How to Acid Etch Metal/Copper and Brass Blanks for Jewelry

How to acid etch copper and brass
How to acid etch copper and brass | Source

Do you automatically assume that working with metal is difficult?

  • Yes, metal frightens me!
  • I'm not really sure.
  • Nope, I'm a pro at metalworking.
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Acid Etching

Have you ever thought of metal as your canvass? Probably not. But it is, and it's easier to create designs in metal than you think.

Acid etching copper and brass yields endless possibilities with impressive results. The materials needed are fairly inexpensive, and you may already have some of them at home. Acid etching metals allows you to create beautiful designs in relief. If you can stamp it, draw it, or write it, you can etch it!

Because brass is composed primarily of copper, it can be etching using the same acids that etch copper. Acids capable of etching copper to not etch steel, iron, or silver, though, so you'll be disappointed if you try. Copper is the easiest metal to etch, the easiest to cut, and less expensive than fine metals, so I highly recommend trying metal etching on copper first. There are a couple of different options for etching copper, but my favorite acid is ferric chloride because it is inexpensive and effective.

Materials Needed to Acid Etch

  • Brass or copper to etch. You can cut your own pieces from copper sheet, or purchase pre-cut brass or copper stamping blanks. I highly recommend stamping blanks, unless you have a trusty pair of metal shears and a metal hole puncher. You can also find brass bracelet blanks. These are fun to etch, but I advise starting with something smaller.
  • An abrasive cleaner. I suggest a scrubby pad and a cleaner like Penny Brite.
  • Acid. As mentioned above, I use ferric chloride.
  • Packing tape.
  • A Sharpie, or similar, marker and/or stamps and StazOn ink. Stazon is a specially-formulated ink designed to adhere to metals and ceramics. If you use 'normal' stamp ink, it will come off in the acid solution.
  • Baking soda.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Optional but recommended - gloves and safety glasses.

How to Prepare Metals for Etching

Your metal blank needs to be totally clean before you can etch it. It must be free of finishes, varnishes, oils, waxes, tarnish, etc. The easiest way to clean your blank is by scrubbing it with a green kitchen scrubbie pad. This will leave slight scratches in the metal, which influences the end product. I really like the way these slight furrows look, but, if you want a smoother appearance, you can clean your metal with an abrasive metal cleaner like Penny Brite or Bar Keepers Friend and a regular sponge. Make sure to wash any cleaner residue from the blank and dry it using a towel or paper towel, and try to handle it the metals by its edges to minimize the risk of contaminating the clean surface with finger oils.

You can see the slight scratches left by the scrubbie pad.
You can see the slight scratches left by the scrubbie pad. | Source

Decorate the Metal Blank

The medium you make your design in is called a resist. Permanent inks, like magic marker and StazOn, are resists, but many other resists exist, too.

Whatever you cover with your resist will not be etched. This means the ink design will ultimately be raised above the blank's surface because the acid will eat away at the exposed metal. You can draw pictures, write words, or (my favorite) use stamps to create designs for etching. Fine lines show up very well when you acid etch, so don't be afraid to use your most intricate stamps!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stamp or draw your designStazOn ink is specially formulated to adhere to metal and I highly recommend it for metal etching.
Stamp or draw your design
Stamp or draw your design | Source
StazOn ink is specially formulated to adhere to metal and I highly recommend it for metal etching.
StazOn ink is specially formulated to adhere to metal and I highly recommend it for metal etching. | Source

Prepare the Blank for Etching

After allowing your resist to dry, carefully cover the blank's edges with ink. It is easiest to simply use a permanent marker but, if you don't have one, you can use a StazOn ink pad, instead. Then, flip the blank over and cover its entire back with ink, too. This helps ensure only the blank's front becomes etched. If you do not protect the blank's sides, you will end up with uneven edges. If you do not cover the back, you may either end up with an uneven surface or accidentally etch all the way through a thin piece of metal!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Protect the blank's backAnd its sides!
Protect the blank's back
Protect the blank's back | Source
And its sides!
And its sides! | Source

After allowing the ink, or Sharpie, to dry on the blank's back, cut a several inch section of packing tape. Carefully place the metal blank face up on the tape and press it firmly in place. Then, flip the tape and blank and use your thumb, a plastic card, or even a coin to seal the tape to the metal blank as securely as possible. This tape serves two purposes: It helps prevent the back from becoming accidentally etched through any weak spots in the Sharpie/ink coating, and it allows you to easily retrieve the metal blank from the acid without hurting yourself!

Etched brass earrings.
Etched brass earrings. | Source

Etching the Metal Blank

Carefully lower the blank, face down, on to the acid's surface. It does not need to be totally submerged. In fact, submerging the blank increases the risk that acid will seep under the tape, marking the blank's back.

After placing the metal in acid, mix a couple of tablespoons of baking soda in warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set the baking soda water aside for later use.

Every 10 minutes or so, shake the container of acid gently to agitate it. After about half an hour, lift the metal from the acid and take a look. Be very careful! I highly recommend wearing gloves and eye protection. Even the tiniest drop of acid can burn you. I discovered this the hands-on way when the end of a piece of tape touched a drop of acid and flung it in my face. A tiny, tiny drop landed in my eye. Luckily, I'm kind of a nerd and had a bottle of sterile eye wash on hand and was able to rinse my eye quickly and appropriately. It hurt less than the time I got habanero in my eye, but it was no laugh. Don't let it happen to you!

If you are satisfied with the etching's depth, remove the metal from the acid and proceed to the next step. If you want the etching to be deeper, return the metal to the acid and check on it again in about 10 minutes.

You can store and reuse etching acid, but it becomes less potent with time as etched metal fills the solution. Therefore, acid will etch more quickly the first time you use it, and will have difficulty etching, at all, by the time you need to dispose of it. A lot of other factors can influence how quickly a piece of metal becomes etched, too - only you can tell if its done!

Metal resting on top of the acid.
Metal resting on top of the acid. | Source

Neutralizing the Acid

Once you are satisfied with your etching, remove it from the acid (using the tape!) and place it in the baking soda water. You will instantly see it fizz as the baking soda neutralizes the acid, making the metal safe to touch.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The metal, just removed from acid.The acid being neutralized in baking soda.
The metal, just removed from acid.
The metal, just removed from acid. | Source
The acid being neutralized in baking soda.
The acid being neutralized in baking soda. | Source

After the acid is neutralized and the metal safe to touch, remove it from the baking soda water and peel it from the tape. You will notice the metal's surface is, well, kind of weird looking (as shown below). Do not dismay! You just need to scrub it with baking soda until it looks pretty and shiny.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
If your metal looks mottled and weird, don't worry!Simply scrub it with baking soda.
If your metal looks mottled and weird, don't worry!
If your metal looks mottled and weird, don't worry! | Source
Simply scrub it with baking soda.
Simply scrub it with baking soda. | Source

Even after a vigorous scrubbing, some of your Sharpie or StazOn may remain. Simply use rubbing alcohol and a paper towel to quickly remove any ink residue.

The pendant on the left is brass and has not been covered with a patina. The pendant on the right is copper and has been given a patina using liver of sulfur.
The pendant on the left is brass and has not been covered with a patina. The pendant on the right is copper and has been given a patina using liver of sulfur. | Source

Patinas and alcohol inks are a little different from each other, but they are both easy to work with and can really make an etched design pop.

Acid Etching Is Fun and Easy

And there you have it! Your very own design, immortalized in metal. That wasn't too hard, was it?

Most etched designs look beautiful, as is, but a variety of alcohol inks, enamels, and patinas exist. These products allow you to color and weather your new creation. You can even use nail polish to decorate metal, if you would like. Alcohol inks are easy to find at craft stores, and check back soon for a hub on how to use liver of sulfur to create beautiful patinas!

Etched metal pieces are easy to turn into necklace pendants and earrings. Etched metal jewelry can make a fantastic personalized gift, and etching metal is also a really easy way to create your own piece of jewelry with whatever design you desire for that special night out or an important event. People will wonder how you found such a perfect, pretty piece, and you'll be able to proudly announce that you made it. Everyone assumes metals are very difficult to work with, so you'll look amazingly talented to your family, friends, and coworkers!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and, as always, please leave me any questions! I'll do my best to answer them for you.

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Comments 47 comments

cabmgmnt profile image

cabmgmnt 3 years ago from Northfield, MA

This looks fun and interesting. I could make some fantastic gifts with this technique. Thanks for writing this hub!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thank you for stopping by and being my first commenter! I love working with metal because everyone assumes it must take lots of expensive and complicated equipment, but it doesn't have to. Besides, it just kind of makes me feel cool to permanently alter something as durable as metal.

botipton profile image

botipton 3 years ago from Cecilia, KY

It is easy as long as people do what you say and are very, very, add a few more verys, careful with the acid. It does make beautiful work.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Yes, you do need to be careful with acid!

It is amazing to me how specific acids will eat specific metals without damaging other materials. But they will all damage your skin!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

This is a very nice technique and one that I would enjoy doing had I the time. Very creative and beautiful work. Would love to have one of the patina squares as a necklace. Thanks for sharing.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thank you!

I'm actually about to make some necklaces after finishing up some earrings! They're for sale on my etsy page - I guess I should add a link here.

dbuddhika profile image

dbuddhika 3 years ago

Beautiful and interesting, I like brass earrings.

Voting this Up

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author


Brandon Tart profile image

Brandon Tart 3 years ago from North Carolina Sculptor


One would think that you are a metalsmith. I just happen to be, and it's the last thing you'll find me writing about ;). I should clarify, I have made jewelry, but I deal mostly with bronze and iron casting, steel and aluminum welding as a sculptor - never the less, although art is how I make a modest living, I rarely feel compelled to write in the manner you've exercised. Having said that, it is good that you take the time to tell others about the process, something that as an artist, I feel genuinely compelled to hold close to my chest! I like to see other's methods and insights and how they differ from my own approach, as there's no Gospel truth on creative processes, though having a foundation to serve as a guide is of paramount importance! From cutting with a jeweler's saw to using a gas torch to marry metals, one needs a strong base level understanding, which you have clearly done your homework on to provide. Acid etching is a very old method of creative production, and is used in printmaking, too. I like hubs about art, and I am glad that I found yours today. Great job - voted useful, and up! Thank you, Natasha!


Brandon Heath Tart

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I love creating. Whether I am making something, writing, or writing about making something, I enjoy looking back on the day and seeing something I've made. Something that consistently entertains me is, as you mentioned, how many paths there are to the same destination. There are so many ways to make the same thing!

I understand not wanting to share everything about how to create something, but I've also come to the realization that many people either do not want to make things or think they can't. People who want to make them are going to try to find a way and people that would rather devote their time to something else are going to buy the same item, instead. I have a hub on how to make the world's simplest earrings from an aluminum can, but I've also sold the exact same aluminum can earrings because someone didn't feel include to make them, for whatever reason.

As a side note - I think welding is really cool. I was probably the only AP/honors kid at my high school who was trying to attend the vocational school so I could take welding classes!

agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 3 years ago from Australia

Firstly congrats on your HOTD and it is well deserved :)

In the 'old days' this is the same method that most electronic experimentalists made their little circuit boards (I did some many years ago) but that actually etches away all of the copper leaving little tracks of copper on the substrate (used to be fibre-glass board).

As an art form I have never tried it but your well written hub has given me some motivation to give it a go.

Shared out :)

twig22bend profile image

twig22bend 3 years ago

Congratulations on your HOTD. You have made the instructions quite clear. Thanks for sharing.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Agvulpes - I think some people do still etch for circuit boards. I have to admit I'm a little unsure about how that works! Thanks so much for the congrats and complements!

Thank you, twig22bend! HotD is a first for me and I'm thrilled.

bridalletter profile image

bridalletter 3 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

This is a craft I was about to start, but I put it on hold. Thank you for sharing your technique, it is different than I read previously. I am happy to see the stamps work so well on copper, I have a ton of those! So happy you received hub of the day, wonderful hub that I will return to for instructions.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Others may do it different ways, but I know this way works! Thanks for stopping by, bridalletter, and I hope you can put your stamps to good use.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

This looks so possible! Great instructions. I do like the look of those earrings, they are so ethnic gorgeous. I wonder if I could ever make something like this? I'm hopeless with crafts, but my sister is wonderful. I'll send her this and next time we're together perhaps we could make a bracelet or something. I'd love to make something like that for my grand daughters. Thank so much.

Voting and sharing and congratulations on your super well deserved win!

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I can't believe that I didn't leave a comment the first time I read this article! Congrats on getting HOTD. Well deserved.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks so much goodlady and randomcreative! An thanks for both being part of my apprenticeship group and so helpful over our months together. I never would have written this hub last year!

Billie Kelpin profile image

Billie Kelpin 3 years ago from Newport Beach

I NEVER EVER thought about this in my entire 67 years walking on this planet. The earings pictured, though, are the kind I wear, but never once tried to figure out how they were made. Shows you what we take for granted. This hub is fascinating to me. That very cool picture drew me in. Next week is Valentine's Day, how cool would it be to receive a earrings your husband made for you!? "Rings and jewels are not gifts, the only true gift is a gift of thyself to others." Earrings like that would qualify. Hear me Honey? (I really don't trust myself with acid. Maybe coke works, and I could make HIM something :)

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

I agree - I would much rather have something heartfelt and homemade than something with a big price tag! I love the organic feel of etched metal and how it's possible to create basically any pattern you desire.

Kathryn Stratford profile image

Kathryn Stratford 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

I have never worked with metal before, but that sounds like a fun hobby to take up! Thanks for sharing, and congrats on winning HOTD. Great job.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thank you, Kathryn!

Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

Hi Natashalh,

this is not my cup of teat, however, I read this hub with great interest. I how this will help people.

Congrats for HOTD.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks, Vinaya.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

Very creative Natasha! Congrats on HOTD!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks so much, sunshine!

ideabump profile image

ideabump 3 years ago from Indianapolis

this hub reminded me my electronics projects in the college. the same method is used for making electric circuit boards. hydrogen peroxide and hydrochloric acid mixture is very effective in etching the copper boards. Never thought of such an application, sounds interesting.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks for reminding me I need more peroxide! It helps in cleaning metal after soldering it. Thanks for stopping by!

Monis Mas profile image

Monis Mas 3 years ago

This is absolutely awesome. You put so much work into your hub! I do make some jewelry, but mostly simple pieces.

ComfortB profile image

ComfortB 3 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

Nice work Natashalh! Very well done! I just love how you always include photos and clear instructions on your 'how tos'. Voted up and beautiful, and congrats on a well deserved HOTD award! :)

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks for noticing, Monis Mas! Having my little contributions to the DIU and crafting community makes all the effort worth it.

I'm glad you find the instructions clear, ComfortB. It is such a challenging to put some of this stuff in words, and an even bigger challenge to take pictures of myself doing it!

Frangipanni profile image

Frangipanni 3 years ago

So cool. What a great idea. Thanks for sharing.Voted up

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

I did enjoy this tutorial and I'm glad to have the information etching copper and brass in my back pocket for future project ideas. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award and thanks for a neat post!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thanks for the votes and sharing!

You never know when a new crafting technique might come in handy =)

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 3 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

So cool, eloquent design, love the variations in copper.


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Yes, the natural/organic look imparted by this technique is quite pretty!

lovingart profile image

lovingart 3 years ago from London

Great article, thanks!

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thank you!

DRG Da Real Grinc profile image

DRG Da Real Grinc 3 years ago from All over the USA

Wow, awesome tutorial. I am all over this. I collect etchings & engravings and now want to make one. Thank you for this insight.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii Author

Thank you! That's cool - I bet you have some neat items in your collection! Good luck creating your own.

Kristi Harkins profile image

Kristi Harkins 2 years ago

Excellent tutorial thanks for posting it!! I hope to try this for my 1st time later today or tomorrow. I have a bunch of jewelry blanks & am wondering if you can etch the vintaj chocolate like colored blanks or if the have to be the pure or raw brass & or copper? Thanks so much in advance for any advice in that regard.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 2 years ago from Hawaii Author

It tends to do kind of funky things to the Vintaj blanks. They're brass (at least many of them are), but they have a coating. It will etch the antiqued brass, but it will take off the coating!

Kristi Harkins profile image

Kristi Harkins 2 years ago

Ok thanks so much for your reply! I searched & searched to find info about that but either used wrong key words or there's just not really much info in that respect. Guess I'll have to pick up some more raw brass ;-)

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 2 years ago from Hawaii Author

Maybe most people just run their Vintaj blanks through their Sizzix machine and just never try to etch them with acid. Best of luck!

sparkleyfinger profile image

sparkleyfinger 18 months ago from Glasgow

This looks fun! Can't wait to get my craft room sorted so I can try it out! Voted up and interesting, and pinned for later! Thanks

jbosh1972 profile image

jbosh1972 17 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

Try etching with copper chloride. You can make your own from copper oxide and muriatic acid from hardware store.

Melody 7 weeks ago

StazOn bubbled right off in the etching solution. :-(

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