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Photoetching using the Photocopy Transfer Method

Now that I’m back from vacation, Christmas is over and my
computer has stopped crashing for awhile, I can finally respond
to the photoetching questions.

Warning, this is a long email. Good luck and let me know if you
have specific problems. I teach Photoetching workshops in the
Boston area. Let me know if you are interested in sponsoring

There are several steps in making a sucessful etch, and I will
try to address these in the following protocol.

The Photocopy Transfer process in Tim McCreight’s The Complete
Metalsmith is where I first came upon this. However, the
results have been unreliable and I was so impressed with my first
etch which came out great, I had difficulty reproducing it again
and found myself on a two year trial and error quest to get it

My other concern was the resist. I hate asphaltum and the
amount of toxic mess it creates. Nail polish was OK, but only
for very small pieces. I like to work larger, sometimes 6 X 6
and nailpolish would just take too long to paint. The best
substitute was good old duct tape which worked great, but was
messy to remove as the acid splattered sometimes and got down in
between and behind the tape sometimes.

I found solutions to all my problems, so for my .02 worth here
it is. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to
address them.


  1. Good ferric chloride. Don’t use Radio Shack. Try to find an
    electronics store in your area and use theirs. I think the
    pre-packaged kind from RS seems to be diluted somehow.

  2. PennyBrite Copper cleaner. This the best, since the copper
    needs to be absolutely grease free for the heat transfer. Scotch
    brite pad and if you can’t locate PennyBrite, use Comet cleanser.

  3. De-natured alcohol and cotton swabs. This is the key for the

  4. Overhead transparency film, use IBM PM 2500.

  5. Resists: I use Zacryl’s products. They are non-toxic
    polymers which hold up to acid very well. Pour a thin stream over
    the metal until it is completely covered. Catch the drippings
    into another pan, they can be poured back into the bottle and

After etching, Zacryl cleans off with either Windex or a dilute
ammonia solution.


Image Preparation

Any high quality, high contrast image can be used. The graphics
found in the Dover clip art books are especially good, but a good
quality photocopy of any black and white photograph works equally
as well.

The photocopy transfer technique is somewhat dependent on the
toner found used by various photocopiers; keep persisting until
you find one that works. Older ones work great as they are slow
and slather a lot of toner down.

First photocopy your image onto regular paper. Adjust size,
light/dark contrast on paper before you print onto the
transparency film. For best results use the IBM PM 2500. Be
sure to make at least three copies on the transparency film in
case the toner transfer does not take.

Metal Preparation

Clean copper or brass with Penny Bright and then Scotch brite.
Degrease with denatured alcohol.

Clean the image/toner side with denatured alcohol as well.
While the metal is still wet with the alcohol, press the image
down onto the metal and make a good seal. WHILE THE METAL IS
the key to the process.

The Transfer Process

Have an iron set on high (linen setting) and an electric griddle
or hot plate to med. high heat.

You should have a paper towel between the griddle surface and
your metal.

With another paper towel, place it over your transfer acetate
and place the iron over that. Let the whole thing “cook” for
about 1 and half minutes and then take the iron off. Try to
leave a tiny corner of the acetate folded up so you can check the
result easily. A couple of dots photocopied onto your acetate
can serve as a test area. Have a burnisher ready to burnish

If your metal is too hot, the toner will �melt� and will result
as a smeared image. If your metal is too cold, the transfer will
not take. This part takes practice and knowledge of your iron
and griddle temperature.

After your toner has “set” onto the metal and you have some
"blooms", reinforce them with either a Sharpie marker or the
Stopout Resist from Zacryl.

Etching should always be done face down or vertically in the
acid bath.

Good Luck!

Karen Christians
Fly Fish Design
282 Lexington Street
Woburn, MA 01801


Karen: there is an even better way to do this. I don’t have a
source in front of me but if you have a laser printer there are
sheets made for laser printing to make your own printed circuit
boards. This gives exact precise small detail transfer using an
iron onto copper. I have also used this stuff on silver for
nittric acid etch and it works pretty darn well there too. Though
in nitric after a long etch the detail starts to break down but
for textural effects its great. Again the secret is clean metal.
I use acetone and scotchbrite steel wool substitute. Dave

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