Electrolytic Etching on Copper – first try

by bethwicker on November 4, 2008

The November issue of Art Jewelry magazine has an article on electrolytic etching by Ron Pascho which intrigued me, so I have spent the last week or two collecting the necessary supplies to try this.  I come from a fine arts/visual arts background, so the idea that I could draw/paint on metal, and have my brushstrokes translated fascinated me!

After running around several towns (remember, I live in the country!) I finally found that Radio Shack had pretty much everything I needed except the glass containers, which I got at Wal-Mart (and the air stone which I found there also).

So I started making the solution Friday, and finally got a chance to try the etching process today.  WOW!!!  I’m really pleased with how my first experiment turned out, and will definitely play with this some more!

Here is a picture of my set up, based on the magazine instructions:

electrolytic etching set up

electrolytic etching set up

Note that I carefully used the distilled water, the proper salt, and put everything on a tray to protect my surface.  So first tip:  put the etching bath in the MIDDLE of tray, or cover you base surface with plastic, as it threw salts and water out wider than I had allowed for 🙁

The aquarium pump is in front, with the D battery set up behind it by the etching bath.

Etch in process

Etch in process

The photo above shows the etch in process, with the solution foaming up.  The anode (your piece) is right over the air stone, and directly across from it is the cathode (just another piece of copper the same size).  The air stone make bubbles that keep the solution moving.  Then every 15 minutes you disconnect the anode and brush it off with a soft brush with no metal in it.  The anode connects to the + side of the battery, the cathode to the – side.

just out of the etch

just out of the etch

Above you can see the finished piece just taken out of the etch.  I used Duck Tape to seal the sides and back, and it worked well.  I drew my image with a Sharpie permanent marker like I use to mark my metals.  I was just experimenting, and as I have two Christmas craft shows coming up thought I would make two Christmas trees and see how the texture turned out.  I plan to turn them into a pair of earrings.

finished etch with resist still on

finished etch with resist still on

The photo above shows the piece with the Duck Tape removed.  I have washed it, but not removed the resist.  I hope you can see the wonderful texture in the trees, by where I did not completely cover the tree, but left the evidence of my strokes.  The etched area is a wonderful soft texture now, and the unetched areas around the edge are the original shiny copper.

finished etch, resist removed

finished etch, resist removed

The photo above is the finished piece, with the resist removed.  I know, I know – my focus is blurry – sorry!  But I think you can still see the textured areas within the trees.

I am very excited by the possibilities, and will deifintely play with this some more!

Please feel free to add tips or suggestions or your experiences in the comments section.


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie Mosley May 3, 2010 at 6:43 am

Hey Beth, I was also inspired to try this technique because of the article in Art Jewelry magazine. I love it and have worked with the technique a few times. I even talked my son into using this technique for his science fair project. the teachers and students were impressed. Now if I can get him to bring back the piece of copper that he used as his display I will make a pendent for him. Anyway, I am glad that someone else has worked with electrolytic etching. Now if only I can find a way to do the same for silver….

Good etching.

Marty Meinsma November 19, 2008 at 6:42 pm

G’day Beth
Its great to hear some feedback on Rons article , I am also keen to give it a try. I also live out in the mountains 80 klm from Tamworth N.S.W.
Australia so when Iwent to town I gathered all the components for less than $7.00 au.
Im mixing my solution at the moment so I should be able to have a crack at it tommorow. After seeing your results I am even more keen.
Keep up the good work.
All the best

Addie Kidd November 10, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Hi Beth,
It’s great to see you experimenting with this exciting technique. I was so excited when this story by Ron Pascho landed on my desk. But now that I’m seeing the information put to use by readers like you, I’m even more thrilled.
Thanks for sharing your results and good luck!
~Addie Kidd~
Associate Editor, Art Jewelry magazine

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