Leading Metal Etching Manufacturers

Metal etching, or metal engraving, is a method of creating impressed designs, grooves or fine lines on metal parts and sheets. Metal etching services are 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. Read More…

Metal Etching Metal etching, or metal engraving, is a method of creating impressed designs, grooves or fine lines on metal parts and sheets.

Great Lakes Engineering is a trend setting manufacturer of surface mount stencils, precision laser cut parts, and photo chemical etched parts. We work with a wide range of materials, including Stainless Steel, Copper, Titanium, Nitinol, Nickel, Kovar and many others.

Great Lakes Engineering, Inc. $$$

VACCO is the industry leader of Photo Chemical Etching of metal & polyimide components and devices. We specialize in Stainless steel, Titanium, and Copper, but work with a variety of different materials. We have over 60 years of experience in Chem Etching, and we offer Micro Laser Cutting & Welding, and Diffusion & Adhesive Bonding services along with an extensive range of value-added services. ...

VACCO Industries, Inc. $$$

The MET Manufacturing Group, LLC process offers many technical & financial advantages in manufacturing various flat metal components. Try this precision etching, non-mechanical process for competitively priced, burr & stress free sheet metal products, up to 62 mil (.062”) thick. Our photo-chemical machining process is also known as photo-fabrication, photo etching, chemical milling & acid...

MET Manufacturing Group, LLC $$$

Etchit is your high-quality solution for custom-manufactured precision metal parts and components. We use photochemical machining to make products for such industries as aerospace, audio, automotive, computer, circuit board, decorative and fastener. Does your product need photo etching processes?

Etchit $$$

PEI is a leading producer of photochemical machining and photochemical etching precision and decorative metal parts. We use chemical machining and etching as a process to selectively remove material by chemical action, creating extraordinary cost-effectiveness. In business since 1967.

Photofabrication Engineering Inc. $$$

Photochemical machining is the process we use on aluminum (and alloys), brass, copper, inconels, kovar, metal foils (less than .001” thick), metal sheets (up to .125” thick), mild steels, molybdenum, monels, nickel, phosphor bronze, stainless (300 & 400) and others. Trust your metal etching needs to us.

Lancaster Metals Science Corporation $$$
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In decorative metal etching, surfaces are occasionally smoked to enhance the visibility of lines.

Industrial applications of etching include stenciling, plate printing, and creating foil-stamping dies. This process aids manufacturers in meeting precise part requirements across various industries. In the medical field, metal etching and chemical machining are utilized to achieve optimal finishes for devices such as stents, catheters, and implants.

Moreover, this versatile technique is essential for crafting intricate components and devices for aerospace, electronics, and defense sectors. Metal etching plays a crucial role in fabricating printed circuit boards, engraved missile skin panels, and jet frames.

History

The traditional method of metal etching involved manual labor using fine-tipped tools such as burins. While hand etching yielded unique patterns, its labor-intensive nature and variability led to its gradual replacement by more efficient techniques.

Etching, a technique known since the Middle Ages and possibly earlier, initially focused on soft metals like zinc and copper before advancing to stronger materials like steel. Notable medieval examples include 16th-century armor, cups, plates, and firearms.

A pivotal moment in the history of metal etching occurred in the early 1500s when German craftsman Daniel Hopfer pioneered its application to printmaking. This process involved covering plates with acid-resistant wax, then using an etching needle to expose metal where desired. Subsequent immersion in acid dissolved exposed metal, leaving recessed lines used for printing.

Hopfer extended this method to embellish armor, evidenced by surviving pieces like a sword in the Germanisches National museum and a shield in the Real Armeria of Madrid. Although Hopfer’s direct involvement in all items is unclear, his influence is evident in surviving plates and artifacts.

Hopfer’s innovation supplanted traditional engraving methods, with metalworkers adapting chemical etching for trajectories on cannons, decorative items like shovels and daggers, and various equipment.

In the 18th century, Swiss botanist John Senebier’s observation of plant resin hardening under light spurred developments in photochemical etching and photography. Initial photo etching involved applying light-sensitive resin to metal, exposing it to light to create masked outlines, a technique crucial in producing metal plates.

Commercial adoption of photochemical machining began in 1927, pioneered by a Swedish company, Aktiebolaget Separator, for edge and gap filters. This method gained prominence during World War II for etching harder metals and producing intricate sheet foil parts from both sides.

Since the mid-1900s, metal etching has evolved with advancements in maskants, etchants, CNC technology, and the incorporation of lasers and electromagnetic discharges, enhancing precision and expanding applications.

Materials Process

Commonly etched metals include aluminum, copper, stainless steel, nickel, and brass. Engraving machines can also handle surfaces such as glass and plastic.

Aluminum: Aluminum is a naturally occurring element known for its durability, softness, resistance to oxidation and corrosion, ductility, recyclability, and light weight.

Copper: Found naturally in its metallic form, copper is valued for its softness, malleability, ductility, thermal conductivity, and electrical conductivity. It is a crucial component in alloys like brass, nickel silver, and bronze due to its versatile properties.

Stainless Steel: Composed of at least 10.5% chromium by mass, stainless steel is highly popular for its corrosion resistance, oxidation resistance, hypoallergenic properties, and exceptional strength and durability.

Nickel: A transition metal symbolized by Ni, nickel is characterized by its ductility, hardness, luster, strength, and corrosion resistance.

Brass: Brass, a copper-zinc alloy, stands out for its high malleability, low melting point, castability, and antimicrobial properties against microorganisms and pathogens.

Process Details

1. Prepare the surface

Begin by thoroughly cleaning the surface intended for etching using a deoxidizing or alkaline solvent solution. This step ensures the surface is free from contaminants such as oils, primer coatings, grease, and residue from metal markers. Removing these contaminants is crucial as they can interfere with chemical reactions, leading to inconsistent etching results.

2. Apply Maskant

Apply a masking agent to the workpiece in a predetermined pattern. Maskants can be applied by either immersing the parts in a solution (dip masking) or allowing the solution to flow over them (flow coating). Industrial maskants, often polymers or elastomers like isobutylene-isoprene copolymers or neoprene elastomers, are chosen for their ability to maintain structural integrity during chemical processes.

3. Etch the metal

Immerse the prepared metal into the etchant, such as ferric chloride, which initiates a corrosive reaction where unprotected areas of the metal are etched. The duration of immersion depends on the desired etching depth.

4. Remove the masking agent

After etching, remove the masking agent from the metal. Typically, this is done manually using scraping tools. To remove any remaining etchant, immerse the metal in a cold-water bath or a specialized deoxidizing solution.

5. Finishing touches

Once etching is complete, manufacturers may further smooth or polish the metal to eliminate imperfections, burrs, or marks.

Design

When designing a metal etched part, manufacturers meticulously plan aspects such as the depth of cuts and etch patterns. Achieving desired outcomes involves careful consideration of several factors: selecting the appropriate material, determining the optimal etchant composition and concentration, calculating the rate of etching (the ratio of cut depth to time in the bath), deciding on the duration the metal will remain submerged (especially for deep etches), and controlling the temperature. Commonly used etchants include ferric nitrate, ferric chloride (ideal for copper or zinc), nitric acid (preferred for zinc or steel), copper sulfate, HNO, hydrochloric acid, and citric acid. Manufacturers typically conduct test runs to ensure precise execution.

Machinery Used

Precision Machining with Lathe and CNC Controls

Mechanical milling employs either a lathe or CNC machine equipped with fine tips capable of processing various materials and dimensions, including straight or curved surfaces. Controlled by computer systems, these machines manage the cutter’s direction, pressure, and speed, ensuring the creation of precise, repeatable designs with clean, fine details.

Milling and Grinding Machines

Milling and grinding machines can achieve specific finishes on large metal sheets used in applications such as decoration or furniture. While these methods consistently deliver high-quality results, they incur high initial tooling costs and require maintenance by skilled personnel.

Hand Engraving Equipment

For smaller and more intricate projects, particularly decorative applications, some manufacturers still utilize hand engraving equipment. This equipment typically consists of three main components: a stylus or marking tool, a controller, and a work surface. Styluses are often diamond-tipped to engrave even the hardest metals.

Variations and Similar Processes

Chemical Milling

Chemical milling, also known as photochemical milling or chemical machining, involves the use of a masking compound and an etchant. In this process, a sheet of metal is first coated with an inert masking compound. The metal is then immersed in a suitable etchant, which selectively dissolves the exposed areas.

Mechanical Milling

Mechanical milling is employed to etch various metal surfaces, both flat and curved. Controlled by CNC systems, the cutter or laser moves precisely at prescribed speeds, applying accurate pressure to create designs and patterns with clean, fine lines. The primary drawback of mechanical milling lies in its high initial tooling costs and the requirement for skilled maintenance personnel.

Acid Etching

Similar to chemical milling, acid etching involves using maskants such as tape, paint, rubber elastomers, or plastics. These maskants are applied in the desired pattern on the metal surface. Acid, known as the reagent, is then applied to the exposed areas. After processing, the maskants and reagents are removed, revealing the final etched part. Acid etching is commonly used to produce images, lines, grooves, and perforated surfaces.

Photochemical Machining

Photochemical machining differs from traditional etching methods:

  1. Manufacturers begin by printing the desired product shape on photographic film.
  2. A metal sheet is cut to size, coated with photoresist, sandwiched between two films, and vacuum-sealed.
  3. UV light exposure hardens the photoresist.
  4. Excess photoresist is washed away, leaving only the areas to be etched exposed.
  5. An etchant is applied to dissolve the exposed metal.
  6. After etching, the metal is neutralized and cleaned.

Laser Etching

Laser etching, or laser engraving, utilizes a laser beam to remove material from metal surfaces. This method is favored for its ability to create precise, clean lines with minimal need for additional finishing. It is particularly popular in the jewelry industry.

Wet Etching

Wet etching uses a liquid etchant to remove metal:

  1. Maskant is applied to the metal surface.
  2. Liquid etchant is applied, which bonds with and removes the exposed metal.
  3. The reaction between the etchant and metal dissolves the material, typically through a reduction-oxidation process.
  4. By-products are dispersed.

Dry Etching

Dry etching substitutes liquid etchants with gas or plasma:

  • Physical Dry Etching Utilizes kinetic energy from ions, electrons, or photons to etch metal without chemical reactions.
  • Chemical Dry Etching: Relies on chemical reactions induced by gases like chlorine, fluorine, or nitrogen trifluoride for vapor phase etching.

Electro Discharge Machining

Electro discharge machining (EDM) achieves high precision by subjecting metal parts to controlled electromagnetic discharges, removing imperfections like burrs and marks after processing.

Benefits

Metal etching offers numerous advantages, regardless of the chosen method. It is highly versatile, suitable for a wide range of metals and alloys, and can also be applied to soft plastics and certain types of glass. This process is unique in that it does not induce internal stress, deformation, or waste material, making imperfections very rare. Consequently, it typically requires minimal to no secondary tooling. Additionally, metal etching eliminates the need for hard tooling, allowing manufacturers to execute it quickly and precisely while easily making design adjustments if necessary. Furthermore, metal etching does not affect the material properties.

Things to Consider

Before consulting with a metal etching manufacturer, it’s important to prepare a detailed list of your specifications. Consider factors such as your requested volume, the level of design precision you need, the depth of cuts required, industry standards, budget, timeline, and delivery needs. Having a clear understanding of your requirements will help you and the service provider determine if you’re a good fit for each other.

Once your list is ready, explore the quality metal etching companies we’ve compiled on this page. This curated list saves you from the overwhelming information often found in Google search results. While all the companies listed are reputable, not every one will be the right fit for your specific needs. The ideal manufacturer will align best with your requirements.

To find the right match, browse through the company profiles. Select three or four that seem most suitable and reach out to them to discuss your specifications. After your conversations, compare and contrast the information gathered to choose the manufacturer that best meets your needs.

Metal Etching Informational Video

 

Metal Etching Power Pages

Acid Etching

Acid Etching

Acid etching, also known as chemical etching or photo etching, is the process of cutting a hard surface like metal by means of a specially formulated acid for the process of etching in order to allow for the creation of a design onto the metal...

Chemical Milling

Chemical Milling

Chemical milling is a subtractive machining process that removes material from a workpiece to achieve a desired shape. Unlike aggressive milling methods that depend on sharp tools to produce a design, chemical milling erodes sections...

Metal Etching

Metal Etching

Metal etching is a metal removal process that uses various methods to configure complex, intricate, and highly accurate components and shapes. Its flexibility allows for instantaneous changes during processing...

Photochemical Etching

Photochemical Etching

Photochemical etching, also known as photochemical machining or metal etching, is a non-traditional, subtractive machining process in which photographic and chemical techniques are used to shape the metal workpiece...

Water Jet Cutting

Water Jet Cutting

Water jet cutting is a manufacturing process that uses high pressure jets of water provided by pressurizing pumps that deliver a supersonic stream of water to cut and shape various types of materials. The water in water jet cutting is...

Laser Cutting

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a non-traditional machining method that uses an intensely focused, coherent stream of light called lasers to cut through the material. This is a type of subtractive machining process where the material is continuously removed during the cutting process...

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