Metal etching, or metal engraving, is a method of creating impressed designs, grooves or fine lines on metal parts and sheets. The metals most commonly etched are aluminum, copper, stainless steel, nickel and brass. Engraving machines may also service surfaces like metal, glass and plastic. The process of metal etching was traditionally completed by hand, using a fine tipped tool, like a burin. Hand etching always creates unique patterns, however, due to its time consuming nature and inconsistency, it was eventually largely replaced with other techniques.

Today, metal etchings are most commonly done using chemical or mechanical machining or acid etching. Other techniques include photo etching, also called photofabrication, stamping, water-jet cutting, laser engraving, electro discharge machining (EDM) and mechanical milling. Laser etching, or engraving, is favored for its ability to create very fine, clean lines on surfaces with little need touchups. EDM achieves exceptionally close tolerances by exposing the metal part to streams of corrosive electromagnetic discharge. After etching, manufacturers can smooth or polish away any imperfections, burrs or marks. Read More…

Leading Manufacturers

Great Lakes Engineering, Inc.

Maple Grove, MN | 763-425-4755

Tech-Etch, Inc.

Plymouth, MA | 508-747-0300

VACCO Industries, Inc.

South El Monte, CA | 624-443-7121

American Nameplate

Chicago, IL | 800-878-6186


Mechanical milling uses either a lathe or CNC machine with fine tips that can process a range of materials and dimensions, including straight or curved surfaces. The associated computer controls the cutter’s direction, pressure and speed, which produces a precise, repeatable image or design with clean, fine lines.

Milling and grinding machines can also achieve certain finishes on large metal sheets used for decorative or furniture applications. Though they consistently produces high quality work, the initial tooling costs of these techniques are high, and maintenance requires trained personnel.

Metal etching is used for a wide variety of decorative and industrial applications. Decorative etching applications include jewelry design, musical instrument decoration, firearm engraving, plaque and trophy decoration and engraving and architectural and furniture embellishments. In decorative metal etching, surfaces are sometimes smoked to make lines appear more visible.

Industrial applications for etching include: stenciling, printing and foil-stamping dies. Etching helps manufacturers fill their various precision part requirements, and also comes in handy in the medical field, which uses metal etching and chemical machining in order to get the right finish on devices like stents, cathodes and implants.

Finally, this highly versatile process is a suitable for creating intricate parts and devices for the aerospace, electronics and defense industries; metal etching helps make printed circuit boards, engraved missile skin panels and jet frames.

Metal Etching Informational Video