Electrolytic etching of silver

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Etching sterling with ferric nitrate

“Electrolytic etching of silver”
by Walther Carpay, translated by Hannah
Source: Society of Dutch Enamellers

Complete story at:

For Jesse. Hanuman.

"Electrolytic etching of silver"
by Walther Carpay, translated by Hannah
Source: Society of Dutch Enamellers
Complete story at:

Great article! Thank you Jesse.

Has anyone had success electroetching patterns transferred via PnP or
the various photocopy transfer techniques?

In my own electroetching experiments I was having trouble with
resists in that they seem to have a marked tendency to lift. Having
read the article above and talked to Cedric Green (author or the
“Green Prints” pamphlet on electrolytic etching) I understand that my
troubles may have been caused by having the voltage cranked too high.
In any case that’s made me suspect that the resist offered by the
usual pattern transfer techniques will not stand up to the
electroetching process.

If anyone has hands-on experience with this I’d love to hear about

Trevor F.
in The City of Light

Hi, Trevor,

If I understood the electroetching article, the electrolite of
choice was nitric acid. Well, of course that worked! Nitric etches
silver like a house afire without any help. If it went any faster,
it would be a problem! So it isn’t clear to me what the benefit of
the “electro” is.


You don’t need a lot of Voltage. only a couple volts is enough to
push the current which does the work… Pushing too hard and fast
will lift the resist.

Nitric acid is very rough on organic resists. Pnp blue tends to fray
and lift at edges which intensifies undercutting and rough edges…
Using nitric acid for electrolytic - galvanic- etching seems to be
unnecessary. Viewing this as reverse plating is sort of true but
there is no real need to plate out removed silver. – just get it
in solution. All you need to do is remove the silver into an
electrolyte where the silver salt is at least a bit soluble is at
least a bit soluble… other than other halogens which are not fun to
play with acetic acid might work… I would think you would need at
least 30 % acetic acid- plain vinegar won’t do. 28% acetic acid is
a common photo graphic chemical. I have been doing some flash zinc
plating from 30 % solution made from glacial acidic acid available
from photographic chemical suppliers. The glacial acid needs to be
handled like any other strong acid – iy is not friendly… DO NOT
fool with acetic anhydride. A hot solution will be better than a
cold one. To recover silver put in some table salt and precipitate
and filter out the the white silver chloride.

I have not done this with silver at all. I will try it someday.


If I understood the electroetching article, the electrolite of
choice was nitric acid. ... So it isn't clear to me what the
benefit of the "electro" is. 

Hello Noel,

I think the business about using nitric acid for electro-etching is
in error. The whole idea of electro-etching is to get away from the
dangerous chemicals yet accomplish the same end.

In my experiments I have successfully used the following as
electrolytes for electro-etching:

- fresh Sparex solution
- old Sparex with a dash of salt
- saltwater
- water with a squeeze of lemon juice

To be honest I wasn’t impressed by the results of any but the fresh
Sparex solution, but it does demonstrate that a wide variety of
“safe” electrolytes are possible.

Trevor F.
in The City of Light

Here is a much safer alternative to nitric.


I first learned of this method on Orchid a few years ago.

John Flynn


Hello John,

Very interesting! Looks like a great technique.

Can I ask how you transferred the pattern? I’m not familiar with sign
vinyl so I can’t tell whether you used some photomechanical process
to transfer the design or whether you cut the design out of the vinyl
by hand.

Any details you could offer on this would be much appreciated.

Trevor F.
in The City of Light

Hi, John,

I like your photo essay very much, and I plan to try your method.
Would you mind expanding a little on how you produced the resist
pattern? Not the pattern itself-- I have no desire to be cooked and
eaten-- but about the process and the "sign vinyl. I really like the
idea of being able to blast it while the resist is still in place,
but ink from a photocopy (what I am using) is not going to stand up
to blasting!



Thanks for putting this up on the web, John! Beautiful work.

And thanks for the delightful smile-inducing final paragraph. So

(And I already have set up a modest automatic deduction from Paypal

  • it’s painless!)

Roseann Hanson - in 110 degrees (yes, that’s “96 Degrees in the
Shade” and time for a Red Stripe or two)

Desert Rose Design Studio
Tucson, Arizona
520-591-0508 voice/message
866-421-1813 toll-free fax

Hello Trevor and Noel,

I use a Roland STX-8 Stika Plus to cut my vinyl. It is a very small
sign plotter. I think you can get it from places like Beacon
Graphics for about $525 these days.

I paid a lot more five years ago. The biggest selling point for me,
besides price, is that it prints directly from Corel Draw. Just
another print job.

There are many other resists you can use but vinyl is the only one I
have tried that lets me bead blast with the resist still on. Vinyl
also lets you do things in stages like the pieces I partially bead

Contact paper is essentially the same thing as sign vinyl… It just
needs to be cut by hand. You could transfer a laser print to the
contact paper or an ink jet print and then cut it out with a

Nail polish is another great resist. It will even stand up to nitric
or cyanide. However, it doesn’t last one second under bead blasting.

Several years ago I wanted to make a brass plate to put on one of my
displays to remind a wholesale account just who owned the display.

I coated the brass with nail polish and then applied a photo resist
(PhotoBrasive.com) and sand blasted through the nail polish and
etched with ferric chloride. It came out very crisp and clean. They
never returned the display but it was still a success to some extent.
The plaque looks way cool.

There are two types of photo resists for chemical etching that I
know of. I haven’t tried either one.


My intent with my post was not to extol vinyl but to share a
relatively non toxic and low tech way to etch silver. Transferring
designs is another topic entirely and I am happy to share my limited

I have been conversing with Trevor off list and he relates using
Sparex, citric acid, salt water…as a mordant. Experiment.

The one thing I would strongly advise is using only .5 to 1 volts.
Your resist is going to take a beating at anything over 2 volts.

I have learned so much from this forum over the years that I am
grateful to give back anything. I learned about this phosphoric acid
electro-etch on Orchid.

If you missed the original post, the url for this is

And the last word on the page is “Donate”. Are you getting this kind
of from any other source?


John Flynn

Thanks for putting this up on the web, John! Beautiful work.

I’ll second that! Your results are incredibly clean and crisp (more
so than mine, which were still a little wiggly around the edges). How
deep are the etched areas of the Polynesian design?

Where did you find your “sign vinyl”? Did it come in uncut sheets?
Also, how did you transfer and cut your design from the vinyl? I
imagine that must have been the most time-consuming part of the

Many thanks,
Jessee Smith