E3 Etch Overview
How does it work?
The E3 Etch System uses electricity and an electrolyte solution to etch. Unlike chemical etching, which uses acid to etch metal, electro-etching is accomplished by running an electric current through the metal suspended in solution. Etching occurs in a transfer process as atoms are moved through the solution from the piece to the bottom of a stainless steel pan.
The E3 Etch system can be used to etch copper, brass, bronze, and silver. You can also etch all types of metal clay!
No hazardous byproduct is created and the solution can be reused.
Safe to use
No fumes or strong chemicals! The E3 controller is only 12v and will not pose danger of shock.
The solution can be used again and again, no need to pay hazardous disposal fees.
The E3 Controller carefully monitors the etching process, producing great results each time. The result is a crisp etch with minimal undercutting!
PDF Instructions and Information
E3 Etch Kit:
Videos and Tutorials
More Tutorials Coming Soon!
Etching on silver with the E3 Etch is an exciting development for artists who want to avoid using dangerous chemicals such as nitric acid or ferric nitrate. Silver etching can be achieved with our E3 Etch product using consumer-friendly electrolytes. Silver Nitrate is the best electrolyte for fine silver. For sterling, silver nitrate and copper nitrate work well. Sterling solutions need frequent filtering or replacing depending on the alloy of the sterling. Although safety precautions need to be maintained using any chemical, silver nitrate and copper nitrate do not require hazardous disposal if used as directed for the E3 Etch controller. For silver nitrate powder, purchase from www.sherrihaab.com. Copper nitrate can be purchased from a chemistry supply shop.
Etching on Silver PDF
Silver Nitrate MSDS: https://www.saltlakemetals.com/MSDS_Silver_Nitrate.htm
To etch successfully you will need to apply a resist to your metal to prevent that area from etching. We have experimented with every method we can think of and are happy to share our results! Here is a list of resists including pros and cons of each:
E3 Etch UV-30 Film
UV film is by far the most reliable resist we know of. It produces predicable results and allows incredible details and fine lines to be etched. It is easy to apply if you follow each step of the process and DO NOT EXPOSE TO UV LIGHT until it is time to expose the film. A transparency is used to create the design. Work with a bug light while handling the film to avoid UV exposure. Use the film with a 9w ultra violet lamp to expose the film. Washing soda is used to develop the film and also to remove the film from the metal after etching. Pros: perfect results on flat sheet metal, which is especially good when etching expensive metals like silver. Transparency design can be used over and over to aid in mass production. Cons: A lot of steps to follow. All steps including exposure and developing times must be adhered to for success.
E3 Etch Laser Paper
This is a laser paper that we sell with our product because we have found it works well for a "direct toner transfer" method of applying toner images to metal. It has a low failure rate and this is why we choose to promote it with our product. Print black images onto the paper and then iron the design to the metal using high heat. The paper is removed by soaking in water leaving only the toner adhered to the metal. Pros: It doesn't matter if the iron is too hot; the toner will transfer at the linen or cotton settings without a problem. You can visually see if the paper is adhered to the metal, if not simply re-heat. Paper is easy to remove if soaked and gently rubbed with fingers. Produces crisp designs. Cons: Sometimes tricky to remove the paper in the water if prior preparation was poor. Design can be scratched off if vigorously scrubbed during paper removal. It cannot be applied to curved surfaces.
Excellent resist although hard to control fine lines such as writing text. It is a bit messy and hard to control. Use this for large areas you wish to mask off or to seal edges.
Press-n-Peel Blue (PCB film)
This is a common product used to create PC boards. To use it, print a design on the film using a laser printer. The design is then heat transferred with an iron onto a flat piece of metal. Pros for this product: The design is very crisp and precise. The resist holds up very well in the electrolyte solution even when left for long periods of time. Cons: Getting the heat at just the right temperature to transfer is difficult and takes LOTS of practice. If too hot the resist can smudge, if not hot enough you will lose part of the image. Costly if you make a mistake because you can't predict if it is adhered properly until it is peeled from the metal. It cannot be applied to curved surfaces.
Sharpie Paint Pen
This is an oil based paint pen, not a permanent marker. The pen allows you to draw freeform designs on your metal quickly and easily. Use the extra fine tipped marker for intricate details. Be sure to heat set the ink with an embossing heat gun sold at craft stores. This will help the ink to adhere to the metal during the etching process. It makes a huge difference in the outcome if you heat set the ink. Pros: Fast method, good for curved or bumpy surfaces, you can see where it is applied as you go, gives you ultimate control. Cons: Can flake off in the solution if left too long or applied too thickly. Although this can be alleviated IF you heat set with an embossing heat gun. It takes more time to draw an intricate design rather than printing.
This is a liquid commonly sold in fine art stores. It is a rubber type fluid that is water proof until rolled off with your fingers after etching. Pros: Holds up and protects the metal, good barrier. Cons: Hard to control line quality and apply neatly.
Permanent Resist Paint is a thick paint that can be used to create the design on your piece. Use a fine tipped applicator bottle or paintbrush to apply paint to the metal and let the paint dry. Seal the paint by heating the surface with a hot hair dryer or use a heat embossing tool for a minute or two. The heat insures that the paint will remain on the metal during etching. After etching, simply roll the paint off with your fingers. It will peel off like rubber cement. Pros: Very durable, can create unique hand-drawn designs, easy to use. Cons: Takes time to draw a design rather than printing, hand to achieve fine lines with the thick paint.
Tape and stickers
Use packing tape or stickers to mask the metal. Pros: very good barrier. Cons: Limited to geometric designs that are less intricate. It is difficult and time consuming to remove adhesives from metal.
A note about resists: These can be used in combinations to create unique etched patterns. A good rule of thumb is to use images with a good balance of metal exposed in relation to the masked area of the resist. If you draw a design with just a few thin lines it is likely that the lines will eventually erode due to the lengthy etching process and the resist being very sparse and vulnerable. The patented controller is made to adjust the power to compensate for your design however your final satisfaction it is dependent on a good design and good resist. Choose the resist that best suits your desired outcome, and practice a few designs to see which you prefer.
How much Copper Sulfate do I use?
4 heaping teaspoons full per 12 oz. distilled water is a good rule of thumb, but if you use a bit less or more it's okay, it doesn't have to be exact. (For silver etching, see our link for electrolytes for silver). Etching on Silver PDF
Fast or Slow?
The E3 etch controller has 2 settings. Use fast for most applications, especially if you are etching a large piece with lots of copper or brass exposed. Slow is good to use if you are etching a very small charm for example, with very little copper exposed. Slow is also good to use if you want a shallow relief or if your design has lots of very fine lines. The fast setting heats up a bit more which over time may cause the resist to flake off especially in delicate areas. The best way to decide is to try sample pieces to test the final results for the desired effect. Sometimes a faster etching gives you a rustic look with lost and found edges that are quite appealing.
Why do crystals form in the solution during etching?
Minerals in hard water interfere with etching. You can use tap water but if you have hard water it's best to use distilled water to etch with.
Is the electricity dangerous?
No, the E3 etch is only 12 volts which will not harm you if you should touch the clips. In regard to the solution, wear gloves to protect skin.
How do I dispose of the etching solutions?
The best part about the electrolyte solutions we recommend is that you can re-use them indefinitely without worry of disposal. Simply strain the solutions through a coffee filter and keep the solution in a capped jar for future use. If you do want to dispose of the solution, you can flush it away as it is not harmful for the environment in small concentrations. (For silver etching, see our link re: silver electrolyte solutions).
How do I care for the Controller and Supplies?
Do not submerge the clips and keep them clean from any of the solutions you may use. Do not pull or twist the wires as you may ruin the connections. Always remember to connect the black clip to the pan and the red clip to your electrode wire to avoid causing damage to the wires.
Why is my etching uneven or missing in spots?
The etching will occur wherever metal is exposed. Sometimes a bit of the resist flakes off or is disturbed during the process which can cause uneven etching. To avoid this, make sure you sanded and cleaned your metal well before applying the resist. Resist moving or checking the piece frequently as this will disturb the ink. Try using different resist methods for better results. For more about resists, read our topic heading "Resists for Etching" above.
Can I use the same pan for copper and silver?
No, use a separate pan for different metals, this will keep the solutions pure and keep the metals from interactions that will interfere with etching.
What about etching multiple or larger pieces?
We are in the process of designing larger units to etch multiple pieces at one time, let us know you are interested and we will inform you when we have units for sale.
E3 Etch Authorized Resellers
Sherri Haab Designs
FDJ On Time
Metal Clay Supply
Whole Lotta Whimsy
Objects and Elements
Information for Teachers and Designers
If you teach or are interested in writing how-to articles using our products, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org about our designer endorsement program. We can give you educational support for workshops and we have a product endorsement policy for work that is published.