Etched Aluminium Using a Sand Blaster and Vinal Decal Mask.




Introduction: Etched Aluminium Using a Sand Blaster and Vinal Decal Mask.

About: no longer active.....

This is a record of my first experiment in etching aluminium with a sand blaster using a vinal decal as the stencil.

This is a great way to use up those scraps of that hideous colour vinal you may have lying around.

The end result turned out great, but the camera does not do it full justice, also I was using a rather scuffed sheet of aluminium and a few scrapes where to deep to remove.

I'm very chuffed with the end result and I'm sure I will use this technique on future custom projects.

I will be offering the service to my biker friends if they want any custom etching done on the aluminium parts of their bikes.

Equipment used :
25ltr compressor (bigger would be better)
Draper sandblasting kit
Dried and sieved plastering sand.

Thanks for looking.

Step 1: Motorhead - Remember Me Now! Motorhead - Allright!

A few years ago I bought a Craft ROBO vinal plotter, I can highly recommend them or any of their equivalents. Its a desktop vinal plotter that can do so much stuff.  I bought it originally to cut paper stencils for airbrushing, but since have used it to cut vinal , t-shirt vinal and even plot templates for numerous engineering jobs using the pen attachment. It can also be used to make paper models etc and I the one PC peripheral that I actually use on a regular basis.

If you don't have a plotter you can make your own decals using a scalpel if you have the patience and a steady hand.

I had this Motorhead logo that I had intended to put on my laptop  but it was to big for the remaining space not covered with decals.

I have been a fan of Motorhead since the mid 80's, have worn a Motorhead belt buckle since then (even with suits etc) and even got the nickname of Lemmy at technical collage.

Nowadays I'm not a fan of anything after the Orgasmatron album I still love the classic stuff and this logo.

If you ever see a dark green Mazda 121 (its really a ford fiesta) with a Motorhead logo on the bonnet I have just driven past you.

Step 2: Preping the Aluminium.

I used a piece of shee aluminium from an old kick plate that was on a fire door that was once in a High school, as you can guess the crap was kicked out of it and even the reverse side had a quite a few scrapes on it.

I used a scotch type scouring pad to remove any scratches and give the surface a uniform finish.

Once I was happy with the finish I use transfer tape to apply the vinal decal.

Rub the decal down well and peel the transfer paper back on its self at a 180* angle, this stops the decal from lifting off the surface.

Step 3: Blasting Equipment and Cheap Blasting Grit.

I bought a 25ltr compressor a year or so ago and a sandblaster kit, its not really got the capacity in the tank to be used for large scale rust removal but for small jobs it does the job if you take your time.

I bought a few bottles of synthetic blasting grit but it was so expensive I decided to make my own blasting grit.

I filled an old 1 gallon saucepan with washed plastering sand and heated it up on my wood stove.  I kept stirring it with the ash rake until it stopped steaming this took about 30 mins to and hour depending how damp the sand is. Once it is dry i let the sand cool down for a few hours as it really hold the heat.  Once cool I passed it through a kitchen sieve to remove any large particles that would clog the blaster and stored it in a sealed container to keep it dry.

Step 4: Blasting.

Once the decal is applied its time to start blasting.


A visor and hood is also useful if you don't want to get sand dust and dirt in your hair, beard, ears, nose or places you don't want it.

I blasted the surface from about 2" away, keep blasting in small circular moments until the area to be blasted has a uniform finish. Examine the piece in good light to make sure there are no patchy areas as once the decal is removed there is no going back to make touch ups.

Once i was happy with the finish I rinsed of the piece with water to remove any dust and then carefully removed the vinal decal.

Step 5: The End Result.

Proper Job!

The end result is a matte finish with a contrasting shiny finish where the piece was covered by the decal.

The camera don't show the end result to well, also the aluminum sheet i used was less than perfect.

I will try using this etching method on glass and mirrors etc.

Thanks for looking.



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    21 Discussions

    Yes, and it works quite well.  It should be good enough for etching aluminium, you just need something that the sand or grit will bounce off. if its stretchy it should have enough bounce.

    The adhesive has a stronger tack than etching film but if you warm the metal the adhesive softens and peels of without much trouble.

    Contact is great for vinyl work I have used it for a couple of jobs. I did a Clint Eastwood decal in that gold hologram stuff and put it on my acoustic guitar.

    I used some stuff I got in a hard ware store to put a phone number on a car trailer and I have not had to replace any of the numbers yet and it has been power hosed a number of time since.

    Hey can do this with acrylic sheet stock too. If you use 1/4" stock you can edge light it with LEDs and your etched character will light up...obviously the same colour as the LED. The edge that you beam the LEDS at has to be flame polished with a match or bbq lighter to get the best light transfer.


    9 replies

    Here's a pic of optical acrylic etched with sandblasting over vinyl mask.
    It's a 2 foot by 3 foot diamond illuminated by only 9 LED's.
    They were hot glued in for testing and was super bright across the design!

    It works great and has been a classic sign method for quite a while!

    BTW - the vinyl will resist chemical etches too...
    and I've blasted chrome fenders (lightly) to give a nice effect like you made on aluminum.

    Nice work!


    To be honest I don' know if that would work. The theory sounds acceptable.

    Sounds like an Idea for the work pending pile. works...been there, done that...You drill holes into the edge of the acrylic, the same diameter as the LEDS, and then flame the holes to make them smooth, and then insert the LEDS...friction fit. Light them, and away you go. The rough surface of your etched image catches the light from the LEDs and they glow. You can also wrap the area of the acrylic where the LEDS are mounted with tin foil to keep the light "in" the acrylic and moving up toward your etching.

    ...its no where near the intensity of a neon bulb, but in subdued lighting or in the dark, the effect is pretty can overdrive the LEDs to get more light out of them too but it affects their life span...and they will pop with too much voltage...which is also pretty cool in itself lol.

    yup I have popped a few LED's with this it take a fair bit of speed , or a rip cord. I like the way the green ones go a sickly yellow colour just before they blow. can also get the same effect with a piece of acrylic dowel. Etch the entire outside of the dowel and insert a high intensity LED in both ends. The dowel will glow like a star wars light saber...depending on the intensity of the LED. You can then bend the dowel into whatever shape you want...a letter for instance...or use it for accent lighting. Cheers

    Oh, now that idea is being shoe horned straight into my brain. 

    It is sparking an idea for some custom lighting for my cruiser which I hope to have back out on the road within about a month or so.

    You will want to cover the ends of the dowel with tinfoil to try and direct the light up the dowel, and if you are using it for lighting, then coat the back of the dowel with foil as well, and don't etch the back of it...only etch the face that will be directing the light. You also want to use a narrow "viewing angle" LED...not one with a wide spread.

    That's really cool my friend, I'd like to have a go but I don't have the vinyl cutter, maybe I could use card or something similar?

    4 replies

    Thanks, If you have a go post a pic of your results.

    Draw your design onto some vinal with a sharpie or fine tip marker, the cheap stuff for covering books will work but look for a soft vinal, then cut out with scalpel avoiding cutting through the backing paper. You can use 2" masking tape in strips with about 5mm overlap to lift the design. I know some bikers who hand cut decals for tanks etc so it is possible.

    If you have any questions feel free to ask.

    I'm not sure if paper and card would hold out long enough against the abrasive sand.

    I'm totally cleaning the shite out of my shed back to a state fit to do some vinal and graphics work, so I will maybe do a ible on some vinal tricks and tips - keep an eye out for that.

    Hi do you sell the decals?? Ive been hunting a motorhead 'snaggletooth' but can i find one.
    Or where did you get the design from so I can take it to my printers for one cutting. Thanx in advance.

    Cool job! I have only worked with blasting a few metal pieces but will be looking to do some more soon. Thanks for the inspiration.

    I actually just posted a video about sandblasting and acid etching here.

    Check it out and leave me a comment.