How are Etched Nameplates Made?

BY Rowena Taylor

Etched NameplatesEtched nameplates are used for so many things, and can be made using a wide variety of metals. Usually, the metals that are chosen for these plates are those that are corrosion resistant and don’t rust, such as aluminum, bronze, and stainless steel. In the past, the creation of etched metal plates was done by hand, with an artisan meticulously creating the designs on the plate using a waxy protectant that covers parts of the metal from the acid. Once the design is done, the artist then dips the metal into the acid, which then eats at the exposed parts of the plate, creating a design that is sunken into the metal.

These days, there are a few methods being used to create these etched nameplates. Here are some of them:

Acid etching – much like the old-fashioned etching method, this one also uses an acid resist known as a ground, and a mordant. The ground can come in two different kinds: hard ground and soft ground. The hard ground method uses a wax block melted onto the plate, then evened out with the use of a roller. The plate is then cooled to harden the waxy acid resist on it. The design is then “smoked” and scratched into the ground, which exposes the metal parts that are to be eaten by the acid.

For soft ground methods, the acid resist is applied in liquid form and the design is also applied to the semi-hard, semi-soft surface. The plate is then submerged in the acid that is to eat away at the exposed metal, and the etched plate is removed once the desired effect is achieved.

Non-toxic etching – since solvents were said to pose a health risk to workers who create these plates, a non-toxic method was developed. This involved the use of acrylic polymers, floor wax, and ferric chloride. The use of ferric chloride is noted for it not producing toxic fumes during the etching process, making it an ideal choice for those who don’t want their workers exposed to corrosive gases.

Another non-toxic method of etching is called anodic etching. This one uses electric currents to create the designs, and still uses an aqueous solution that consists of electrolytes to get this done. This uses rather low voltages, making it a low risk method and a non-toxic one at that as well.

Photo-Etching – this uses polymer plates that are light sensitive. What happens is a photo-sensitive coating is first applied to the metal plate that is to be etched. Images for the parts where the etching is to be made is done in light and dark areas, with the dark parts being the ones that are to be etched. The parts that are to be etched will be eaten away by ferric chloride, and the protected parts will remain untouched by the aqueous solution. The finished plate is then neutralized to stop the acid from continuously eating into the metal, and then rinsed off and dried, before any additional work such as inking and painting is done.

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