice tutorial. Thanks!

Any chance you'd share some of the images you used. please? I like the Star Wars one and the "Legend" one from American Sniper

I just search for the image on google and look for black and white images Or search for vector images. Best of luck!

Thanks for your tip. I use image sometimes to search on Google.

I have both a Cricut and two laser cutters. I can't laser cut vinyl due to combustion product being lethal, the Cricut WILL, and does a fine job. Lasers will produce chlorine gas when burning vinyl. Not only will chlorine gas cut your life short, it will corrode most cutting machines.

Right on. Jealous that you have both the cutter and laser. That wood make this project very simple with the vinyl stickers!
I've heard that vinyl can't be laser cut because of chlorine vapor issues.
Play safe!

I also would like to congratulate you on your concentration on safety in your very well done Instructable. I did vote you up!

Plenty of ventilation here, as well as eyewear and protective gloves. Acid burns are NASTY, I'm very glad your cautions were included.

I'd also like to mention that the ambient temperature of the work area can have an effect on how long the work piece takes to etch, the warmer it is, the faster the chemicals will etch.

I formerly worked in a computer factory with large scale PCB manufacture on site, and the area that was done in was isolated on a separate ventilation system, and everyone looked like they were working in a nuclear plant... Full hazmat gear for the PCB makers. They closely controlled the PCB manufacture area's temperature. It was Wells-American, now out of business. The last all in America computer maker, closed in 1989.

I was the assembly line supervisor and did the challenging builds myself. Fun work, but it ended aburptly.

I 'd be happy to trade or swap with anyone who'd like to have them.I have many interesting images that woudl be interttsing on a knife or other sproting item.

Tehemton (author)2016-03-16

An alternative would be using acetone to transfer the image on the blade. We use it for pcb etching all the time. Basically just ensure that your piece doesn't move and lightly saturate the back of the paper with acetone ensuring that everything remains in place. Once the acetone has evaporated, peel off the photo paper under warm water. I've had better results using this method for fine pcb traces that the iron method just doesn't give.

R_Newtron (author)Tehemton2016-03-16

Wow! Interesting. I will have to give this process a try! Thank you for taking the time to let us know.

jesterod. (author)2016-03-15

sadly i dont even know anyone that has a laser/toner printer

In theory, you could print it on a high-resolution inkjet printer, and take it to a copy store and copy it on a toner based copier to your heart's content. And make more as needed. About five to fifteen cents a page is a lot cheaper than buying a laser printer.

Keep your inkjet one and mark it "master" on the edge with a yellow highlighter and that master mark shouldn't copy...

That would work for sure. I use a toner printer/copier at work for my stencil pages.

R_Newtron (author)jesterod.2016-03-15

Most work printers are toner/laser or a photocopier will work. Thanks for checking out the tutorial

livichris (author)2016-03-15

how deep is the etch? does it compromise the cutting edge where you've etched all the way to the edge? looks awesome.

R_Newtron (author)livichris2016-03-15

Thanks for checking it out. The depth of the etch really depends on the time that you leave it on and the metal type. For these marks they are short and don't leave a deep mark. I've done others where I leave it for... An hour and that really eats away at the metal.
As for the edge. It would wreck your edge. I do some etch and stonewashing and the blade has to be reshaped after.

JoshuaGuess (author)2016-03-15

Stella Artois... good choice of beer ;) On another note, nice Instructable! Gotta give this a try on my new knife my friend made me when I get the time.

amartinez86 (author)2016-03-14

That's pretty damn awesome mate.

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Bio: Traveller by nature
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