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Nontoxic Printmaking, Safe Painting & Printed Art

Electro Etching Made Simple                  SEARCH THE SITE
Matt Forrest
      

Matt Forrest shows how a small shop or an artist working in their own home or studio, can use this simple method of electro-etching without having to worry about their health or the effects on others or the environment, and without having to spend a lot on materials and equipment.

 

                       

 

 

This quick and simple method is designed to work with the copper sulfate etch process (for aluminum and zinc plates).

 

Some background:

I became interest in trying to push copper sulfate to its limits in 2008, after reading an article by Nik Semenoff (LEONARDO 1991 " Using Dry Copier Toner in Intaglio and Electro-Etching of Metal Plates"). It was interesting to me because of its use of power, and the possibility for it to become a green resource in a printmaking department. I experimented with the mixture in the article using batteries and a brass rod instead of stainless steel. I also allowed the plate to lie on the rod in the mixture - something that made the etch speed up. I used a Z*Acryl  nontoxic ground to cover the plate (with the addition of a spayed-on clear coat to stop the ground breaking down in the bath), and the nontoxic solution to make the work. Etching aluminum plates seemed to work best, zinc and steel were a little slower to react.

 

By introducing a low level electric current to the bath by means of ordinary D-batteries attached to a brass rod (shown below) I managed to reduce the amount of copper sulfate needed in the etching solution quite considerably. This makes the process more environmentally-friendly (less solution to dispose of) and more economical too (less copper sulfate to buy and the bath lasts longer). So, by using electricity you should expect to see a faster etch while needing less ingredients to make the bath.

 

 

                       

                                                      Metal Rods available at DickBlick.com

 

You will need:

 

To make up the Bath:

  • 1 tablespoon of copper sulfate
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 liter of hot water

Mix and let it sit for 30 minutes prior to etching.

 

Equipment:

The length of brass rod will be dependent on the size of your bath, but it should extend about 3 inches each side of the tray to allow you to attach your wire clips.

 

 

What to do:

 

The setup is simple, allowing even the most basic shop to have access to an electric etching system.

 

Two D-batteries are all the current required (about 3 volts). This power is used to draw the chemical onto the plate and by laying the plate onto the rod you make the plate conductive.  I have found that by laying the plate onto the rod, the etch is speeded up significantly.

 

Remember that brass can be used because it has a very low nickel content. The rod may become discolored over time.

 

 

 

                       

 

                     

 

Timeline:

The bath will last about 3 days with medium use (e.g. etching 10 5 x 7 inch plates)

The batteries will last much longer - up to about 2 weeks.

Remember to disconnect your batteries after use.

And you should buy rechargeable ones to make the method even more economical.

 

 

Etch Time:

To etch deep lines it will take 7 minutes and upwards. The longer you go, the deeper the line becomes and the darker the line on your print.

Set up your own timeline to run a basic test before you etch. If the bath is too weak, simply re-mix it using a larger amount of copper sulfate.

 

 

A note on safe use and disposal:

Remember that even though this method reduces the quantity of copper sulfate, you still need to disposing of your etching solution in a responsible manner. Follow the simple steps for safe disposal on this website and others such as http://www.ndiprintmaking.ca/.

 

 

E-mail questions to:

mattforrest@cmu.edu

 

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