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topic 7041

Etching Aluminum to Reveal Microstructure

A discussion started in 2001 but continuing through 2019


Q. How can I see the microstructure of aluminium alloy? What is the etching solution for it ?

Ben [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Malaysia


A. In the metals lab, we use a freshly prepared mixture of 10 parts nitric acid, 1 part hydrofluoric acid, balance distilled water. Use a cotton swab or Q-tip to develop the grain structure on the surface of a highly polished specimen. Use a new swab each time to apply etchant for about 10 seconds only. Rinse and dry to examine. Repeat as necessary. You will develop improved technique with experience. Aluminum alloys will respond vastly different from relatively unalloyed aluminum, also.

W. Carl Erickson
- Rome, New York


A. You etch aluminum in HF acid plus water. You can find in metals handbook (metallography).

Behnam Taki
anodizing - Teheran, Iran


A. Each alloy of aluminum needs a special solution etch, for example I can see precipitate particles of 2024 by Kellers solution. For Kellers composition, reference a metals handbook.

- Isfahan-Iran

affil. link
ASM Handbook
Vol. 9: Metallography and Microstructures

from Abe Books
info on Amazon

April 12, 2008

A. Purer versions of aluminium alloys require electropolishing prior to electroetching to reveal the grain structure by developing an anodic film. ASTM Metals Handbook on Metallography =>
gives details on electropolishing & electroetching techniques.

Shankar Nayak
- Mumbai, India

Etchant for 7068 Aluminum to Reveal Grain Boundaries


Q. I'm looking for a good solution to etch 7068 aluminum. I'm trying to do analysis of grain structure. I've tried many different solutions from the finishing manual I have, containing HF, HNO3, HCl, Acetic Acid, NaOH, and CrO3. Does anyone have experience with this alloy or anything similar?

Joe Barnhart
Research and Processing - State College, Pennsylvania, USA

August 2013

A. Hi Joe. I am not experienced in etching any aluminum, let alone Al7068, but Harry van der Zanden's advice on letter 55644, "Color Etching of Aluminum to Show Orientation of Grains" impressed me greatly.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

Etching aluminum without HF

affil. link
Principles and Practice"

from Abe Books



Q. Does anyone know of an etching solution suitable for aluminium and its alloys that does not contain hydrofluoric acid?

Stephen Trippier
University of Central Lancashire. - U.K.


A. You can use NaOH. A suitable reference is "Metallography: Principles and Practice" by Van der Voort =>

Yahwan Surnam
research - St Julien d'Hotman, Mauritius

April 4, 2011

Q. Hello to all,
My name is Shannon, and I am currently undertaking a final year project to complete me bachelor of engineering (Mechanical). My project is looking at the lubrication ability of an ionic liquid (for the chemistry fold P1444 DPP) on 3 aluminium alloys and to understand how microstructure effects performance.

The question I pose is, does anyone know of an etchant or etchants and process that will work on 5052, 6061, 7075 grade aluminium alloys. The catch is, I have been told these etchants must be HF-free.

I have scoured the internet, ASM handbook and other texts.

Your help is greatly appreciated.


Shannon Biddulph
student and research assistant - Geelong, Victoria, Australia

April 5, 2011

A. There are some etchants for aluminum that don't use HF. Mix 1 g NaOH + 100 mL water, swab specimen for 5-15 seconds, then rinse with cold water. The other common etchant is Barker's reagent, which is an electrolytic method: 4-5 mL HBF4 (48%) + 200 mL water. Specimen is anode, use Al or Pb or stainless steel cathode, anodize for 40-80 seconds at 20 V dc. Microscopic examination requires crossed polarizers.

The last method is a color etchant detailed in a past issue of Struers Structure magazine: A Universal Method for the Mechanical Preparation of Aluminium Alloy Specimens with High Edge Retention and their Subsequent Colour Etching:

Toby Padfield
Automotive component & module supplier - Michigan, USA

March 14, 2015

Q. I want to know the best Etchant for 5052 Aluminum alloy, and its composition

Yogesha K K
Research - MYSORE, India

March 2015

A. Hi Yogesha. What exactly do you mean by "best"? Besides HF, and other earlier suggestions, Toby just finished offering 3 alternate etchants. Please help us move the discussion forward by trying to frame ongoing questions in terms of previous responses to this question rather than by starting over :-)



Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

May 7, 2013

Q. Hi,
I am looking for aluminum plate which can reveal grain structure after anodizing. I need the grain as 1 mm in diameter. Does anyone know how to find this kind of material? Thanks in advance!

Frank Lee
Product designer - Tainan, Taiwan

July 12, 2013

Q. Keller is good reagent for etching Al 7075 and I have done it several times and I saw grain boundary and details clearly.
Now I'm trying to etch 6061 and 3105 to reveal boundaries but until now I could not do it ... is there anybody can help me?

morteza mortzai
- arak , markazi, iran

Etching Solutionized AA2024

October 30, 2017

Q. Hello dear masters,technicians and students!
I have a problem on etching my AA2024 samples that they are solutionized and air cooled. Although when the samples quench in water after solutionizing there isn't any problem in their etching. I have to mention I've used different etchants like keller, weck, barker and 5% HF

alireza torabi
- california,USA

Etchant for 2219 Aluminium

February 11, 2018

Q. Hello dear friends, I have made clad of similar metals from 2219 Aluminium through friction stir welding. I want to reveal its micro structure through optical microscope by using a lot of etchant including Krolls Reagent,Kellers Etch and many other etchant too error and trial based but could not succeed . Please, I need help if any one has experienced in what will be best etchant for 2219 Aluminum.I am trying for more than 15 days but grain boundaries do not reveal.On each try I just saw a dark image.

Abdul Latif
Graduate Student at FME GIKI - Topi Swabi KPK Pakistan

Etchant for steel to aluminum joint?

February 26, 2019

Q. In steel-aluminum weld joint, where Al5052 and MS are joined, which etchant to use for Al? Does electroetching work in this case? Does it degrade the steel side?

pankaj kaushik
- roorkee,uk,india

Ed. note: In addition to the excellent responses on this page, and the previously suggested letter 55644, readers may also be interested in letter 26269, "Metallographic Etching of Aluminum to See Grain".

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