Preparation for Metal Etching
I have become quite enamored with metal etching using electricity. I love textures and patterns! I took metal and jewelry classes at my local community college, and then I bought my own equipment to keep going now that I’ve graduated. I buy sheet brass, bronze, copper and nickle silver to etch and then cut up to make jewelry and wearable art. I’m selling the finished etched components as well, and am beginning to sell the etched metal for other artists to use in 3″x3″ sheets. Please do take a look in my Creative Connections shop to see what is current (that’s an electrical joke, Sparky!) In addition, I offer classes in electrical etching and in Adobe Photoshop. I use different kinds of resists to mask off areas on the metal that will not be etched away. These include enamel paint pens, sharpie markers, packing tape and laser toner printed onto PnP paper. Then I use a 5 amp rectifier (seen here) to use electricity to etch away the metal that is not masked. The same piece of equipment allows me to plate metal ONTO things, but I haven’t had time to get good at that yet–perhaps this summer. For now, I’ve got a lot of etching to do! I can draw images by hand using the pens and markers, cut tape into strips and shapes, rubber stamps and dye (solvent based) ink, or use PnP blue paper used in making circuit boards. When printed using black laser toner, the paper can be cut up, ironed onto cleaned and alcohol-wiped metal sheets, and images transfer to the metal beautifully.
I like to use images from the Dover Pictorial Archive, which are copyright free for the use of artists. With the purchase of the book, up to ten images can be used in a single piece of work without further permission. These graphics also make ideal designs for rubber stamps to be used with polymer clay, or they can be photocopied and transferred to polymer clay! Although many Dover books are available at book stores or art supply stores, the most comprehensive selection is available through Amazon.com or through Dover Publications themselves. They are the source of most images used in making dingbat fonts and clip art. You can scan pages or you can get the books with the cd’s included. Here are links to a few favorites.
Click on the image to go to Amazon.com and view details.
Once you have stored the images in a file on your computer, you can play with resizing and repeating, changing left to right and black to white. I save my files as a full sized .tif or .png file and keep them in a folder called “etching designs” so that I can use them again if I like how things turn out. At right is a master sheet made using the designs from the African Designs CD-Rom and book.
To Find an Image Open Adobe Bridge (Br) Browse to the folder you want (jpg is good) and double click to open an image in Photoshop. To open multiple images, hold down Command as you click on the next object. Then double click on one of the highlighted images to open them all.
To Make a PnP Master In Photoshop choose File >New Create a file using US Letter preset (300 dpi 8.5x11”) Go back and forth from the images you have opened to the new file. All open files will be listed under Window in the top navigation menu.
Choose an image file, and hold down Command and A to Select All hold down Command and C to Copy Go back to the PnP Master file you are making, and Hold down Command and V to Paste
Or, you can drag-and-drop from the opened files to the new master file. Continue doing this until your master file page is filled. Leave room to cut between the designs. It is a good idea to save your file in case you need to use it again. Do this as you are working every once in a while too, for safety. I hate it when my work gets lost! You can make copies of an image easily. You can make different versions of an image in several ways—resize it, reverse it, change color images to black and white, and invert to change black to white and white to black. Those are just a few!
To Make Copies of an Image Make sure you are clicked on the black arrow at the top of the tool bar (this is the Selection Tool) Make sure that Show Transform Controls box at the left of the top navigation bar is clicked. Click on the image inside the bounding box. Hold down the alt/option key while holding the clicker down and dragging the new image away. Two little black and white arrows appear when you do this and the selected object is duplicated. You can do several at once. If you are building a repeating pattern it is easier to build an entire row and duplicate it.
To Resize the Image Make sure you are clicked on the black arrow at the top of the tool bar (this is the Selection Tool) Make sure that Show Transform Controls box at the left of the top navigation bar is clicked. Click and hold down the curser (clicker button) on one of the Bounding Box corners (around the image) and pull out to make it bigger, push in towards the center to make it smaller. If you hold down Shift at the same time, it will resize in ration, otherwise you will make it skinnier but not shorter, etc., and that can be very cool also. There’s a checkmark at the right of the top navigation bar you must click to Commit to Transform.
To Reverse the Image Direction Make sure you are clicked on the black arrow at the top of the tool bar (this is the Selection Tool) Make sure that Show Transform Controls box at the left of the top navigation bar is clicked. Click on the image inside the bounding box to select it. Make a copy as shown above. Click on the middle box on the left or right side of the bounding box—not a corner box, but in between. Drag the image to the left or right to reverse it. Click the Commit to Transform button at the right of the top navigation bar. You can measure the new one against the original to make sure the size is right. Now you have a left and right version!
OR Make sure you are clicked on the black arrow at the top of the tool bar (this is the Selection Tool) Make sure that Show Transform Controls box at the left of the top navigation bar is clicked. Click on the image inside the bounding box. Go to the top navigation bar Image>Image Rotation and you can flip it horizontally or vertically.
To Change Color To Black and White Select the item by clicking on it. Go to the Layers Panel in the lower left of the screen; if it isn’t open, then open it under Window>Layers. At the bottom of the panel are some little icons, and one is a circle, half white and half black. Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer is its name. One of the adjustments is Black & White. Pick that one and it takes all the color out. If your darks need to be darker, make another adjustment layer and pick Curves. There is a graph with black and white sliders at the bottom.
Pick the black one on the left by clicking on it and then slide it to the right to darken the dark parts of the image. You can brighten the light parts of an image by doing the reverse with the white slider bar.
To Invert Black and White Select the image you wish to invert. Go to Image>Adjustments>Invert and click. The keyboard shortcut is Command plus I. If the image is grey and black , go to the Layers Panel in the lower left of the screen; if it isn’t open, then open it under Window>Layers. At the bottom of the panel are some little icons, and one is a circle, half white and half black. Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer is its name. One of the adjustments is Curves. There is a graph with black and white sliders at the bottom. Pick the black one on the left by clicking on it and then slide it to the right to darken the dark parts of the image. You can brighten the light parts of an image by doing the reverse with the white slider bar.
To Print on PnP Paper Save your file frequently as you build it in photoshop as sometimes things go wrong and you don’t want to lose your previous work. When you have a full sheet of images with plenty of room to cut around them to separate them, load the PnP paper into the printer DULL SIDE UP (printer says load print side up, and you print on the dull not the shiny side). Print the image using black laser toner. A fresh cartridge is more likely to bleed as the toner is too “juicy”.
Important Keyboard Shortcuts (Cmmd for Macs, Cntrl for PC)
Cmmd A = Select All Cmmd C = Copy to Clipboard Cmmd V = Paste
Cmmd Z = Edit Undo Cmmd S = Save Cmmd I = Invert
Cmmd P = Print
To Use the PnP Paper Cut the images out, leaving some blue around them. Place toner side down onto cleaned metal. I cut my metal pieces into strips that fit in the stainless steel container, about 3″ or 4″ x 6″, and can fit several designs on each, or one or two large area designs.
Fold a piece of white paper in half, place metal and paper inside, and use a hot iron plus an ironing board or a folded towel to iron to press the design onto the metal. This takes about a minute. When you can see the black design through the PnP paper, you are done.
Allow to cool a bit, then rinse in cold water to remove the paper with minimal loss of print areas. Areas that are lost can be filled in using a sharpie marker or enamel paint pen.
I like to put the designs onto the metal within 2 weeks of printing for best results. Then, the metal can be stored for etching later. Here you can see where I’ve touched up areas that didn’t transfer well. After etching, I clean the toner, ink, or enamel paint from the metal using cotton balls and acetone.