Thursday, April 15, 2021

How to Etch Copper - DIY Review


etched copper with bee design

Have you ever found yourself admiring a gorgeous piece of etched copper jewelry?  I know I have.  A few months back I decided I wanted to learn how to create my own custom copper gifts.  As a maker, I crave opportunities to pursue new avenues of artistic expression.  

After exploring various techniques for etching copper, I chose to try a method that appeared to be one of the very best for beginners.  Having just experienced a successful first experiment, I wanted to share the process for the benefit of other aspiring copper artisans.  Here's a list of the supplies you will need:

  1. Small sheet of copper (or copper blank).
  2. Ferric chloride (I used Radio Shack PCB Etchant Solution).
  3. Rubber stamp (a link to the bee stamp featured here).
  4. Ink pad (I prefer the StazOn Solvent Ink Pad).
  5. Black permanent marker.
  6. Clear shipping tape.
  7. Two small plastic containers.
  8. Water.
  9. Baking soda.
  10. Chemical-resistant gloves.
  11. Eye protection.
  12. Brillo pad.
  13. Fine steel wool.
piece of copper and steel wool

Step One
: Prep the copper.  It must be clear of fingerprints, tarnish, etc., to make a good etching.  I used fine steel wool to clean up my copper blank.  You will want to wear gloves during this step (to ensure you don't leave prints on the surface of the metal).

drawn stencil on copper

Step Two
: Select your design and transfer it to the copper (either freehand using a fine permanent marker, or with the use of a rubber stamp).  Allow adequate time for the ink to fully dry.

Step Three: Using a permanent marker, completely ink over the back of the copper blank (and the side edges).  Anything that is not protected with an ink resist will etch.  Once the ink has dried, overlay it with clear packing tape.  Then, tape a piece of styrofoam to the back side of the copper ( to help it float and to provide you with a handle for safely lifting the copper out of the etching acid).

etching solution

Step Four
: In a well ventilated area (outdoors is best), pour an inch or so of the ferric chloride solution into a shallow plastic container (wearing chemical protective gloves and eye protection).  Carefully set your copper (design side down) on the surface of the etching solution.  You want it to float on the surface.

Step Five: Depending on how pronounced you want your etched design to be, you will leave the copper in the etchant solution for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Gently stir the solution every 15 minutes.  I went the full hour for my etching and was really pleased with the result.

acid solution for etching copper

Step Six
: In a clean plastic container, mix warm water with two tablespoons of baking soda (I used about a cup and a half of water).  Wearing protective gear, carefully remove the copper from the acid solution and gently set it into the water bath.  It will start bubbling as the acid is neutralized by the baking soda.  This step takes less than five minutes.

etching copper

Step Seven
: Remove the copper from the soda bath and rinse with clean water.  When dry remove the packing tape from the back side.

remove ink residue from stenciled copper

Step Eight
: Using a Brillo pad, rub off the ink residue on both sides of the copper.  

Step Nine: Use fine steel wool to brighten up the copper and reduce minor scratches.

Step Ten: You may wish to apply an optional patina to the copper and/or a protective seal coat to keep the copper from tarnishing.  Some copper artisans like the darker antique look achieved using liver of sulphur.  

stenciled design on copper

As you can see, with the right supplies and just a few hours of effort, it is fairly easy to produce a very satisfying result.  I am pleased with this copper etching method and will most definitely take it to the next level with a more advanced project.

If this has stirred an urge to create something unique, you may be interested in my article about painting on copper with fire.  No matter what you decide to do, the important thing is to find your own outlet for creative expression.  There is so much beauty just waiting to be released into the universe.  Let the beauty of who you are be what you release into the world.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. What a interesting article, Diana. You know I admire Makers in all artistic fields, so your copper etching DIY was fascinating.

    1. Your family members are all brilliant makers. I greatly appreciate how each of you express your talents. Thank you for finding this fascinating.

  2. Stunning! I absolutely love your etched copper. You make it sound so easy too. I always thought etched copper was done freehand with a heated tool and since I have no artistic ability (I can't even draw stick people) I would never have tried etching. Your technique sounds like a way that even I could successfully etch copper. Awesome, and thank you for the step by step tutorial!

    1. Thank you! It was pretty easy. You could _absolutely_ do this. I'm glad you shared this with your son, too.

  3. What a wonderful hobby! Your etching copper looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. That is amazing Diana and so beautiful. I love the design you choose and how wonderfully it translated onto the copper. This is something that I have wanted to try for a long time, so maybe now is the time to jump right in. Where did you source the copper? Thanks for this informative and beautiful review. You are stirring me up to something new!

    1. The copper I used was recycled from a solar installation. However, I do purchase copper sheets from time to time. In the past, I have bought them either online through Amazon, or at Hobby Lobby (for those 40-50% discounts). I'm glad this has stirred you to do something new. Can't wait to see what you create.

  5. What wonderful step-by-step. I'm with Cynthia and have a hard time drawing stick people. I always thought you had to be a freehand artist to do something like this. Very interesting for sure. Thanks Diana.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, my stick people are pretty pathetic, Sam. You have so many other gifts that you don't have to be judged by your drawings. I see your talent.

  6. Diana dear, what an absolutely stunning piece! I have read several tutorials on acid etching copper and other metals and have long planned on trying it, not only to use as the artistic end product but also to create unique texture plates to use with metal clay (since, as far as I know, silver cannot be acid etched, at least not at home). Your wonderful, easy to follow tutorial is reigniting my desire to give this a try! Thank you for another inspiring post, dear friend.

    1. I thought for sure you were ahead of me when it came to copper etching (given all of your exquisite jewelry-making). I can see how this technique would be valuable for your artistic pursuits. I hope you decide to give this a try. You will rock it!

  7. What a gorgeous piece. I'm so impressed with those who can tackle projects like this. It's not my area, lol. This type of piece makes such a lovely, thoughtful, personal gift as well. I love anything metal, silver, rod-iron - love love pieces like that.

    1. With all of the talents you have, I don't see how you would be able to fit one more thing like this onto your docket. This piece was made as a custom gift. It is pretty hard to resist the kind of pieces you love.

  8. Oh Wow what beautiful work, you are very talented. I love the look of copper and would love to be able to make gorgeous items like these. Maybe one day I will try your easy to follow tutorial and give this a go! I also love what you said about "Let the beauty of who you are be what you release into the world." That is very moving...

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I do see the beauty you release into the world.


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