How to Imprint on Metal

By Brandon Getty ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Safety mask
  • Goggles
  • Latex gloves
  • Etching needles
  • Measuring cup
  • Etching solution
  • Large bowl
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Fresh, cool water
  • Isopropyl alcohol
Etched metal has a variety of commercial and artistic applications.

Imprinting or engraving onto metal is known as "etching." In early bookmaking, etchers would engrave text and elaborate images onto metal plates, cover them in ink, and press them to a blank page -- a precursor to typesetting and the printing press. Etched metal plates are also used in a number of other trades including screen printing and artistic typography. With a few tools found at any metalworks or craft store, you'll be etching a custom creation in no time.

Put on your safety mask.

Put on your safety mask, goggles and latex gloves. Imprinting on metal involves a chemical solution that is hazardous to skin and eyes and poisonous if ingested.

Carve the lettering or design of your choice onto the piece of metal.

Carve the lettering or design of your choice onto the piece of metal (typically zinc, copper or aluminum alloy) with an etching needle. Pieces of metal designed for etching arrive with a waxy coating. Engrave deeply enough to reach the metal.

Measure out 1 cup of etching solution and pour it into a large bowl.

Measure out 1 cup of etching solution and pour it into a large bowl. The hydrochloric or nitric acid in this solution dissolves the waxy coating and deepens your engraving marks.

Place the engraved portion of the metal into the solution. The depth of the imprint on the metal is relative to its exposure to the solution, so check progress often. Wipe away any bubbles formed by oxidation from the imprint with a lint-free cloth each time you remove the metal.

Rinse the engraved portion of the metal with fresh, cool water.

Rinse the engraved portion of the metal with fresh, cool water once your imprint has reached a suitable depth. Rinsing removes any remaining etching solution and makes your imprint final.

Saturate the lint-free cloth with isopropyl alcohol. Wipe the alcohol-soaked cloth across the engraved portion of the metal to clean it.

Warning

Do not allow children near the etching solution while you work.

About the Author

Brandon Getty began writing professionally in 2008, with columns appearing in "Thrasher" magazine. He received a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lives in Stockton, Calif.