Copper Etching: Not just for PCBs

etching buttons

[Morag Hickman] is an artist who makes use of ferric chloride for something other than etching a PCB. She uses the process to etch beautiful designs into her jewelry.

[Tortoise Butler] is a small film crew that created this three and a half minute film on the art of etching copper, and it is an absolute pleasure to watch. There are no computers, no toner transfers, and she doesn’t even etch on a flat surface. It’s an excellent example of doing something different — why not add etching to finish off a project? If you’ve already done PCBs, it can’t be that hard to do a logo instead!

Anyway, it’s been a while since we’ve shared a handmade hack, and we think this is a great example that deserves the spotlight. Don’t forget to send in your own handmade projects to the tips line!

Stick around after the break to enjoy the film — we recommend watching it full screen and in HD.


  1. svofski says:


    There are some questions though:
    1) what kind of marker can survive “a few hours” in ferric chloride — all that I tried get destroyed within 10 minutes (in hot water bath though)
    2) what kind of etchant solution is it if in “a few hours” there’s still anything left of the button? (it’s not in a hot water bath though)

    • Garbz says:

      Yeah this stood out from the video. It’s in a container, maybe it’s stored in the fridge to reduce the reaction?

      • Hi Folks! I use a dilute version of the chunks of ferric chloride you can get from Maplin, and at room temperature I usually leave my work in there for about 3 hours to get a nice deep etch – about 0.8mm in a 1.2mm sheet. The marker I use is a Staedler Lumocolor, but you can also use acrylic paint, wax or nail varnish.

        • says:

          Where did you get the cube with the different sized hemispheres in it from?

        • svofski says:

          So it seems that a diluted solution and cold etching equals lesser stress on the resist and probably less undercutting. I once made a “marksplate” in a piece of copper using photo resist, it worked but some underetching was a problem — take a look (it’s miniature, about dime-sized):

          Have you considered electrical etching? In electrolyte you can etch deeper without undercutting too much. But it’s not nearly as relaxed as what you have established.

          • Oooh, that’s a lovely tiny etch! I look forward to trying photo resists.
            I had great fun with electrical etching (I used it to create this:, but the major problem I’ve had was in attaching the small work pieces in a way that was electrically stable, wouldn’t itself get eaten away, and could be removed from the finished product without leaving a ‘scar’. I will definitely consider trying it again if I start doing work that needs big, flat sheets, but chemical etching is much easier for individual pieces or small batches.

          • Matouš says:

            Does the top writing actually say “Parovoj kozel” – Steam goat? :D What does that mean if I may ask?

          • svofski says:

            nowordsandnotune I didn’t realize how complex your projects get. Beautiful work! It’s true that for stable electrical etching you need more or less equal distance between electrodes which makes it hard to apply it to anything but flat surfaces.

            Matouš yes, it says exactly that :) It means nothing really, like a faux trademark. It’s a marksplate for a model steam engine, you can look it up here

          • Wow! I always admire those who make such machines, far too much precision for me :P

            Thank you! I love a challenge, it’s fantastic to get commissions that let me make crazy-elaborate things :)

    • rue_mohr says:

      sharpie marker (black), staedtler (black), zebra (a marker from china, mostly works – black ), desktech (black again, found at dollar store).
      As brought up, nail polish also works great, to the point I’v made a special all-metal pen for my plotter just so I can use nail polish to do pcb resist.

      • I’m watched someone do this exact process, but with a wax resist. It involved carefully dripping a thin layer of candlewax onto the metal and then scratching away the areas you wanted to allow the ferric chloride to make contact with. As with many things it seems etching has positives and negatives.

      • Shirley says:

        One can also use Higgins Black Magic ink (permanent ink for calligraphy) from a bottle. We used to call it “India” ink. It is supposed to stay put throughout the entire etching process, no matter how long. You apply it with a fountain pen/nib, refillable pump fountain pen, tiny brush, etc.

  2. says:

    I wonder why they don’t quench it and temper it again after soldering? Particularly for a button. I wouldn’t imagine it would be pretty soft after the annealing.

    • As I don’t heat it as much to solder it as I do to anneal it, it doesn’t get as soft, so it’s still hard enough to function – I might do some tests to see how much difference it makes though, thanks for the suggestion :)

      • says:

        Cool. If you are going to quench, it’s probably a good idea to try one in water and another in oil to compare the results. If you are going to use oil it may catch on fire so DO NOT use water to put it out otherwise it could explode. Just cover it with something that is fire resistant and smother it out. I definitely love your work.

  3. Jason says:

    Very nice work. I use a heated, bubble agitation tank of Ferric Chloride to etch copper bracelets. I can get a 1 mm etch in ~1 hr with very little undercutting. Good tip on the permanent marker, I use a combination of adhesive vinyl and electrical tape as my resist material.

  4. steve says:

    This is officially the most organized and informative collection of comments and responses I have ever seen on hackaday.
    All of the questions I was going to ask were answered,
    The end result is beautiful! Thank you for sharing

  5. JGunn says:

    I’ve had good results etching circuit boards with vinegar, salt, and peroxide (as documented by Quinn Dunki and others, search HaD for Blondihacks posts). Have you tried anything like that? I’m interested in trying some etching like you did above, but I’d rather avoid the strong chemicals.

    The key to (relatively) fast etching with those chemicals seems to be using non-iodized salt, btw… in case anyone’s had issues in that regard. Iodine seems to retard the reaction.

  6. tsadowski says:

    I assume the back of the button has the resist applied as well? Since the whole button appears to be submerged I would think you would have to.

  7. Evan says:

    Very neat use!
    I’ve always enjoyed the kind of gentle look that comes from etching designs in copper.
    Is it a silver solder you’re using, or is it the same type of Sn/Pb solder paste I tend to use for PCBs?

  8. I thought people might be interested – I’ve just come up with some improvements to my etching process, making it much quicker, easier, and more reliable! Consistent results, here I come!

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