How to Etch Brass or Copper

How to Etch Brass or Copper

Etching lettering or decorative patterns and pictures on brass or copper is a great way to personalise items, make the ordinary extraordinary or label anything from etching trophies, plaques and nameplates to bespoke gifts. 

Metal etching is a relatively simple process if you have the right equipment, an artistic eye and a bit of patience and brass and copper are probably the easiest metals to etch. 

This straightforward guide to etching brass and copper will take you through the process step by step 

What Equipment Do You Need to Etch Brass?

  • Brass or copper sheet or item to be etched.
  • An idea of what it is going to say or look like, you might want to print your text or design on a computer.
  • Photo paper (if printing your design)
  • An iron (if printing your design).
  • Safety glasses.
  • Gloves.
  • A kitchen scourer.
  • Acetone/nail polish remover.
  • Lint-free cloth/kitchen paper
  • A disposable plastic tray or tub that will easily fit your whole item or sheet (you will not be able to reuse this pot for food).
  • Chemical etching solution (Ferric Chloride).
  • Permanent marker/s.
  • Tape.
  • A mirror.
  • Fine sandpaper. 
  • Funnel (to put the etching solution back in its bottle. 

Prepare Metal to be Etched

Use a kitchen scourer to thoroughly clean the brass or copper you are going to etch.

Then using a lint-free cloth or sheets of kitchen paper carefully dry it and then use acetone to wipe it down. 

Prepare Your Lettering or Design

You will be using ink (printer ink or permanent marker ink), or tape as a resist. That is the area that will NOT be removed by the etching solution. So, therefore, your design will be in relief. 

You can use a computer and an inkjet printer loaded with photo paper to easily get your design or text in place. 

  • Find a picture or text. 
  • ‘Flip’ it so it is reversed. 
  • Print it onto photo paper. 
  • Carefully place the photo paper onto your brass or copper sheet or item.
  • Use an iron to transfer the print to the metal. 
  • Remove any paper residue by soaking it in warm water. 

Alternatively, you could draw directly onto your item or metal plate if you have sufficient faith in your artistic skills. 

Use tape as a resist to cover any other parts of the brass or copper item that are not to be etched. Such as the back and sides. 

Important Note: Make sure you double check every aspect of your design or text will be the right way round by using a mirror, it’s easier to rectify mistakes at this stage!

The Etching Process

  • Use your PPE: gloves and safety glasses. You might also want to protect surfaces with newspaper and work outside or ensure adequate ventilation. 
  • Place your brass or copper item into your plastic tray or tub. You can tape it to the sides so that it is suspended to avoid an uneven etch. 
  • Put your etching solution in the tray. Don’t use it sparingly as you can reuse the solution again and again.  
  • Remove any air bubbles in the solution by gently agitating it. 
  • Leave for the recommended time in the instructions on your etching solution, this is usually around 45 minutes to an hour. 
  • Using gloves, remove the item from the etching solution and scrub and clean with the kitchen scourer. 
  • Polish the brass/copper.

Dispose of any Waste Safely

Your etching solution can, as we have said, be reused again and again. 

When it does come to disposing of it DO NOT put it directly down the drain. It can be extremely hazardous to wildlife and corrosive to pipework.

You can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe disposal, sometimes it can be diluted with washing-up liquid or soda or sometimes it will need to be taken to your nearest household recycling centre, you might need to contact your local council and follow their guidelines. 

Alternatives to Etching Yourself

If you would like to create etched brass or copper sheets or items but do not want the hassle or risk involved with doing it yourself then get in touch with us as Furnells and we can etch your items for you.

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