Etching with transparencies

November 13, 2013 , In: General, Tutorials
My love affair with etching copper continues as does my search for new ways to transfer the image on to the metal.
You may have seen on my blog, my idea of using stickers cut on a Silhouette Cameo to mask areas of metal to protect them from the etching chemicals. While this is a great way to create simple bold designs, it doesn’t work so well on something with smaller fiddly details.
The most common way to transfer more complicated designs is by using Press and Peel Paper which is printed using a laser printer, the image peeled off and then ironed on to the metal. This produces a great result, the only down side is the cost. At around £20 GBP for 5 sheets, it’s expensive.
I don’t know about you, but using expensive materials to test ideas (which I do a lot) makes me a little nervous, and usually ends up with me only creating a mess. So having my regular scout around on the internet, I came across using laser transparencies. They’re clear sheets of acetate, the same as used on the old school overhead projectors, but they’re suitable for use at the temperatures needed to print on a laser.
So a quick call to the local stationary shop and 10 minutes later, I had 5 sheets for £1.25… bargain! I had to try it out and see how it worked for me, so here’s my results…
To start, I drew up some designs and printed them on to the transparency.
So far so good! You can see the images here on the transparent sheet laid over white paper. My laser printer is a bit temperamental, but it shot through with no problems.
Next, I got out the iron. I tried at full temperature on my first attempt, which was too hot and started to melt the plastic. So after a couple of tries, I found a medium setting was best. You don’t need anything to cover the transparency, just place the iron on it and check every 10 seconds how it’s going. Be careful, the metal gets very hot!
If you look at the print on an angle, you can see that it changes to a more solid color once it’s stuck to the metal. You might need a few tries and some close looking to get the hang of what to look out for. 
Once it’s stuck down, you need to leave it to cool. If you’re as impatient as I am, you can run it under a tap for a second to speed it up.
Peel off the transparency and if it’s worked, virtually all of the toner will be stuck to the metal and the transparency will be pretty much clean.
As you can see here, part of the design missed, but the great thing with this technique is, if it hasn’t completely transferred, you can re-align the design and try again. You do sometimes get a bit of trouble near the edges if they’re slightly higher than the flat part of the sheet through cutting, so just pop it back on and press again with the iron until the whole image is transferred.
And here’s the image after etching with ferric chloride, you can now cut it from the sheet and use in your designs.
I hope you enjoyed reading and that you’ll have a go!
To get you in the mood, here’s a bit of inspiration… some of my favourite designs and components in etched copper.





Thanks for reading!

Caroline Dewison

Caroline Dewison is a lifelong addict of anything creative. She settled on ceramic beadmaking 3 years ago and can be found most days at the bottom of her garden playing with mud in her studio. She draws her inspiration from the natural world and wishes there were more hours in the day to explore all the ideas in her sketchbook. You can see more of her work on her blog - blueberribeads.co.uk.
  1. Reply

    Interesting! Your designs look beautiful.

  2. Reply

    Well I'll certainly be giving that a go…thanks Caroline.

    • Gale
    • November 13, 2013

    Wow, bargain PnP! Have to try that with electrolytic etching!

  3. Reply

    Wow!!! Caroline!! How fab!! Great directions and wonderful results!! Your designs are super!! Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. Reply

    OK – I love etching and you are making me love it more. My reservations come from safety and clean up. I etch in my jewelry studio which is my everything studio. The sinks available are bathroom and kitchen. I am paranoid about drips/stains/pets. Maybe a post about your set up in detail and your safety/disposal routine? You rock.

  5. Reply

    Love the idea of using transparencies – helps keep the cost down …a lot! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Reply

    Holy carp! I never thought of using transparency sheets! I have a love-hate relationship with etching… I love the look of it and hate to do it! I just might have to test this idea out! Thanks for the great tutorial. Enjoy the day. Erin

  7. Reply

    I know I have a box of transparencies somewhere – will definitely try this. Thank you so much Caroline!

  8. Reply

    I've been using the PressnPeel with great results, and have been meaning to try some acetate for one day when I run out of the sheets. This is helpful, thank you!

  9. Reply

    So cool. I'd love to hear the answers to Jen's questions too.

  10. Reply

    Thanks all.. glad you enjoyed reading!

    In response to the safety/cleanliness side of things.. I'm lucky that I have a garage to work in with a concrete floor, and stone worktops, so I don't have to worry too much about drips. It is a messy technique, and I'm a messy worker. Any drips are cleaned up with paper towels soaked in water and bicarb to neutralise the ferric chloride and I wear gloves to work in. I only have a kitchen sink too, so use bowls of water which I take out to save too much mess. Disposal is a bit more difficult. I have a large bottle that all the spent solution goes in to and I believe you can either neutralise it and put it down the sink (which I don't like the sound of!) or you can take it to your local refuse disposal place and they will make it safe and get rid of it for you. I haven't got so much that I need to take over yet, but I'll keep you posted!

  11. Reply

    Sounds like what I do… bowls of rinse water that I can neutralize with Bicarb, and throw away… saving spent solution for the proper disposal. Cool. Just didn't know if you had other tricks up your sleeves!

  12. Reply

    Holy inspiration and gorgeousness Batwoman!!!!!!

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