What’s the Difference Between Chemical Etching and Engraving?

Chemical etching and traditional engraving can both be described as the process of cutting lines into a hard surface, such as metal. However, there are some major differences that exist between the two that are worth considering if you’re looking to commission etching or engraving work of your own. 


The Basics 

Chemical etching uses a kind of acid solution, otherwise known as the etching agent, which is used to cut lines into a hard surface. This can be used to achieve intricate and precision designs when performed correctly. 

On the other hand, engraving relies on sharp tools that cut directly into a surface. In its most basic form, this could be a chisel wielded by someone's hand, but today we usually use computer-controlled machines or semi-automatic engraving tools. 

Ultimately, the similar effects can be achieved by both methods, such as cutting out marketing content or business names in metal for signage, or etching creative images in metal for the purpose of decoration. Yet, the way these designs are achieved rely on very different processes and tools.


Chemical Etching 

Some may find it hard to imagine how a liquid can achieve such high precision and accuracy as it cuts through a material. This is thanks to a tightly-controlled corrosion process, which can achieve intricate designs on the most complex of metal parts if required.  

Chemical etching works with a range of different metals including silver, stainless steel, mild steel, copper, brass, aluminium and much more. A few benefits of this method include: 


Precision and Accuracy 

Chemical etching lets us produce even the most complicated styles and designs at the same cost of simple designs. As long as the methods used are efficient and accurate, chemical etching will help you to achieve great precision in a number of metals, free or mistakes or inconsistencies. 


A Seamless Process 

Physically cutting into materials can be a high-intensity process that requires machinery for cutting, stamping, punching or sawing through the material. Often requiring burrs, this can be an exacting process. For consumers, this could potentially result in jagged edges if the process is not handled by an expert. 

Chemical etching, on the other hand, is a smooth and gentle process that relies upon diligent planning but very little execution burden, meaning that once metal sheets are applied with the right design template and photo-resist substance, an etching agent can be applied easily with no damage or effect to parts of the material you don’t want to alter. 

This also lets you perform design iterations quickly and economically. The digital aspect of this process lets you adapt any design in minutes and produce etched results in speedily, meaning the turnaround for clients can be incredibly fast. 


Traditional Engraving 

Often associated with printmaking, this method uses a sharp and pointed tool, sometimes referred to as burin, to cut lines into a metal surface. This “incising” process will cut away any unwanted material and leave you with grooves in metal, wood or other objects.  

While this method was once carried out by hand, today's engraving services are quite different and usually rely on highly sophisticated computer-controlled engraving tools and laser technology which increases efficiency, precision and project turnaround times. 

Also known as laser cutting, computer-controlled engraving has changed the way many products are now produced. From simple plaques to engraving detailed graphics into wood or three-dimensional decorative objects, it can be used to achieve a number of effects in several materials. 

Today, laser-based technology has enhanced the way any material can be engraved, and this process can offer similar benefits to chemical etching for a wide range of applications, including industrial and corporate as well as household.


Need Help? 

Both methods require a significant amount of expertise, as well as the right tools to achieve the finish you want. Each technique can be adapted to produce intricate designs that are very popular in certain industries, especially retail and e-commerce. Whether you are looking to work with chemical etching or computer-controlled engraving, contact us at Culzean Gifts.

February 05, 2021 — Paul Winrow