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Etching - Laser Printers?


Hi, all -

Learned a ton from the forums, and right back to the well I go!

Trying to get an etching project going. A significant roadblockhas
been the laser printer.

First purchase was a Brother laser from Staples (all bad; no
transfer; next time, read the internet first).

Next, a Samsung 4 in 1. Got the image to transfer, but the new inkin
the printer leaves a very light transfer and it very quickly gets
compromised during the etching process. There isn’t any way to lay
down a heavier resist, so that one went back too.

My conclusion is that I’ll have to try to find a 1) old school laser
printer that has a 2) supply of olden days ink or at least can be
refilled with a kit (my assumption being thatthe kits will have the
older, less expensive ink).

How have others inthe group approached this?



The laser printer I use in my etching projects is the Canon PC170.
It is just perfect for PNP, or for overhead transfers. It is small,
portable, compact and relatively inexpensive - around $150.

The Brother is totally useless.

I give workshops in ferric chloride etching, and this little printer
has really been equal to the task of handling the PNP as well as the
overhead transfers. We have been getting nice black printing, and
the etchings have been perfect. I highly recommend it.



I gave up on toner transfer etchings. I went to the ImagOn series of
products. Far easier. Far more consistent. I put the film down down
with a window squeegee, let it dry and expose it with a halogen lamp
from one of the home improvement stores. I develop it in one of the
commonly available pool chemicals.



If you have to because you aren’t getting a good enough contrast,
use an image editor on the PC to convert your image to greyscale and
with some manipulation darken it then print it out, Alternatively
setting the contrast level on your machine to highest should lay down
enough toner/ink to provide a good copy. I have used an HP 1200 for
years with a consistent result every time. I also use a transparency
in the machine- something that you can get for about a buck or less
each at a local print store if you don’t keep a box of them on hand.
It is a ‘plastic’ though so remember the print head on a laser
printer gets hot and you’ll need to pay attention as the transparency
is going through the machine.

Then, after preparing your copper plate (use brass wool if not steel
wool and lay down a good ’ tooth’ as you would sand wood for
painting but not pressing hard enough to leave visible trails of
where you have rubbed it or the strokes you have made, just enough
pressure to roughen the rolled metal plate), use some ethyl alcohol-
denatured alcohol- to wipe clean any metal particles and remove oils,
dirt etc.

Next, use a tack iron or an ordinary iron on a hot setting (without
steam) and covered with a piece of waxed or parchment kitchen paper
on the reverse side of the transparency to iron the image on. With
the first stroke press straight down to make a good contact without
sliding it at all.

Carefully iron the image to the metal for about 5 minutes (using a
tack iron may go faster) taking great care not to move the image
around the plate. the metal will get hot so leave the transparency in
place as it cools then carefully lift an edge (if i have a larger
plate than image i need I use a registration/test image the size of a
thumbnail or slide to test the ink transfer) to insure the contact
and image was completely transferred. More ink will transfer as it
cools too. If almost, if not all, the ink did not transfer : without
moving the waxed paper or transparency go over it again. If you are
in a hurry and can’t wait the 10 min. for the plate to cool, you can
run cool water over the back of the plate and then dry it. that way a
10 second period is all needed to cool the metal. you are then ready
to submerge it into the etchant bath.

Keeping the etchant moving on the metals surface is important. Try
adding glacial acetic acid or a citric acid solution to your basin
with the etchant solution (presuming you are using a ferrous, or
ferric chloride etchant).If you are using a pool acid and peroxide
etchant the extra boost of citric or acetic acid isn’t necessary.
Connect your pump (if using an aquarium type pump with your etching
set-up) or keep the solution agitating so the etchant goes over the
metal evenly print side up always if flat and if set on edge the pump
will do it for you as it’s difficult to keep the etchant moving when
the plate is standing up without a pump moving the solution over the
plate. After about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the image and
solution strength you should have a deep etch. Adjust this timing to
your needs. Some fresh etchant and a smallish image may take only
10-15 minutes to complete. then peel off the transparency after you
are satisfied that its what you were after and go over the plate with
cheesecloth and alcohol to clean it up (or you can use mineral
spirits if you like, but that requires further cleaning. If you are
using a copper clad fibreglass board instead of copper plate this
isn’t necessary (but your image/texture plate won’t last as long).

The sludge that collects on the bottom is the copper removed by the
acid. You can filter it off between uses. Make sure you dispose of
it according to local laws or if in a university system or craft
school /organization call the dept. that handles disposal to take it
away from your studio.

The etchant can be used a few times until it is depleted. The darker
green it gets will indicate depletion as well as the degradation of
the etched image. If you keep a record of mixing proportions and
times per size of image you can gauge when the solution is thoroughly
depleted per quart or gallon. Same is true for the muriatic acid
peroxide etchant bath ( but the colour will differ so it’s not the
same rate of depletion- about 4-5 uses for approx. 5" x 8" plates).
you can develop so-to-speak, two plates at a time by taking 2
sections of dowel and using a cut off tool to make two cuts no deeper
than the plate on each to hold them apart by at least 1/4-1/2"
depending on the size of your basin and the amount of solution you
have (if 14 g. plate the cut will be 1.5mm, 20 g. plate about .8mm or
1/32 ", etc. You want to be able to insert the plate into the dowels
and either lay them on their side or suspend them from heavy iron
binding wire connected to a length of dowel that will span the top
in a vertical “tank”.

The more movement of etchant over the plate the better the etch will
be. A darker image will also effect the quality of the etch. the
solution you choose will also be a variable some being better than
others. Also if the copper plate doesn’t work for you there are many
pre-coated metal plates on the market (for printing and screen
printing) some that “develop” with water or chlorine bleach sponged
on that can be run through a rolling mill with out damaging it and
that will last for years without scaling on the metal (most often
zinc).PnP blue is another option - an easy to use process that any
laser printer will work with. I am a bit surprised that you’ve tried
3 different machines without the ink deposition you were after. i
also have a Brother all-in-one fax printer that works when I am out
of HP toner or don’t need to store a plate for later use and an
inkjet image is enough. There are a number of different methods of
image transfer using home chemicals or easily available chemicals,
transparencies or polymer films.-if you need more info contact me
off list… rer

the new ink in the printer leaves a very light transferand it very
quickly gets compromised during the etching process. There isn't
any way to lay down a heavier resist, so that one went back too.< 

When I need a heavier layer of ink for transfer etching, I print 2
or 3 copies; transfer 1 to the metal; line up a second copy very
carefully and exactly with the first and transfer again. I also
touch up with a paint marker. I use photocopies, not laser prints,
and you may get betterresults that way.

If you are etching silver, as I usually am, you may want to try my
technique-- I pre-etch the silver for 1 minute before applying the
resist. The “tooth” of the etched silver surface helps the resist
stay on better.



Try PnP (Press’n’Peel) from It
takes a few minutes to iron on the resulting transfer, and best
results are achieved by using a flat metal block preheated by the
hot iron, as the ‘ironing board’ PnP is a bit pricey, so make sure
you prepare your metal well before attempting to iron on, as you can
only use it once. Also, it can only go through the printer once, so
you need to fill the page with designs to get the best use, even if
you might not use them all for a while.

Laser etching is brilliant, but only cost effective if you are
making multiples of the same " the more pieces you need, the better
the ratio.

This is my little input from the UK!


Robert - I’ve had very good luck with the canon Imageclass printers.
I have two MF4370dn models - one for our office and one for my
studio. The cartridge replacements are inexpensive and print giant
amounts of sheets.

I notice that Walmart has a similar printer without the sheet feeder
for $89us. it is listed as an imageclass canon. since I only paid
$129 for mine several years ago, you might give it a try. the walmart
one uses a different cartridge so i don’t know what that will do.

Last week I had 6 students in my studio using my printer to produce
images for salt water etch on iron - Chris Nelson’s class. We used a
cheap portable griddle to heat the metal. we did the image transfers
both with a burnisher on 320F heated metal and alternately with an
acetone wetting and then burnishing. By accident, we found that after
transfering, leave the paper attached and let the metal cool. Then
gently rub off the paper and you get a really good dark image. All of
the techniques yielded useable transfers.

If I needed a printer, I’d sure go try the Walmart Canon imageClass

Judy Hoch


I use transparent sheets for overhead projectors. Be sure you get
the ones specifically for laser printers. It’s nice to be able to
position the image precisely on your metal before transferring.

Janet Kofoed


I do quite a bit of etching and know that you need a b/w laser
printer that uses a specific type/amount of iron oxide in the toner.
Some brands will not work at all. HP and Canon are two that will
work and there are probably others. I have both of these brands and
successfully print on pnp, transparency and decal paper sheets. In
addition, it’s possible to get replacement cartridges for certain
brands with very high percentages of iron oxide for very dense
images. I have one for my HP but since I haven’t yet run out of the
original toner I’ve not tried it. A company named Ganson in Phoenix
sells these. I remember seeing a list of printers that will work for
etching but can’t remember where it was. Maybe someone else on the
forum can help with that? Hope this helps. Mary


Laser printers do not use ink, they use carbon power, heat
transferred to the paper which is why you want to use them. Iron the
"resist" off the paper on to your metal to etch. See your problem?


If you are going to use toner transfer, the photo editor on your
computer will make a world of difference! Enhance the image color
and contrast and then enlarge it to make sure there are no pinholes
in the image itself–a lot easier to correct on the computer. The HP
Laserjet P1102W printer has been good to me, and portable when
teaching classes on the road. Seems a lot of people get frustrated
with PNP. Most toners will melt at or before 300F. If you can get
your surface up to that temp, and don’t smear the image by rubbing
it when it’s viscous. and. don’t try to take it off too soon, you
should be ok. A surface thermometer may be helpful. My preference is
the carrier paper made for circuit boards. I’ve used it for years
and think I’ve mentioned it on this board before. Fab-in-A-Box. It
works like PNP but in my opinion, it’s more trouble free. Once you
get the package up to temperature and burnish it, toss it in a bath
of water and just let it sit. It will take a couple minutes–maybe 3
or 4. Wait. Don’t tug on it. The paper will just float up when it’s
ready. I rarely get any missed spots.

Image-on is a good photopolymer resist. Another resist that I like
is Puretch, available from it’s similar. I have
no affiliation with them, just like their product and their web
page. I have better luck with halftones using a photopolymer resist
rather than toner transfer, but that is partly, my lack of computer
skills. I like the ease of just exposing an aquatint screen
(available from anyone selling the resists). If your print quality
isn’t as dense as you would like, print two transparencies and line
them up before exposing to the photopolymer. One advantage of
photopolymer resists is that you can print your image on an inkjet

From east Tennessee where the summer has been blissfully cool. so


I also have a Brother all-in-one fax printer that works when I am
out of HP toner or don't need to store a plate for later use and an
inkjet image is enough.

RER - I have always thought that a laser-jet or photocopy toner
print is needed for transferring prints for etching: it seems you
may use Inkjet pix at times? Have I read your comment above
correctly? Inkjet would be more convenient for me, for sure, because
I have to go to the print shop for my etching prints, as I don’t
possess a toner printer nor a photocopier.




Does pre-etching work with the base metals, too? Or have you tried
these? brenda


Hi, Mary - Is this the list you refer to?

As a safety practitioner, I especially enjoy that the content of iron
oxide can be found on the product MSDS! To buttress the iron oxide
theory, the MSDS for the dreaded Brother printer line lists 0 iron
oxide in the toner (on the MSDS’ I sampled). Perhaps it it wasn’t the
heat of the printing head at transfer after all. Further tracing down
the iron oxide idea, it turns out that there is a special type of
iron oxide high cartridge used for Magnetic Ink Character Recognition
(MICR) cartridges for magnetic reading by bank machines. These
cartridges have a significantly increased level of iron oxide (turns
out there’s a raft of standards around that, too. Who knew!) Of
course, there’s also a caveaton a cartridge suppliers web site that
the increased iron oxide wears printers faster, but…The cost seems
reasonable so I think I’ll try oneof them and report back Thanks,


Hi Robert–No, that’s not the list. The one I found lists all types
of printer brands and further breaks down by various model numbers.
Then it rated each by how well, or not at all, it worked for the
etching process. Bottom line for me was that I couldn’t go wrong
with an HP or Canon. Since I knew Ganson offers the high iron oxide
cartridges for some laser printers, I went to their website to see
which HP models they were available for and purchased that
particular HP model. Mine is a Laserjet 1536 dbf MFB. My Canon,
which also works well, is an Image Class MF4370 dn. My printers are
a few years old now so those model numbers have probably morphed
into newer ones, but you get the idea. Mary


both can be used for etching. With lasers it works with the toner,
and with an inkjet you’ll need a transparency or resist type prepared
sheet (there The ink-jet method may require some image manipulation
to darken the image as I said, but the process once whichever image
you can print has been decided is virtually the same… rer


Hello, Do you know if you can buy Guilloche patterns for etching on fine silver for enameling on already prepared sheets? (so you don’t need to mess with printing). Or maybe already etched on silver or on brass that can be used in rolling mill?