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Etching brass plates

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This is how I etched a brass plate to use as a decorative plate for my laptop lid. I've also used these stuck onto the front of notebooks and sketchbooks as presents for friends. My method draws heavily from this instructable and this website, so I thank the respective authors for their sterling work. There are many, many different ways of doing this, but when I was researching it, there weren't very many thorough tutorials, so I think this may still be useful for some people. But if you're interested, do scour the internet and you'll find a wealth of information about toner transfer and etching - some good, some bad, some just plain puzzling.

The artwork I used is a piece called Tribal Eagle by *xx-trigrhappy-xx and is used with permission.
 
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Step 1: What you need (and where you can get it in the UK)

You will need:

Brass plate (I got mine from eBay)
Iron
Computer to prepare artwork
Laser printer and laser OHP acetate (Or do what I did and get a print shop to photocopy it onto acetate for you)
Permanent OHP marker (useful for touching up the mask before etching)
Insulating (PVC) tape (Woolworths/Robert Dyas or hardware stores)
Masking tape (ditto)
Scissors
Non-metal kitchen scourer pad
Kitchen towel
Acetone (optional - but useful. Nail polish remover is mostly acetone and will do nicely)
(Hydrated) ferric chloride crystals ( Maplin)
Fine Wet & Dry paper (Wilkinson or hardware stores)
Some form of sanding block (I just used a scrap bit of wood I had lying around)
Cheap tupperware (You're not going to be able to reuse this for food!)
Rubber gloves (absolutely essential)
Goggles (essential if you're not stupid - don't risk your eyesight doing something like this!)
Dust mask (optional if you're careful and do the painting outdoors - there's not much painting involved)
Spray paint (I used black enamel satin-finish stuff from Wilkinson)
Superglue
Great post lots of detail! I have just started having a go but am having issues with getting the tone transfer onto the copper. Parts of the toner transfers but not all of it. I have made sure my coppers extra clean and used an iron on it for a long time. Any suggestions on getting a clean and full transfer?
gotang (author)  ahartitzsch2 days ago
You don't need to get the iron on it for very long at all, but peel the acetate off smoothly and as soon after you remove the iron as possible. There is a bit of a knack to it, but I also found that I rarely got a "perfect" mask from a single toner transfer anyway, so I tended to repeat the transfer process a second time using a fresh acetate print - this just helps deposit a bit more toner over the top. Remember that you can always touch up a mask with a marker afterwards - I almost always needed to do this.
SKDrewett8 months ago
Hi great tutorial! I have been attempting some brass etchings of my own but I ham having some problems with the ferric chloride staining my brass pieces after they have come out of the acid bath. I have attempted scrubbing these piece with wire wool and backing soda but the stain will not budge. Have you ever experienced problems with this and is there a solution to this?
gotang (author)  SKDrewett8 months ago
'fraid not - have you tried taking a coarser abrasive to it to take a deeper layer of material off?
siamonsez2 years ago
I can't get the ohp acetate film anywhere near where I live, but a local kinkos-ish place has transparent acetate film they use in a book binding machine and described it as being "thick like card stock," they also said they've never tried printing on it. Anyone know if this would work?
kommodore2 years ago
Wow, that's very cool, it etch the hell out of the brass, very deep.

I like it! congrats, i think i will try it.
shinojmahe4 years ago
Dear,
nice work,
well any solution to etch on the plastic surface??

waiting
shi
gotang (author)  shinojmahe4 years ago
I have no idea I'm afraid. Depends a lot on the plastic - acetone might work for acrylic. But plastic is soft enough to work by mechanical means - so I would go with patience, a steady hand and a Dremel personally.
-Aj-4 years ago
i dont have easy access to a laser printer and was planning on using the traditional photoresist technique.
Is it worth it? or is it much easier using a laser printer?
-Aj- -Aj-4 years ago
and what a bout quality? as i want to etch a persons portrait
(sorry for the separate reply) :P
gotang (author)  -Aj-4 years ago
I'm afraid that I don't have any real experience of photoresist etching, so I can't really say how well it'll work. I didn't think you'd get very much depth of etch with photoresist, so you may struggle to do this sort of thing, but then I could be entirely wrong on that count.

As far as quality of image goes, I think doing a portrait will be difficult - the image produced is pretty monochrome (i.e. pure black and white) rather than greyscale. You might be able to do something like dithering, but I would imagine getting a decent looking portrait out would be difficult.
TommyStone4 years ago
That's a good tip about neutralising the solution and filtering off the copper. Thanks!
Thomas
nelfer4 years ago
where do you get a brass plate? I looked in a craft store and didn't have anything.
gotang (author)  nelfer4 years ago
You can buy (almost) anything on eBay...
nelfer gotang4 years ago
True. I was wondering if there was any "local" store that might have them at hand, so no need to wait for either a bid to end or just the delivery. I wanted to do something by Wednesday. Today is Monday. Anyway, I guess I'll have to wait. Nice instructable. Very nice.
Nelfer, you can by brass plates at lowes or home depot as brass kick plates for doors. Make sure you get the solid brass ones because they also sell brass plated kick plates. about 18 bucks a kick plate but they can be cut into many smaller plates.
pretty cool
Gato25 years ago
One might also consider reversing the image for a different look. Remember if you have writing in your design you have to invert it (mirror image), otherwise it will come out backwards....not fun after all the work.. Cheers
vengeance895 years ago
nice instructable..but in the toner transfer process it would be safe to use a photo paper than to use acetate..its because it won't melt and won't ruin your design and it can also transfer the image almost perfectly. and i also found a nice etching solution from one of the instructables here..its a combination of hydrogen peroxide(H2O2) and hydrochloric acid(HCI0..the ratio is 2:1, 2 parts of H2O2 and 1 part of HCI,but 2:1 ratio is more effective for me..and the best thing is it is less harmful to the environment and its very quick too..
i mean 2:2 ratio.sorry for the typing error.
Monk5 years ago
Yay finally an instrucable with some UK stores to buy stuff! excellent instrucable too.
I recently used a very similar technique to this to etch a number of brass medallions. However, I wanted to point out that there is a nice complementary Instructable entitled "Stop Using Ferric Chloride" here:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Stop-using-Ferric-Chloride-etchant!--A-better-etc/

I used the solution detailed in that article to etch over 100 brass medallions. I was able to etch between 10-15 1.25" brass circles with a batch that was 4 cups hydrogen peroxide and 2 cups muriatic acid before I had to mix a new batch. The etching took about 45 minutes to etch to a depth of about 1/32" and was relatively non toxic.

I used a small (5 gallon) plastic fish tank with a light-weight fish tank air pump to do the etching in and keep the solution agitiated.
gotang (author)  pollo del mar5 years ago
This has been covered previously in another comment. While the mixture is relatively non-toxic (though ferric chloride is actually also pretty non-toxic - it is used in water treatment), it is very corrosive. I personally feel more comfortable handling FeCl3 than an HCl/H2O2 mixture. Personal preference really.
T2Pogi gotang5 years ago
I read in an article that Adding baking soda to the ferric chloride solution will break it down into water, iron, etc. you can pick up or strain the solids out and dispose of the water.
gotang (author)  T2Pogi5 years ago
Yes, that is correct. Baking soda will do the exact same thing that the washing soda that I suggested will. All you are really doing is neutralising the solution and precipitating out the copper. Be aware though that the solid produced, therefore, contains the copper and so you should dispose of it properly and not just put it into the bin!
Pkranger885 years ago
Very nice.
I just used some dry transfer letters from staples on some .44 mag shell key chains for my friends so they would have the "bullet with their name on it"
i do agree
gotang (author)  agdollison5 years ago
Thanks!
couldn't I do this using electrolysis? that seems a lot easier and safer...
gotang (author)  stonehenge3605 years ago
Yup, you most certainly can do it by electrolytic etching. However, I'd disagree that it would be safer - the risks associated are just as great, but they are different (chiefly the risk of fire). Neither method is particularly dangerous if you're sensible. I chose against an electrical method because it would have taken me much more effort to cobble together as I don't have the required bits. But if you've got a couple of car batteries or a suitable regulated DC supply, then it might be better for you. Check out the link to the website I gave in the first step if you want to look into electrolytic etching - it's very good and has lots of info.
awkrin5 years ago
wouldn't it look better without the little board? I mean only the eagle on the laptop: sorry I'm not good at gimp
FEIEQI1FGQM1DKB.MEDIUM2.jpg
gotang (author)  awkrin5 years ago
Personal preference I guess. I wanted a border around it , so I masked off a border. The thing is, in reality, the plate stands proud of the surface by about a millimetre, so even if you have the black running right to the edges, it won't look that clean.
awkrin gotang5 years ago
lol I thought about something like a milling machine to cut it, but you're probably doing this because u don't have a 3d printer sorry..
obamafan5 years ago
That looks AWESOME! Cool job!
jomaro5 years ago
Thats a very good job there.
I have been etching (PCBs) myself with ferric chloride solution.
However I am getting concerned if this is the best choice for chemicals.
Maybe we should take a look the alternatives we have around.
Take a look at this http://www.instructables.com/id/Stop-using-Ferric-Chloride-etchant!--A-better-etc/
Another solution would be this one
I am not sure what to choose.
Does anyone around have more information about this?
Tks
gotang (author)  jomaro5 years ago
Well, I opted for ferric chloride because it's easy to get hold of and well documented. I don't know much about alternative etchants, but I personally am more comfortable handling FeCl3 than an HCl/H2O2 mixture!
darkmuskrat5 years ago
Sweet, a must do for laptops/desktops alike.
blam725 years ago
Well done, I might have to try this sometime.
gotang (author)  blam725 years ago
Thanks. Do try it - it's not that difficult and the photo doesn't really do it justice. It's well worth a go!
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