Etching Metal Tutorial: Turn Any Image Into One-of-a-Kind Metal Art for Jewelry and Gifts

Etching provides a great way to create personalized, unique metal jewelry and gifts–and it's that time of year! Using simple metal-etching techniques, you can transfer any image–be it a photograph of a loved one, a design you drew yourself, or a masterpiece created by a little one, anything that can be photocopied or printed–onto metal. Then you can turn that one-of-a-kind etched metal into one-of-a-kind jewelry (pendants, cuffs, rings) or other metal creations, such as ornaments, bookmarks, photo frames, magnets, and more. You can also use etching techniques to create texture plates for clays and use with a rolling mill.

One of my favorites from the JMD archives, Lexi's metal-etching tutorial describes the basic metal etching process, along with some tips to help you troubleshoot as you go. Once you've tried it, you'll want to grab her etching metal video workshop, Jewelry Etching on Copper, to learn even more about etching as well as how to incorporate your etched metal creations into jewelry. Bonus: You can also etch on brass and sterling using similar techniques!  –Tammy 

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Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, June 2010.

Phototransfer Metal Etching
by Lexi Erickson

Etching brass and copper plates can result in interesting designs, and the metal may be used several ways. I plan on making this etched copper plate into a piece of jewelry. If I had etched the same design onto brass, it could be used as a texture plate: I could run it through the rolling mill several times and transfer the image onto a softer metal, such as copper or sterling. Copper, though, is too soft to transfer an etched design successfully onto one of the soft metals.

Etching metal using this phototransfer process is an easy way to incorporate designs from simple to complex. Anyone can etch with this simple process.


Press-n-Peel (PnP Paper) Image Transfer Film
ferric chloride
15 micron 3M Finishing Film or green Scrubbie
Scotch tape
packing tape
blue painter's tape
shallow dish not to be used again for food
Sharpie pen
non-acetone nail polish remover
3M radial bristle disc (optional)
paper towels
pH testing strips
safety clothing
metal to etch*
laser photocopy machine/printer**
hotplate or stove

*You can do this technique with sterling, copper, or brass. Clean the metal by lightly sanding it with a 15 micron sheet of 3M finishing film or use a green Scrubbie with a bit of force.

** You may photocopy an image, photograph, or line drawing onto the PnP paper. You may also draw your own design on paper and photocopy that image onto the PnP paper. I check the clarity of the image first by photocopying it onto white paper. You must use a laser printer to photocopy your work. Inkjet or bubblejet printers will not work. The image must be copied onto the dull side of the PnP paper, so first determine which side to insert face up into the paper feeder. Also remember that the image will be reversed, so if it includes any printing, such as initials or words, the printing must appear backward before you transfer it.


Spacer 10x10 pixels 1. Photocopy your image onto the PnP paper. The image will look dark blue because of the absorption of the ink onto the paper: this is what transfers onto your metal. If there are any unnecessary "fills" between areas, they may be lifted off with packing tape. Simply apply the tape to those affected areas and pull it off. The ink will come off the metal with the tape.

2. I was inspired by the designs on ancient Puebloan pottery shards and used them as a design source. Cut the image out of the PnP paper, but leave a border of approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch around the image. To hold your image in place, use Scotch tape and tape the image face (dull side) down onto the metal. It's best to tape around the edges of the metal.

Read on for the rest of Lexi's metal etching tutorial, including notes on metal etching resources and important safety guidelines.

If you want to learn more about etching on metal, instantly download Lexi's etching workshop, Jewelry Etching on Copper. Jewelry Etching on copper is also available as a traditional DVD.

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