Etching plates for rolling mill printing?

I am wanting to try making my own pattern plates for roller mill printing. I successfully did some etching in brass, using a toner transfer method (with Pulsar toner transfer paper, which worked pretty well), but found that the brass plate really didn’t hold up to more than one or two times through the rolling mill. I did use ferric nitrate for etching the brass as an experiment, since that’s what I had and it made a decent etch!

I have done some research on etching steel, using ferric chloride, but wanted to see if anyone has done this and if there are any tips before I go making another mess and more toxic waste.

Also, how to properly dispose of both ferric nitrate (which I use for directly etching on sterling) and the ferric chloride? I’ve got some containers of both sitting on the back porch wait for proper disposal. I assume my hazardous waste center?

Hi! I recently made etched steel plates in ferric chloride with great success! Transferred the design to the steel in the usual manner with pNp blue, and I lay the plate pattern side down in the ferric for about 1.5 hours for a nice deep etch. The ferric was fresh and at room temperature, and I used a feather to wipe the debris off the pattern periodically - about every 15 minutes or so. When the etch is deep enough to your liking, dunk the plate in a baking soda and water mixture, rinse with plain water and dry. Steel rusts so store it lightly oiled after use in the rolling mill.
For all of my etchants, I empty a box of baking soda into the chemical until the soda stops bubbling. That’s when I know it’s neutralized. Dispose of it at your local hazardous waste management company. Hope that helps!

HI Lauralee, will ferric chloride work for stainless steel? Vince LaRochelle

Ferric chloride will work on #316 ss, because i’ve done it before for a commission project. But there is a caveat. You cannot heat the FC etched ss to anything much above boiling water. The chloride embeds in the surface and strangely, it can fracture like glass. I was informed by a metallurgist.

Thanks! I am pretty excited to try this, but have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. Where did you purchase your steel, do you know if it is “mild” steel and how did you cut it to size if you had to do so? Also, did you worry about the hardness of the steel damaging your rollers on your mill? Lucy Walker has a video for rolling mill basics, and uses a thin sheet of craft foam to protect her rollers, but I have been disappointed with the impression when using foam.

Thanks again!

I haven’t tried it yet, but I also wanted to make my own plates for the rolling mill, and found this discussion helpful :

The video made it look very doable-

I found online metals you can order exactly what she calls for.

Good Luck & let us know how it goes,

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Hi Edie,
I used 1.25 mm mild steel and cut it to size on a band saw. I think it was around 3”x6”. To be honest, I did this all at school during my goldsmithing program, and our rolling mill was not the best (hundreds of students abusing it over the years, lol) so I can’t speak for damage or lack thereof. I don’t see why it would hurt the rollers once you’re using them properly though.

Will ferric chloride, work with tool steel that can be hardened after etching. Thanks, Vince LaRochelle

I second what Patty said (liveoak). I’m a total convert to the copper sulfate, salt and water etching for mild steel plates. Leslie Villareal has a great video on the process and discusses safe disposal of solution, also. How to Etch Steel Texture Plates for the Durston Agile Rolling Mills - YouTube I’ve made about 20 plates with this method with a variety of resist (fingernail polish, vinyl, pledge floor wax, Stayz-on ink, permanent marker, this list is in order from best to worst) and they all worked.


You can cut mild steel with a jeweler’s saw. I took a class with Jayne Redman earlier this year and we used mild steel to make blanking dies. The steel sheets we used were thin—1/8-in and 3/16-in—and we used 3/0 original Laser Gold blades from Rio Grande. It is doable but you have to go slowly and expect to break a few blades.

A band saw will undoubtedly make the task much easier.