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Electro Etching Made Simple            CONTENT | SEARCH
by Matt Forrest

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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


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.



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.









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




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