The stainless steel etching process

Stainless steel etching involves a subtractive process in which you use an etchant to come up with very accurate and complex components. The process is a more valuable and cost-effective alternative to laser cutting, jet cutting, and stamping, especially for thin gauge steel of up to 2mm thickness. The process involves quick lead times and low set-up costs and that’s why it’s economical when producing batches( irrespective of batch size, 1 to millions) of chemically etched steel. But first, why should you etch steel, or rather what are the benefits of etching stainless steel?
Process benefits
Cost-effectiveness: stainless steel etching is a low-cost process that doesn’t burden you financially as compared to other similar processes.
Design optimization: the process is digitalized and can be adapted quickly thus allowing you to have risk-free design optimization.
Extreme accuracy: when etching stainless steel, you’ll not use any mechanical force and therefore your material and its components remain unaltered from burrs.
Complexity: the process allows for the simultaneous mechanization of steel features thus creating room for almost limitless complexity.
The etching process
– Prepare the stainless steel for etching
Remove any burrs on the sides of the piece you want to etch. You can leave the other side with burrs especially if you are etching a steel plate. Burrs are easily removed by filing. Then, use a chlorine cleanser to brush the steel in a circular motion. This helps to leave your surface gritty to grip the resist material. Be sure not to use too much force when scrubbing as doing so can etch extra unwanted lines on the surface, which are not even part of the design you want. Then, rinse the steel with water and clean it once more with isopropyl acid.
– Choose the design you want to etch and transfer it on the steel
Of all the images you’d like, take one or several depending on their size and the size of your steel. You draw the image by yourself or you can replicate an existing design. Let the image you choose to be black and white but high-contrast. Transfer the image onto the steel by either using the wax method, the use of permanent markers or using the iron-on stencil method. Most people find using permanent markers easy. With it, you cover the parts of the steel that you don’t want the etching acid to reach using a permanent marker.
– Cover the edges
You don’t want to etch the edges of your steel using the etching chemical. So cover them with tape. You can even opt to paint them.
– Apply the etching acid
There are different types of acids for etching the different types of steel. Ferric chloride is most suitable for etching stainless steel. Mix the ferric chloride with water in equal proportions to form hydrochloric acid. Immerse your steel into the acid. Let the side with the image face downwards so that you get cleaner lines. If you happen to immerse with the image side facing upwards, some flakes might form but they can be easily swept away using a light brush. Allow enough time for the steel plate to stay in the acid until you see that the lines have been formed to the depth you wish.
– Remove steel plate from the acid and clean it
Once you are satisfied with the lines, remove the steel from the acid and wash it using clean water. If you find the need to neutralize the acid, use baking soda. Finally, remove the resist material you used.