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Photo Etching

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Photo etching, or photo engraving, is a chemical milling process used to fabricate thin gauge precision metal parts. It uses a photoresist material instead of tape or elastomer for masking purposes. Read More…

Photo Etching The process of photo etching can be used on virtually any commercial metal including aluminum, copper, molybdenum, steel and brass, but is limited to a thickness range from .001" to 0.080" for maximum effectiveness.
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Leading Manufacturers

Maple Grove, MN  |  763-425-4755

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.

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Great Lakes Engineering, Inc. $$$

El Monte, CA  |  626-443-7121

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. Whether your application is large or small, VACCO can assist you from prototype to production.

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VACCO Industries, Inc. $$$

Lancaster, PA  |  800-522-9709

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.

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Lancaster Metals Science Corporation $$$

Newark, NY  |  315-331-7680

Our metal engraving is the best in the industry! We work with a variety of metals to come out with the finished product that you have been searching for. Our metals that we use are typically flat sheets that are coiled or blanks that are cut to size. We are committed to providing excellent customer service every time you do business with us. Get in touch with our staff today or fill out the easy form on our website to get started!

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NEWCUT, Incorporated $$$
placeholder image Great Lakes Engineering, Inc. VACCO Industries, Inc. Lancaster Metals Science Corporation NEWCUT, Incorporated

The photo etching process begins with the treatment of whatever part or sheet that is intended for etching. The part or sheet requiring acid etching is cleaned thoroughly and coated, or laminated, with a UV-sensitive photoresist. This is then developed through strategic exposure to light.

The photoresist develops and hardens in the desired pattern or shape. The chemical reagent is then applied to the entire part. It can be applied using spray nozzles to further the efficiency of the process.

The chemical washes away the unexposed masking layer, allowing contact with the parts of the metal part that are to be etched. The developed and hardened areas of the photoresist however protect certain areas of the metal part from corroding.

The most common chemical used in the process of photo chemical milling is ferric chloride dissolved in hydrochloric acid. The etchant is left on the metal part for as long as is required to achieve the desired depth of cut and then is stripped off together with the remaining developed photoresist to reveal the etched part. The part can be re-cleaned and polished and any irregularities can be burnished until the part is completely finished.

Parts manufactured with photo etching can be sized from .020" in diameter to 24" x 60". The benefits of photo etching compared to standard chemical milling or manual engraving are substantial.

The photoresist works a dual purpose of both protecting the metal where it is not to be etched, but also revealing the area to be exposed. This feature saves time in the manufacturing process. Chemical milling requires parts of the masking to be cut and removed which can be a tricky process and can result in material wastage if not properly implemented.

With photo engraving, or etching, the surface merely needs to be exposed to a pattern of targeted light and then exposed to the chemical reagent and rinsed. Tooling costs and maintenance remain relatively low, and processing times for completed parts are quick.

Photo etching allows for photos or much more complex images to be engraved rather inexpensively, and is often the only method which allows for very intricate designs to be etched in metal sheets, and parts or components machined using this method typically have very high tolerances and precise shapes.

Photo etching can be a cost-effective and time saving alternative for many applications instead of laser or water-jet cutting, stamping or wire electrical discharge machining.

Photo Etching Informational Video