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topic 14075

What Solution for Etching sterling silver?

Current question:

February 24, 2021

Q. Hi Gary

I am trying a chemical method to etch silver, but I am having trouble.I have aluminum parts on silver, I don't want to hurt the aluminum parts, so I want to separate them by etching.

Is there any silver etching method that does not etch aluminum?
I have tried pure nitric acid, the effect is not good.

Sasha Hou
^- Reply to this post -^

February 24, 2021

A. Sasha, I would try either the ferric nitrate solution or the 40 ml methanol, 10 ml hydrogen peroxide, 10 ml ammonium hydroxide solution.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland

March 5, 2021

Q. I successfully used methanol, ammonium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide to etch silver.
I am curious about the reaction of silver etching.

Sasha Hou [returning]
^- Reply to this post -^

Previous closely related Q&A's starting in:


Q. I was wondering if anyone knew how to make the solution needed for etching sterling silver. I need the chemical formula.

Thank you,

Kate Hardy
- Isle of Wight, U.K.


A. 4 g potassium iodide
1 g iodine
40 ml deionized water (or more for more dilute etch)

This is not too harmful a solution, but stains skin purple, so wear Rubber Gloves [affil. link to info/product on Amazon].

Also try
40 ml methanol,
10 ml hydrogen peroxide,
10 ml ammonium hydroxide.

The solution should be made up fresh before etching and will gradually become less and less active over a few days.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland


Q. Delighted to see the ingredients for silver etching. What are the concentrations? I have a source although no idea what to ask for. Help on this please? Thank you.

Gregory Mooney
fine jewelry designer - Morrow, Ohio


A. The concentration of the hydrogen peroxide solution is something like 30% in water. The ammonium hydroxide can be a similar concentration. You can also dilute the etch with more water if the etch rate is too fast (e.g. in thin film etching).

Another etching solution for silver is Iron (III) nitrate in water, heated to about 40 °C. The initial recipe I read quoted a saturated solution. I tried something like about 20 g in 100 ml, which is fairly dilute compared to this, and it etched the silver well.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland

affil. link
"Practical Guide to Etching ..."
from Abe Books



Thank you for the information.

thumbsdownHowever, due to our security concerns in the USA, these materials are declared hazardous and will not be sent to my home site shop. Wonderful.

Gregory Mooney (returning)
fine jewelry designer - Morrow, Ohio


Q. I'm an art student working on a project, and I am looking to etch text into pieces of silverware. Is there a simple way to do this? Is a certain type of flatware (sterling silver, silverplate, stainless steel) any better suited for this goal than the others? I have access to a printmaking studio, which has been my only real experience with etching techniques, but with different materials.

Alexa Photopoulos
student - Boston, Massachusetts


A. You could try a photo lithography technique. You use a light sensitive polymer called photoresist to cover your silverware (I think you can get a sprayable version) - you have to do this in a photographic room with special light. You then need a photomask, which could be either a clear acetate or a sheet of glass with the desired pattern that you require (you have regions where UV light can get through and regions where it can't). Place the photomask over the photoresist and expose to UV light. Develop the photoresist in a similar way to photographic film and you are left with patterned photoresist with exposed metal regions. You can then use the etching solution to etch the exposed metal (the photoresist will act as a barrier where you don't want etching). Rinse with water when done and then remove the photoresist with Acetone [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] (nail polish remover).

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland


Q. This seems to be a good site, nice folks helping each other. I am a retired professor (Ph.D. Economics) and want to start etching. I will start with a small photograph, make a stencil, stencil onto a small square silver rectangle (12 square inches), then etch it with a solution. After etching, I will buff it on a grinder for an antique look and then maybe apply a Liver of Sulphur [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] for a patina.

Simple question, what will be the most difficult step of the process? In advance, thanks for your cooperation.

Douglass G. Norvell, Ph.D.
self employed consultant - Nauvoo, Illinois

affil. link
Ferric Chloride


A. I would suggest that you could scan your photograph digitally and change its colour resolution to straight black and white (2 colours). Then print the image onto a transparency with an inkjet or laser printer. Then cover your rectangle of silver with a photoresist polymer, e.g. Shipley S1813 - this can be done by spin coating it (silver rectangle held on a rotating chuck and prior to spinning, the photoresist is spread on) - or it could be sprayed on with a sprayable version (you have to do this in a dark room, or a room where UV has been filtered out). Still in the darkroom, you then place your printed transparency over the photoresist and expose to UV light (light passes through the clear regions and exposes the photoresist). Develop the photoresist (just like photography) and you then have regions of exposed silver and regions of silver covered with photoresist. Dip the plate in a silver etching solution and leave to etch. After etching remove the photoresist with acetone. This might be easier to do than the technique you mention.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland


Q. I have a question about the silver etching solution recommended: 40 ml methanol, 10 ml hydrogen peroxide, 10 ml ammonium hydroxide. I was glad to read the post inquiring about the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and ammonium hydroxide since I was wondering about those too. I found a few scientific chemical suppliers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, one of which offers the following:
Methyl Alcohol, Absolute, Reagent, ACS
Methyl Alcohol, Anhydrous
Methyl Alcohol, NF
Methyl Alcohol, Purified
Methyl Alcohol, 50% (v/v) Aqueous Solution

Which of these five solutions would you recommend I choose? How do I responsibly dispose of the solution after I've finished my silver etch?

Wendy Sumire Talaro
creative graduate student of regenerative ecology - Montebello, California


A. Hi,

A couple of tips concerning etching silver, which I have been struggling with for much of this year.

Electro etching will speed up the etching process, and/or allow more dilute etching solutions. It also tends to reduce undercutting of the etch, and can thus allow deeper etching.
To electro-etch, you attach the piece to be etched to the positive side of a small power supply (anode) and the negative side to a piece of stainless steel. These are then both immersed in your mordant. I use about 1.5 V and a silver ring will typically etch at around 30-100 milliamps.

For photo etching, I've been using Electrolube PRP, which comes in a spray can, and can be ordered in the UK from maplin.co.uk. However, I've just started experimenting with a photoresist film which promises to be much more robust, and last longer in the etching tank. I got this from capefearpress.com (lovely name, huh?) and it is called purtech.

Mike Karliner
Mike Karliner
- London, UK


A. Nice to hear about the use of the electro technique, which I had read a little about in a good reference book I have seen. I have only ever been concerned with etching very thin films that are typically less than 200 nm. Using an iron (III) nitrate solution gave the best resolution with a photoresist when etching features that consisted of 5 micron wide tracks. This was with Shipley S1813 resist that was spin coated on silicon wafers. The methanol, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide would undercut features of this width but worked well if the features were larger. In response to the question regarding the appropriate methanol solution to use, I think any of the first 4 would be okay. It is just basically methyl alcohol that I used - nothing special about it in terms of purity - anhydrous isn't important either as the ammonia and hydrogen peroxide solutions have water in them anyway. The fifth solution you listed is 50% methanol and 50% water and this may not work as well as it would only contain half the amount of methanol in the recipe - you could maybe add double the amount and then have a solution that is diluted more with water.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland


Q. Hello

I am trying to etch silver plate.(very fast rate)
I am getting some black remains all over the area .
I am trying to find an etchant which doesn't leave any remains
Do you know ?

Benny [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
BGU - Israel


A. I've been trying PCB Etchant Solution from Radio Shack. Contents; Ferric Chloride. Intended for copper etching on PC boards. The bottle recommends 20 minutes in the liquid but it seems to take much longer for silver etching. Works beautifully on copper. Keep separate baths for copper and silver as copper may be deposited onto your silver.

Lisa Ciolli
- Portland, Oregon


Lisa, Ferric Chloride [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] is the standard etchant for copper in PCB's and big manufacturers use tanks full of the liquid for the purpose. I'm guessing that in the case of silver, there will be a displacement going on between the iron and the silver such that silver will be dissolving to produce silver chloride with iron falling out of the solution to accommodate it. There is probably a link with their respective positions in the electrochemical series.

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland


Q. What kind of mask you use when etching, where you don't want silver to be etched. I tried nail polish which worked but not very nice outcome, I tried sharpie too. What is the regular or best thing to use.

Rosy Arrasco
- Queretaro, QRO. Mexico


Q. Mike Karliner: I had never thought of electro stripping instead of acid etching. Could you please advise me on the mordant you use? Also could you share with us the optimum temperature range you have used in the past? I would also like to see one of your pieces where you have used this process. Could you post a pic? Many thanks,

Thomas Hanson
designer craftsman - Salt Lake City, Utah


Q. Etching on Sterling silver

I recently took a metal fabrication class and have heard about etching. I see previous questions regarding etching on metals and would like to know if there is a simpler process rather than mixing several chemicals? I live in an area where there isn't access to chemicals and shipping is rather a concern since a lot of people don't ship certain chemicals.

My only other option would to etch with ferric chloride (from Radio Shack) onto copper then use that piece in the rolling mill to impress the sterling silver?

Thanks so much!

Cindy Lee


thumbs up signThanks to all for the illuminating comments and formulas for etching silver. I've been using the steampunk workshop's techniques for electrochemical etching of brass, and the results using "Press'n'Peel Blue" film have been quite nice.
I do have problems with air bubbles in large masked-off areas, and with etching occurring in some masked-off areas. Overall, though, I get great definition and very precise control.

I've been using a (nominal) 12 V deep-discharge sealed AGM battery, with grooved wood blocks to hold the workpiece (anode) and cathode plates, typically 4" x 10", two inches or so apart in a saturated solution of copper sulfate. Etch times are about 30 minutes for about .5 millimeter depth, and currents are well in excess of 25 Amperes.

Now I've got folks asking me to etch silver for them, and this site appears to provide a major part of the information I need.

Mike Andrews
- Norman, Oklahoma


thumbs up signI have been etching copper for a while now, (using ferric chloride which is very messy!) usually so that it etches all the way through. I'm now wishing to do the same with silver, is there any way which speeds up the process and how do I dispose of the solution after use? I'm trying to find ways that I can do everything at home rather than using a print studio. I have already had success with press-n-peel transfers.
This site is really useful and informative, thanks!


Joanne Scholar
Hobbyist - London, England

January 11, 2008

A. You can etch sterling silver using Ferric Nitrate. Dissolve Ferric Nitrate crystals in distilled water (300 mg of Ferric Nitrate to 400 ml water). Suspend the sterling to be etch upside down in the solution and leave for anywhere from 2 - 5 hours. I tape the metal to a piece of styrofoam and float it upside down in the solution. If you can vibrate the solution, the etching is speeded up (I use a bubbler for a fish aquarium under the plastic container holding the ferric solution

I like this method because it is not as dangerous a chemical to keep in the studio. It will not burn skin, and gives off minimal fumes (I keep it under a fume hood nevertheless).

To see more information you can check teaching notes for Ferric Chloride (for etching copper, brass and bronze) at my website www.makersgallery.com/gossetch.html) the technique is the same for either solution - the ferric nitrate just takes longer. I hope that's helpful.

Sandra Noble Goss
jeweler - Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada

February 20, 2008

Q. Hi there,
I am just getting into jewellery making with sterling silver and want to begin making some etched pieces. However, I'm at a loss as to where I would find the relevant materials. What kinds of shops would you suggest I should approach for items such as ferric nitrate for example?
Thanks a lot,

Gemma Baker
- Melbourne, Vic. Australia

September 25, 2008

Q. I want to know if the formula given to etch silver with potassium iodide, iodine and deionized water is to use as an electrolyte bath with cathode/anode etc.? Or will it work in a glass tray with or without heat or agitation?

Thanks in advance if anyone knows the answer to this.

Thea Clark
jeweler - New Jersey

December 17, 2008

Q. Hello,

Could you fill me in a little more on the photo lithography technique, step-by-step, with approximate timings (i.e. how long do I expose the photoresist to UV light?)? What would I need to buy, or is it impossible to do at home? I don't know how to home-develop photos, either - so I need that explaining, too!

Elizabeth Scott
- London, U.K.

February 3, 2009

A. The solution with potassium iodide and iodine will work as it is just by immersing what you want etched into it. I found that it etches silver when I tried it one day - its a common etch for gold and I tried it with some silver I was doing and it worked well though slower than with gold.

For the photo lithography process, you will need some kind of 'dark' photographic room. I imagine that the 'red' light that photographic rooms would be fine to work under. RS Components sell a photoresist aerosol solution that you could spray onto your object in the dark room and then leave to dry. You would then expose through your photomask with a light source, preferably a UV source (though I'm sure it can be done with a white light box) and the time is typically between about 5 seconds and 30 seconds depending on the power of your light. You then develop the photoresist like a photograph in photographic developer (sodium hydroxide), or RS also sell a developer product. The object is then ready to be etched in the silver etch solution. After that has been done and washed, you can strip the unwanted remaining photoresist with acetone (nail polish remover contains acetone). [Some additional notes were sent privately to Elizabeth]

gary callon
Dr. Gary Callon
    University of Dundee
Arbroath, Scotland

affil. link
"Jewelry Making Techniques"
from Abe Books


February 16, 2009

Q. Mike Karliner stated his positive results with electro etching but I am curious as to the mordant (Mike called it) used or would another solution help with the etching. Any help would be appreciated since Nitric Acid is not welcome in my studio. Please advise.

Tom Hanson
Designer/Jeweler - Murray, Utah

February 25, 2009

Q. Wow. I accidentally discovered this site trying to find where to buy deionized water in Los Angeles. My partner and I have been trying to find someone who can make silver disks with our logo imprinted on it to add to the jewelry we make. How feasible are these etching processes to do 300 1"x1" flat circles?

RFQ: Or are their companies we can contract with to do this?

Deidre J [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sylmar, California


April 24, 2009

A. In the days I was making jewelry, I was commissioned to do a pendant in sterling silver with words supplied by the client etched into the surface. I used Riston, a photo polymer used by the electronic industry and ferric chloride. As I remember there was a whitish compound being formed, which would be silver chloride that is an insoluble white material. I was also commissioned to do a large number of small brooches with a design supplied by the client. This I duplicated unto a piece of positive film so they could be cut apart after electro-etching the design and outline of the oval brooch, using a sheet of silver. I used common salt as an electrolyte, which formed silver chloride that I was able to melt back into silver using Borax [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] and some charcoal mixture in the crucible.

This was all done before scanner, computers and printers.

Nik Semenoff
- Saskatoon, SK, Canada

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