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DIY etching

10 5,196

Build your own Etching machine at home

I have some projects on the way and one of them needed some things etched. The great thing about etching at home is you can get a lot of electronics projects done cheaply. The same goes for marking things you create. I figured I’d share a quick and easy way to get that done. I plan to test this on printed objects that have metal in them to see what patina or pitting i can get. But that’s a project for another day.

When it comes to Electro etching you really don’t need a lot to get things done. A basic Rig would consist of a 9v battery 2 alligator wires and some salty water. How you set it up can give different results. This is a simple way to quickly put a logo on a piece of metal. There are a lot of things electro etching can do.

A messy First test

The Power Supply

A 9v battery will get you a quick logo. It’s a simple thing to 3d print a little enclosure for a 9v and to add an on off switch. Batteries are slow and run out of juice. Lets make something a little better and more versatile. I built this supply a while back to run my RC battery charger and it works for a lot of things. Anything that can use 5v to 12v and 2 amps. There are a lot of options but i thing this is one of the easiest supplies to build. Track down a Xbox 360 or Xbox one supply both will work.

Cut the end off that connects to the Xbox and expose the wires. You will see 2 signal wires red and blue. The other wires will be yellow and black. The signal wires need to be shorted together these are also the 5v line. once shorted you can use that and the ground (black) wires for anything 5v. Next take the yellow pairs and solder them together and take the black pairs and solder them together these are the 12v and the ground. When you are done connect them to any style connections system you like and you have a nice bench supply to test electronics with and other things.

Anode and Cathode

When you are electro etching setting this up the right way is important. The Anode is positive and Cathode is negative. To etch you need to have the metal you want to remove material from as the anode. If you switch this around you can electroplate as well but that’s another post. I Plan to see if i can print with metal filaments and plate on top of them. I’ll let you know how that goes if it works out. I used a penny as my Cathode It’s been plated with a layer of iron from the tests.

Yes that is a penny soldered to the Cathode side

I modded my spyderco knife while I was testing it.

Add vinegar to your Etching fluid to get a dark patina

Ways to Get an Etch.

There are a few ways to get the etch you want. You can submerge the object like the above pic of the spyderco knife was. I applied electrical tape and cut it with a wavy pattern to give it a sudo hamon look. I might do it one more time to even it out.

The other way to etch is to apply a mask. When you are ready to etch the object you attach the positive side to the thing you want etched and use negative electrode wrapped In some cotton or a cotton towel you don’t care about. Then dip it in the salt water solution and apply it to the mask. Check every so often to see how deep it’s gotten. Wear rubber gloves it’s only 12v and 2 amp but never take chances. When done you will have something that looks like this.

Etching Aluminum Tape

And here is what brought me to this Project. I have Something I’m working on the needs to look metal in spots and not in others. I don’t have a laser cutter and it’s a pain to cut by hand. Then I remembered my spyderco project and bam it hit me. I could apply the aluminum tape the way I want it and Etch off what don’t want afterward. the first test worked perfectly.

Before Etch

Less than 30 seconds later this happened.


Peeled it up to show the effect better.

Illuminati confirmed

I plan to mask off my project and put it in a bath to etch off all the Aluminum I don’t need.

Other uses

The aluminum tape could also be applied to thin plastic or paper to be run through an ink jet printer. Then etched to make flexible test circuits. I haven’t tested this just yet But it’s on my list. I may make a part 2 to this article if i do. You could also apply the tape to something then reverse the project and plate it in say copper or something else. Also untested as yet.

Final Thoughts

This has a lot of uses That can be applied to a 3d print. I’d like to know what you guys would do with it though. When I finish my current project I’ll add some pics.


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  1. George Fomitchev says

    here is a video about the process…
    really nice article though…

  2. Richard Bynum says

    You are definitely a jack of all trades! This sounds fun and like it has a lot of possibilities! Time to start cutting wires and filling my containers with salt water!!!!! Thanks for the info, I look forward to your next post!

  3. Tom Baxter says

    This is really cool! I feel like such a neophyte compared to the stuff you do. Way to go. Time for me to add yet another thing to learn! lol

    1. Nathan Cox says

      I’m just a mad Engineer

  4. Asgor Reidaa says


  5. Michael Perkins says

    Sounds like fun

  6. Carol Oddy says

    Wow there a lot of different things you can with the 3D printer !! Etching looks interesting, would have to give it some thought as to what I would do with it if I owned a 3D printer. I am hoping to win a 3D printer in the near future, can’t afford to buy one.

  7. Carol Oddy says

    Liked this artical, relatively easy to make an etcher and easy directions, thanks !!

  8. Ronan says

    Thats a realoy cool and safe technique

  9. Melanie F. says

    Really interesting article! I would never have thought to do something like this. Thanks!

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