Etching steel: That's how it's done

Etching is a traditional machining technique for copper and zinc, but is increasingly used for steel. For which type of embellishment the etching of steel is applied, and how it works exactly, see this article in detail.

Etching of steel

The etching of steel is also called "siderography". As with other metals, the etching of steel results in pits in the material and thus a relief-like structure.

Applications for etching

This can be used either industrially, thereby very fine structures can be created. This is also exploited in the field of electronics and semiconductor technology, where one manufactures printed circuit boards in this way. Even very small circuits or components are often etched.

An application is also, for example, that you can "etch" very small parts (such as the components of a clock). Photoelectric resist coatings are often used, which are then exposed and thus allow a very accurate demarcation of the etched from the non-corrosive areas.

Artistic etching

The etching was used early by art forge to decorate metal parts. It can create patterns and emblems, recessed or raised structures or a damask-like look. This application is then also called "damascene". (Genuine Damascus steel is, however, made in a completely different way).

High and low etching

When etching, one always differentiates between a so-called "high etching" and a "deep etching". During the high etch, the desired pattern is painted with resist and remains raised after etching. In deep etching, it is exactly the opposite, and the pattern is recessed compared to the rest of the surface previously covered with the paint.


To etch patterns into a surface requires three things:

  • a so-called etching water (the corrosive agent)
  • a so-called Ätzgrund (the Abdecklack, which prevents certain parts of the etching water are dissolved) and
  • an etch stop (a wax barrier or the like that prevents the etchant from exceeding the desired range)

Etching agent for steel

As etchant, various mixtures are used in steel. Often used is the following mixture:

  • 4 parts of wood vinegar (obtained as condensate in wood gasification)
  • 1 part of ethanol
  • 1 part of nitric acid

As etching base (Abdecklack) one can use the usual, available for this purpose products from the specialized trade.

Tips & Tricks

As a very simple etching water you can also use a silver nitrate solution (attention, so-called "acid solution" required!)

Video Board: Etch METAL with Battery Power