Decorative Metal Etching

Metal etching, or metal engraving, is a method used to create fine lines, grooves, and impressed designs on metal sheets or parts. United Western Enterprises, Inc. offers photo etching services to produce a range of decorative elements. Photochemical machining isn’t only for creating part shapes with precise dimensions and tolerances in high quantities. We can also form complex patterns that serve a client’s decorative and artistic needs with our precise metal etching services.

laser engraving in automatic mode

Metal etching services are used for a wide variety of decorative and industrial applications. Some of the decorative metal etching applications offered by United Western Enterprises include musical instrument decoration, firearm engraving, jewelry designs, trophy and plaque decoration, architectural engraving, furnishing embellishments, hardware detailing, and etching for the aerospace and auto industries.

What is the History of Metal Etching?

Since the age of the vikings, the process of metal etching has been used for a number of purposes. During the Middle Ages it was completed by hand using a fine-tipped tool such as a burin. Hand etching created intricate patterns, but due to its inconsistencies and time-consuming, lengthy process, it continued to evolve in technique to eventually become what we know it as today.

Traditionally, most metal etching was performed on softer products like copper and zinc, then it was applied to stronger metals like steel. Some of the finest examples of early metal etching can be seen on medieval artifacts like suits of armor, swords, plates, cups, and guns.

In the mid-early 16th century, a German craftsman named Daniel Hopfer created the process within the world of printmaking in which plates were covered with acid resistant wax before it was scraped away to expose the metal necessary for creating a print die with a fine-point etching needle. Once the wax was scraped off the plate was dipped in acid. The acid would dissolve the exposed metal leaving behind the etched words and lines. Then, the resulting plates were covered with ink and pressed to paper for the purpose of printing.

Hopfer used such iron plates to decorate armor and swords. In fact, three examples of his work can be seen today: a 1536 shield in Madrid’s Real Armeria, a sword from the same period in Nuremberg Germany at the Germanisches National Museum, and horse armor at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Furthermore, several of his plates can be seen in museums around the world. Thanks to Hopfer’s work, metal etching soon replaced metal engraving and chemical etching became a standard service.

From this transition photochemical etching emerged in the 1th century when Swiss botanist John Senebier discovered that some plant resins exposed to light hardened and became insoluble to turpentine. In its early stage, chemical photo etching was done with the application of a liquid acid-resistant resin to metal was applied and exposed to light, then the light left an outline around the areas that were covered.

In 1927 photochemical machining surfaced in commercial use when Aktiebolaget Separator, a Swedish company, used it for edge filter production. The company patented the process for cutting gap filters, and the method spread in popularity at the dawn of World War II when significantly harder metals were being etched and the need for foil etched parts was high. From this point, metal etching technology rapidly evolved. In fact, most contemporary practices use the same principles and components from that time, and with the more recent addition of CNC technology and advancements in etchants and maskants, we have decorative metal etching as it exists today.

How does Decorative Metal Etching Work at United Western Enterprises?

The metal etching process allows United Western Enterprises to create intricate metal parts. There are practically no limitations on part complexity, and the same goes for the details we can incorporate. With acid etching, UWE produces the following high-quality products:

  • Decorative brass sheets
  • Flat brass ornaments
  • Custom metal bookmarks
  • Jewelry
  • Model set parts
  • Signs and graphics
  • Architectural elements
  • Many more miscellaneous items

Laser cutting. Metal machining with sparks on CNC laser engraving maching

From custom ornaments and gifts, to intricate models and replicas, decorative metal etching is an extremely versatile process that can be applied to many projects. Customers are free to play an active role in the process. They can choose a metal type, surface finish, and the surface style and design for us to use. We even accept design submissions and provide feedback or design assistance to improve upon the customer’s specifications.

Why is Photo Etching a Popular Option for Decorative Metal Etching?

There are several reasons why organizations seek photo etching. Chemically etched materials can have tight tolerances allowing even the fine surface details to be created without affecting the thickness or integrity of the metal.

Compared to stamping, die-cutting, punching, and other methods, there is no mechanical stress on the part. With photo etching there’s also no unwanted metal on the finished product, eliminating burring, deformation, or shearing. As for photo etching cost, the designing, prototyping, and producing of parts is cheaper because it is less costly to make and adapt tooling. In addition, large quantities of parts can be produced quickly. Whether stainless steel or aluminum is being etched, our process at United Western Enterprises allows for the mass production of up to millions of parts. This means our customers can receive prototypes and market-ready products much faster.

Why Partner with United Western Enterprises for Decorative Metal Etching?

CNC Laser cutting of metal, modern industrial technology.

When your organization works with United Western Enterprises for decorative metal etching, regardless of the metal or etching type, you get a quick turnaround time compared to the industry standard, flawless accuracy in execution, and all within budget. When it comes to the decorative metal etching process, we are able to focus on ensuring high quality and flexibility, while addressing precision and speed. We assist customers in many different industries, including aerospace and military defense, electronics, and automotive segments. UWE is also trusted due to our:

  • In-house forming: In addition to rapid prototyping, we offer forming services such as laser welding, heat treating, and plating to increase the value of your project.
  • Free consultations: We’ll consult with you and your team to discuss every detail of your design, provide professional input, and make suggestions before you pay us a cent.

Call United Western Enterprises Today to Learn More About Our Decorative Metal Etching Capabilities

Learn more about our decorative metal etching services and our various metal etching processes. You can call 866-578-3805, submit your question online, or fill out our quote request form.

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