by Virginia Vivier.
(Esprit Mystique Jewelry)
Acid Etching Brass and Copper Jewelry
Part 2: Hand-Drawing Designs
on Brass and Copper for Acid Etching
(My unscientific, but personally tested results.)
In the first article of this series, Part 1: Design Transfer, we discussed how to transfer photocopied graphic designs to flat pieces of brass and copper for etching multiple designs.
Here in Part 2, we’ll cover another way of preparing brass or copper for etching – by drawing directly on the metal using a special ink as a “resist.”
You need a special kind of ink that will “resist” the acid without deteriorating during the etching process.
If you Google acid etching on metal, you will find a wide variety of articles, many very helpful. That’s how I got started.
I experimented with many methods before I found one that worked consistently for me.
Some methods require expensive materials, like PNP (Press N Peel) transfer paper, which I found to be hit or miss compared to the heat transfer method (as explained in Part 1 of this article series.)
Other methods recommended special pens for drawing designs on copper circuit boards.
Still others recommended very expensive printing press engraver inks that dry up too quickly and are messy to use.
In my research, the pen that works best consistently (for me) is made in Germany. I have tried many other brands, but the ink breaks down during the etching process and ruins the final design.
I can CONFIDENTLY recommend felt tip pens Staedtler Lumocolor CD-R Pen – They come in a package of 4 colors, Red, Black, Blue and Green. You can buy a 4-pack on Amazon for $6.99.
The red pen works best as a strong “resist” to Ferric Chloride and Ferric Nitrate.
But in a pinch, the black pen works for short etching sessions of 1 hour or less.
However, if you want a very deep etch, and need to leave it in the etching bath for more than 1 hour, I would not use any color other than red. The other colors may break down in Ferric Chloride and Ferric Nitrate after 1 hour or so.
Upon examining one of these pens carefully, I noticed that it says, “refillable,” which I find very interesting. I couldn’t find a way to open it for refilling. But if anyone knows how to refill one, please share your knowledge!
Note for Acid Etching
Using the Transfer Method in Part 1:
You can use a red Staedtler pen to touch up any missed spots for heat transferred designs that you’ve made using photocopies with dry toner.
If there is a bubble or small spot missing that didn’t transfer to the metal, simply use a red Staedtler pen to fill it in.
A limitation of Staedtler CD-R Lumocolor pens is that they are only available in medium point.
I would LOVE a fine point for delicate designs!
I have tried at least 20 different brands of CD, waterproof, permanent felt tip pens, in a fine point, but none held up in the etching process.
I even tried tapering the end of the red Staedtler medium tip pen with an Xactoknife and a pair of sharp scissors, but the tip fibers frayed unsatisfactorily.
Again, if you have had good luck with a specific brand of fine point felt pen that has a stable ink “resist” for Ferric Chloride etchant, please share the good news with all of us!
One nice thing about drawing your design by hand is that you can etch round objects, like bracelets.
I etch designs on recycled, pure brass bullet shells and have found it very relaxing to draw designs on 100 shells or so, while watching TV at night.
This photo shows a 7mm Magnum, pure brass, recycled bullet shell with black ink resist, ready for etching:
(I used black ink so it will show up in the photo.)
Black ink will hold up for a fairly shallow etch, but I normally suggest red Staedtler pen. (Red Staedtler ink is somewhat transparent and doesn’t provide enough contrast to show up well in a photo.)
Here is an example of a pure brass, bangle bracelet that was etched on both the inside and the outside, at the same time:
Metalliferous carries an interesting variety of pure brass bracelets that etch nicely. Pure copper, or pure brass, will etch equally well in Ferric Chloride.
Do NOT use plated metals.
Before you start drawing, make sure the brass or copper is roughened up slightly with #0000 steel wool, or scrubbed with powdered cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend.
That helps the ink adhere to the metal.
But to be truthful, I have been lazy, and used a red Staedtler pen on tarnished brass and it worked just fine.
After the ink has dried, test your ink resist to see if it smears or flakes off. Gently rub it with your fingers. If the design stays put, it will hold up well in the acid bath.
A faster method of cleaning older scrap (or dirty brass and copper) is to dip it in a “pickle bath” solution of PH Down (Sodium Bisulfate).
You can buy PH Down at any pool supply or hardware store.
Use 1 cup of PH Down crystals to 1 pint of tap water. (Water warmed up in the microwave works even better.)
This “pickle” bath will clean up the metal nicely.
Then, rinse copper or brass in water and dry thoroughly before drawing your design on the metal.
Once you have drawn your design on the metal using a red Staedtler pen, you can store it for months without etching it.
Keep it clean, in a bag or box, and the ink will hold up well until you are ready to etch it.
NOTE: If you make a mistake and need to start over with your hand-drawn design using red Staedtler pen, you can quickly remove the ink with acetone or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
This is the second in a series of 4 parts about acid etched designs on brass, copper and silver.
Also be sure to see the new page, Acid Etching Metal Jewelry – UPDATE before beginning your etching project!
Your questions and comments are welcome!
Virginia, you are a gem!
I can’t thank you enough, Virginia!
Not only for generously sharing this cool, do-able metalworking technique – but also for giving us the benefit of all your trial and error with pen types, methods, etc.
Thank you so much! :o)
I’m so excited about the possibilities in this idea of drawing the designs with a pen to make the resist. I like the idea of approaching the design with a “freehand” approach, going with the flow and letting the materials dictate the design.
Thank you, thank you Virginia, for sharing your vast experience and making it easy for the rest of us to try a new technique like this!
Fine Tip Staedtler pens
I did find some fine tip red Staedtler Lumocolor pens when I was looking.
I do not work for this company or know anyone that does this is just meant as a helpful tip.
Be careful – Specific Staedtler CD/DVD pens work best
by: Virginia Vivier
Wow, thanks for the link to US company that sells Staedtler fine tip pens. Check the product description carefully as I did purchase some Staedtler fine tip pens in the past that did not hold up in the acid etching process.
The only ink that will hold up during etching is Staedtler Lumocolour Red CD/DVD felt tip pens. They are also refillable and never dry out! But I can’t seem to find the refill ink anywhere in the US. The CD/DVD ink won’t smear and almost seems to be like a transparent plastic coating when you apply it to clean metal. Standard permanent felt tip pens, like Sharpies don’t hold up as well and they dry out quickly. I say this because I live in Arizona where the air is VERY DRY! Your experience may be more favorable.
So, read the product description carefully before purchasing. It would be disappointing to find your carefully hand-drawn design deteriorates in the acid bath if you don’t use a good resist.
I guess I need an eraser for my last comment. I’ve really enjoyed reading your tutorial and I can’t wait to give it a try.
LOL. I about died when I saw the bullet pendant. I have about 20 pounds of used casings sitting here. lol. I cant wait to get to work.
Recycled Bullet shell jewelry Markets
by: Virginia Vivier – Esprit Mystique-Artisan-Jewelry
Check out your local gun shows. I know…I know nothing about guns and shy away from them whenevery I can. But, gun enthusiasts have wonderful shows, nation wide, that offer jewelers opportunities to sell their creations. It’s a real culture shock the first time you attend one, but a good way to sell jewelry, especially anything that is made with recycled bullet shells! Try it once! It may be the niche market that works for you.
Esprit Mystique Artisan Jewelry
Filling Staedtler pen
From the info I got from the Staedteler site…all you have to do is put the tip of the pen in the refill bottle & let it soak up the ink…Who would have thought!!!!!
Hello Rena (I hope that’s your name)
I have no way of knowing how old these posts are,
so I may be telling you something you already know.
But here it goes.
Staedtler markers are available in a varity of tip sizes.
Med is the one you are most familier with however they come in a “broad” (my fav), “fine”, and “Super fine”.
I prefer the Broad because it it can used 2 ways….. it can used as a “super fine” by using just the “tip”, and by turning it slightly the wider portion of the tip can be used to cover a “wide” area.
Here is a link for the “Staedtler” markers:
Read the “whole” you will see that All size of tips are available.
As for how to “refill”, I “think” all you do is take the cap off the pen, insert it “up side down” into the “refill station” and it sucks up the ink.
Me….I drill a small hole at the end of the marker, take a surgical syringe full of rubbing alcohol, and “inject alcohol til it flows like new.
Keep in mind….once the pen is completely dried out….this method may not work.
I hope this helps.
The above was meant for Virginia.
I was going by what I could see once I clicked on the Comment here link.
NinjaViking, thanks so much for posting this additional info about the Staedtler markers!