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How to etch designs into aluminum?


I have aluminum tubing that I wish to etch designs into. What would I use to etch the aluminum? Sulfuric Acid? What can I use to mask off the area that I don't want etched?



Brian Fritz
Private Artist - Dever Colorado


Hi Brian,

If you're looking for a certain design, let's say for discussion sake, a flame-like design extending the entire length of the tube. Well, the cheapest way cost wise, but the least quality method, would be to use a high quality vinyl masking tape for anodizing, this allows you an infinite design and shape, because all you do is cut the pattern desired into a strip of tape, apply, and hope you don't have many leaks (which you more than likely will in some areas). Then you could etch, and anodize the desired effect on the tubing, peel away the mask, now do a reverse mask, so that it covers your already anodized finish, proceeed to etch the remaining surface(s), anodize contrasting color, complimenting color, etc. on the remaining bare aluminum, success. It might be a rather poor finish in the end, but this is a way to do it. Other than this, there are masking paints(well they aren't really paints, its a rubbery covering like plastisol) that you can use also that gives superior results from what others have said.

Outside of these 2 "end user" affordable options, there are companies that do just what you're looking for, Silkscreening of Metal and Plastics, Aluminum Anodized Labels. Its probably not as cheap in cost as the other options, but it is VERY impressive and high quality.

Matthew Stiltner
- Toledo, Ohio



As far as a chemical etch, aluminum is amphoteric, which means it can be etched by either an acid or a base. Since we are not sure what kind of design you are interested in doing, the alloy you are using or the depth of the etch, a simple masking with wax on a cleaned surface will resist a quick dip in the etch solution. For patterning aluminum, it is probably easier to make a stencil out of sheet steel and use a mild air-abrasive, i.e., sandblast with alumina, to create your patterns.

Dale Woika
SCSC - Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

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