Learn how to create a deep electro-etched metal plaque with household items or items from the hardware store in this Instructable. There are no hazardous chemicals (except dihydrogen monoxide and salts of sodium and chlorine), no dangerous voltages, and no toxic chemicals to dispose of. Be aware that the metal that disappears from your etched metal does end up in the water, so you will need to pay attention to any local laws about disposal of metal particulates.
This is a great technique that makes it really easy to go from virtual artwork of any type to a dimensional 3D surface. From there you can use it ti burnish and emboss paper, create molded items, make stamps, steam punk data plates, or anything else where you need to have 3D art from your 2D computer graphics artwork.
In this sample project, I will be creating the plaque from a 1/8" rectangle of brass as shown in the second photo.
So read on if this is something you would like to be able to do yourself.
Step 1: Here's What You'll Need
- Piece of brass, bronze, aluminum, steel or stainless steel, or any other metal
- Vector graphics program or other program to create the art for the CNC vinyl cutter
- CNC vinyl cutter
- Self-adhesive vinyl sheet for the vinyl cutter, any color is fine
- Tub large enough to hold your piece of metal
- Battery charger or charged car battery (or other similar DC power supply of 5 to 10 amps or more)
- Wires to connect the power supply to the piece of metal
- Sacrificial piece of metal (preferably stainless steel, but any metal will work)
- Electrical tape
Step 2: Create the Artwork
You might need to perform an operation to convert any live text into vector outlines. The resulting artwork from this process is shown in the second photo.
The artwork shown is from my first pass through this project. Because the very tiny type of the tagline under the TechShop loco ("BUILD YOUR DREAMS HERE") and the "TM" by the letter "p" in the TechShop loco were peeling off on their own, I took those out of the artwork.
Step 3: Cut the Mask with the Vinyl Cutter
This vinyl cutter is at TechShop San Francisco, but all TechShop locations have a CNC vinyl cutter.
Step 4: Apply the Vinyl Mask to the Metal
Instead of "weeding" the unwanted vinyl before you place it onto the target surface, you can also just apply the entire cut vinyl with the backing sheet, and then weed it after it is on the target surface. In this case, I found that to be much easier.
Step 5: Prepare the Metal for Etching
Step 6: Prepare the Sacrificial Metal Piece
Instead of a sacrificial piece of metal, you could use a stainless steel pot and put the negative (-) alligator clip right on the rim of the pot. You would then put the workpiece into the pot, along with the salt water, and etch right in the pot. You just need to make sure that the workpiece does not contact the pot electrically.
Step 7: Prepare the Etching Tank and Salt Water
Step 8: Prepare to Electro-Etch
Step 9: Electro-Etch Your Plaque
In the photo, you will see a divider separating the tank's right and left halves. The divider is only a chopstick and is only at the surface of the salt water, and serves to keep the red scum on the left side of the tub so I can see the plaque as it etches.
Step 10: Behold Your Creation
After I etched this plaque, I took it over to the sandblasting cabinet and sandblasted the whole surface, then I used an orbital sander to smooth the surface of the raised features to get the look that you see.
After I was done, I noticed that the copper/zinc chemicals in the salt water had stained my finger nails a beautiful shade of turquoise. This was an undesired effect. i suggest that you wear rubber gloves when you reach into the tank to grab your workpiece!