Etching on carbon steel and stainless steel

Does anyone have a recommendation on how and what acids to use for
chemically etching carbon steel and stainless steel.

Any help is most appreciated,

Ferric chloride works on most carbon steels and a number of
stainless steels as well

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Stainless steel and regular steel both don’t like chlorides and can
be etched with HCl.

All modern art related etching is dependent on the work of

The first site is by Frederic Kleben the originator of the Edenburgh
etch modification. It is a new site (2008) and is basically a
complete on line book on the state of the art.

This site is Cedric Green’s. He is another current proponent of non
toxic processes. This is another on line book.

And on just the electrochemical processes.


I’ve done both with ferric chloride (the type of chemical you used to
find at Radio Shack to etch circuit boards.) It is slow and safe and
leaves a black surface on both carbon and stainless steel. It does
not etch very deeply very quickly. If you use an “electro etch
machine” (google that and you can find a description and even plans
to build one) you can etch steel more quickly and deeper using a
stencil. I’ve also done the same thing through a resist.

The standard lab etchant for carbon steels is NITAL which is 2% conc
nitric acid in ethanol. You can buy it ready made. For stainless
steel use 10% conc nitric acid, 15% conc hydrochloric and 75%
water[add acid to water, nitric 1st]. Pass a current through your
stainless as a reverse of a plating process The other electrode
should be stainless, nickel or platinum.

Nick Royall


Thank you so much for replying to me. I do appreciate it. I think I
may have to try Ferric Chloride because I am running into some

  1. I read in a book that HydroChloride would etch steel (im using
    carbon steel) so i diluted it three parts Hyrdochloric Acid (31.45%)
    with 1 part Distilled Water.

  2. my resist is asphaltum varnish

  3. put the carbon steel with resist on non-etching parts in the
    solution and let it sit.

Even after a couple of hours the metal has NOT been etched in. Would
any of these be the problem?

  1. Should I use Ferric Chloride rather then Hydrochloride (31.45%)
    diluted with Distilled Water?

  2. Am i diluting the Hydrochloride (31.45%) too much or should i not
    be using Distilled Water?

  3. Do i need to use electro-etching?

Any tips or pointers would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much,