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Etching steel

I am trying to create some etched steel plates to roll designs into
silver and copper sheet in my rolling mill. I have copied some of my
original designs onto PNP sheets, then transferred the design onto
stainless steel that has been lightly etched to grab the transfer. I
have used ferric chloride and Rio’s silver etching mordant (nitric
acid only), but with both of these etchants the finer lines floated
off before the etchant achieved a sufficient depth. Can anyone give
me some advice on a better et chant or techniques to try? If you can
suggest a better mordant, please tell me where to buy it, and any
safety suggestions. It may be that the lightly etched surface is not
adequately “cut” to hold the transfer. Any suggestions on what size
emery cloth to use to scuff up the surface?

Pnp blue does not like nitric acid. For steel and stainless steel use
ferric chloride and hydrochloric acid… electro etching will help.
see nontoxic



is there a reason you are using stainless steel that would require
that material instread of a carbon steel? Stainless doesnt etch
particularly well without the use of elecricity and a suitable bath.
C steel can be etched with hydrochloric or nitric acid. Ferric
chloride will not affect your steel because it is a product of the
reaction you are after. It works on other metals because of a
difference in the reactivity of the other metal and iron.

Nick Royall

Hey Julia,

Have you tried saltwater etching. I’ve been having some success
using a rectifier and a bath of 2 parts distilled water mixed mixed
with 1 part kosher salt. The best part is no nasty chemicals!!! I
have only tried this on copper and nickel silver though. But with
great success. I have a feeling steel may be affected just as well.

There’s also a good article on etching with acid here on ganoksin.


Ferric chloride will etch at least some varieties of stainless steel.
It is a slow etch and the solution must be warm. I set my etching
bucket outside in the direct sun this summer on an 85 degree day and
it worked great. It may not work on all stainless alloys, depending
on their composition.


Electric Etching…Minor amounts of fairly crude electric etching
can use salt water and a 9-volt battery. Did this once on a stainless
steel knife blade. 1-Placed scotch tape on blade. 2- Cut in pattern.
3- placed knife in salt water. 4- Hooked battery to blade and other
into the salt water. In about 10 minutes or so the pattern was etched
into the blade.

It was done at a blacksmiths gathering and has lasted 6 or 7 years so
far…I don’t remember which connection was positive and which
negative, so experiment. No sure if this will work well with other
metals, but it is worth a try on a piece of scrap. M.G.

Ferric chloride will not affect your steel because it is a product
of the reaction you are after. 

Sorry but you are wrong about this try it some time. Ferric chloride
works great to etch carbon steel and a few stainless steels. I use
it regularly for etching both 304 stainless and carbon steel.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Thanks for all the advice. I had great luck with the electrochemical
etching process Mike recommended. I used a 9 volt battery as my
power source, but it drained too quickly. Today I purchased a slow
charging car battery recharger to use as my power source. I have
both stainless steel and regular steel to etch. The regular steel
etched great, and I will try etching the stainless tonight.

By the way, Ferric chloride does etch steel, even stainless steel,
but it eats away at the PNP mask as well, removing the fine lines
before it has etched much. Another disadvantage is that it is more
difficult to dispose off safely. The Ferric Sulfate (FeSO4) used in
the electrochemical etching process is used as a landscaping
supplement to green up lawns and shrubs. I purchased some Ferric
Sulphate from Carolina Biological Supply Company, since landscape
supply companies in my area do not carry it; our soil is already
iron rich.

I have found that single sided glossy brochure paper in a laser jet
copier works better than PNP paper. You can get it from an office
supply store, and it costs much less. Other people have recommended
clay coated magazine paper, which probably can be bought from your
local printer. It does not appear to be readily available on line.

Laser print your image onto the glossy side of the brochure paper,
then cut out the image that you want to transfer. I place the
cleaned, sanded, and degreased metal face up on a hot plate set on
"WARM", set the cut paper on the metal, image side down, let the
metal heat up, then burnish the image onto the metal with a smooth
metal burnishing tool. After transferring the image, soak the metal
in water before peeling off the paper, then gently rub your finger
over the surface with soap and cool water to remove any excess

From there follow the instructions Mike suggested to me last week.
His tutorial can be found at

Thanks again everyone, I appreciate everyone’s input.

Hi James,

I’m using 1 part muriatic acid to 2 parts of hydrogen peroxide3%, to etch mild steel. I keep the solution warm and agitated. After about 1 hr i get a about .05mm deep etch. I’d like to perfect this to get double that depth. Can you advise if there is a better way. I do not want to electro etch. I know you are the Man :slight_smile:
-thank you !

I use ferric chloride

After much investigation i have discovered a much better way to etch on cold rolled mild steel. This method will give you a nice deep etch, the solution can also be regenerated. you can find it in my video link below

If you want instructions on disposal or regeneration of the solution for etching on steel please go to then click the dowload link under the steel etching vid. hope this is helpful

thanks :slight_smile:

Thanks, I think i found a better way that works for me i posted a video in this thread.

look at the video i posted below , it works beautifully. Happy etching!