So it’s Christmas again, and anyone with a large extended family knows it can be quite expensive come gift time.  We use the Secret Santa process where you buy for single family member using a set budget.  The only problem with this is I still can’t shake the urge to do something slightly over the top.  Living in a small secluded northern town can make this tricky.  Sure you can order online, eBay is one of my best used services, but this involves some advanced planning, something our family is not the best at.  Usually the secret Santa list is set out early, but I tend to forget about it until its too late to order something in on time.  This year I picked my brother in law to buy for, and I couldn’t figure out what to get him.  He was hinting at a hydrometer, but the weather up here wasn’t permitting me to drive to the next town to get one.  Time was running out and I still had no inspiration…

Prologue:  In early December a friend of mine Oliver James Brown who runs a tattoo shop (Divine Ink) had his foot pedal beginning to die, (it runs his tattoo gun).  I was over getting an arm sleeve started and we talked of my various instructable builds.  He asked me if I could machine him a new foot pedal and I thought why not.  He said it didn’t have to be special, but I thought why not do something interesting with it.  I suggested etching the metal with acids and asked him for a couple of his logos to use.  Within a short amount of time it was finished and It turned out awesome with a nice deep etch.  One day I will write the instructable for it as well.  The photos below show the etched portion of the switch, basically the top portion of the pedal.

A week before Christmas I was sorting out some of my photos on the computer and found the ones I had taken of the switch and that’s when I realized I could etch him a family portrait into metal.  I would use a photo snagged from facebook featuring his wife Nicole who kindly helped model my Apron of Holding a while back, in addition to his daughter Mia and son Asher.  This would be something that would literally last forever, and with the etch being nice and deep he could use it with his small children as a rubbing plate as well.


This instructable uses dangerous power tools and evil chemicals. 

you have been warned, if you’re not careful you could be

  • Cut
  • Electrocuted
  • Burned by Acid or Hot metal
  • And my personal favorite – gassed.  Nothing quite like the sensation of feeling your lungs wither in your chest!

Scary enough? Good, this will keep you safe.  As long as you’re careful and take precautions everything will be fine.  But… if you are the sort of person who likes to play it ultra safe, this may not be the thing for you, maybe you should stick to macaroni art.  “inside joke for certain readers”

Lastly, I will be entering this instructable here on on the instructable site in several contests, one being the Christmas contest of course, this being a Christmas present and all, but I am also entering this in the ShopBot Challenge in an attempt to win the CNC router they have up as their No.1 Prize.  That would be awesome for everything I build, for building lay-outs to 3D relief patterns and artwork.  I would be a very busy body indeed.  Either way, if voting makes you feel uncomfortable please rate me, it lets me know how I'm doing.  Or, please feel to ask a question or leave a comment.


Step 1: Tools and Supplies

The main choice you have to make is what kind of metal you are going to use.  I used Aluminum plate as takes a nice etch and finishes well.   Aluminum is not my favorite metal by far as it is not as forgiving as plain steel, but it was perfect for both the tattoo pedal and for use as a portrait medium.  A couple years back I made my best friend a steel box shaped like a book from the TV series Battle Star Galactica “The new version” with the intent of holding his Battle Star Galactica DVD series.  Inside it had DVD sleeves and was lined in felt.  Outside the corners were nipped off just like all the books on the show.  The front cover, back and spine were etched with logos and pictures from the series, it looked much rougher but felt and looked almost alien ancient once complete.  This used a different chemical for the etch, Stump killer “copper sulfate” mixed with salt, baking soda and water.  Etching aluminum however requires a different solution to maintain fine detail.  This mix will work with brass, steel and even copper to a degree.  It will also happily etch you as well!  So some safety gear is required!  Check the list below

Supplies used

  • Aluminum plate, mine was about 1/8 thick but you can go as thick as you want really, size is up to you
  • Muriatic Acid – found at the hardware store
  • Hydrogen peroxide – drug store
  • Enamel paint – model paint or even nail polish works great
  • Acetone
  • Slippery high gloss paper

Tools used

  • Something to cut your plate to the size you like
  • A plastic or glass tub deep and wide enough to hold your plate when time to dip
  • Small artist paint brushes
  • A way to print on paper using toner type printing – aka laser printer or photo copy machine
  • Various grades of sandpaper

Safety supplies

  • A very well ventilated place to work from!!!  The chemicals you are working with are nasty enough alone, but when you mix them and introduce your aluminum plate you will cause a chemical reaction that can generate a poison gas.  This is serious
  • Rubber gloves, the longer the better – dish gloves are just fine
  • Safety splash goggles or even better, what I used -  full face gas mask
  • Clothes you can throw out after.
  •  some sort of device to lift the plate out of the solution with, (I just wrapped some plastic twine around the plate prior to the dip)
I'm not sure if I saw it or not, but I was wondering what ratio you used Muriatic Acid to Peroxide. I tried etching stainless steel and didn't have much luck. I may try to switch to aluminum.
<p>It must be the photo variables that make a good cartoon. Professional photos of my kids were impossible to get the pic to look anything like the examples shown. I don't know if it is more light and brighter pictures but, i could not get the freckles to come out on a pic like yours.</p>
<p>Yes, some photos work well, some, not so much. Every program has variations, some just need more tweaking. But you do want as high of contrast to start, this is what the program looks for and enhances</p>
He must be a good friend as well! Great job- (spelling and grammar needs work but who am I to judge?) I would like to offer free proof reading to any interested makers...
Nice instructable.<br>BTW when you took the acid bath outside and threw snow on it, you were very lucky. If you'd thrown water on it it would have made the reaction worse. I guess the cold, and the fact that the water was frozen killed the possible reaction.<br>Also, that yellow gas you saw was chlorine. Nasty.<br>Have you tried using less potent acids, such as vinegar? And / or electrolysis?<br>You've whetted my appetite, now. I might have a go.
Thanks, normally I would never have added water. Filling it with snow was reactionary really, as it was boiling out of control in a container that was ill chosen - (to shallow) and was threatening to boil out of control onto everything in the garage. And yes chlorine gas is very nasty. I hope i expressed the fact enough that this should be done in a very ventilated area. I use a professionally fitted gas mask and the appropriate filters when i do this sort of thing, but not everyone has access to such a thing. With the right controls though, this is a simple thing to do. I have used a variety of etching techniques from copper sulphate solutions to a slurry of dishwasher machine detergent (this works remarkable well) but found that this solution give such a nice clean deep edge. With all of these acids, the prep is all the same.
Simply Great <br>5 Stars + favoured<br>Gotta try this on the blades of my knives (tool carbon steel)<br>
For sure! Just make sure the edges of the metal are well sealed as they will be attacked the quickest by the acid
If I were to go ahead and paint the entire image, what specific type paint would you recommend to me? Are oil paints an option? I know what you mean about the detail of model paints and I'd prefer nt t o use them. And from what I gathered, I won't have to use toner at all if I go the freehand route?<br><br>Yours looks great. Anxious to hear back so I can give this a go!
Most paints seem to work just fine, all though I'd stay away from acrylics. Really depends on what kind of oil paint I guess. If you are talking artists oil I think i would pass, not because they wouldn't resist the acid, but rather they depend on there buildup of layers for the depth of translucency they give, so it was just be a bit of a waste. I had great success using quick dry automotive enamel, the kind that comes in a spray bomb format. I would just hold the plastic cap close to the end of the nozzle and spray into it from about 2-3 inches away. The super thin paint would collect in the cap. It behaves like painting with Indian ink. You can easily paint ultra fine lines that hold up well in the acid tank. Keep in mind, many have done this sort of thing on this website before, you may benefit by cruising through other &quot;etching instructables&quot; Even sharpie pens work, though you have to go over the lines several times. Hope this helps<br>
Love the process and the end result!
Thank you very much! My wife wants one now too!

About This Instructable


77 favorites


Bio: See some of my work here and as always accepting orders for custom design and fabrication as featured on Discovery Channel, Wired Magazine, Gizmodo, Engadget ... More »
More by iminthebathroom: Béchamel - White Sauce Supa Dupa Slow Chilli How to be a Cylon, or The Excitable Glowing Cylon Spine
Add instructable to: