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Old 12-15-2010, 12:36 AM   #1
KIRK!
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Default TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

By popular demand I am redoing a tech piece on etching brass. I have used it for timing tags, dash inserts and decorative pieces.

Anyway, it's not hard to do, but it's hard to get perfect. I haven't been going for perfect yet so it's been great for me. Everything I've used the technique for has been fine to have a "patina'd" look. Although, the dash inserts for the Legion Special came out very nice.

This piece is a head tube badge for my new "drag" bike and is intended to help get the name of my buddy's bike building shop, C-51 customs out to the world (http://www.c-51customs.com/)

OK, on with the tech...

Supplies:
-Brass or copper sheet (I used .032 I think)
-Press-n-Peel Printed Circuit Board Transfer Film (PnP Blue. Available at techniks.com)
-PCB Etchant (available at Radio Shack or Fry's)
-Flat-bottom plastic dishe
-Copier
-Block of wood
-Clothes iron
-Scotch tape
-Packing tape
-Spray paint (from the auto paint supply, not cheap spray paint)
-Sand paper (320, 500, 800, 1000, higher)
-Metal polish
-Paint polish

The etchant - Radio Shack's version and Fry's version. Either will work fine.








The PnP Blue...





1. Design your tag. I have been on the Mac for 21 years, so that's where I did this one. If you are going for an older look, keep it simple. I like to mark the holes to be drilled with center dots.

When you're happy with your design you need to print it out in reverse and in negative. It needs to be stark black and white - no grays.

2. Put your PnP Blue into the copier and copy your design onto the matte side. Try to get the black as dense and rich as possible.



*Helper is optional




3. Cut out one image and set it aside.

4. Cut your piece of copper or brass slightly larger than the desired final size. You need the extra metal to tape the PnP Blue onto and that way you can trim up to the design for a nice edge. Otherwise the etchant will eat away at what you want to be your "finished" edge. The better the quality of the brass the better the finished piece. This is cheap stuff from Ace Hardware and it ends up with a mottled coloring when finished. I'm OK with that for this piece.




5. Scuff the metal with steel wool to smooth it out and to give the metal some "tooth". Rinse it off with brake clean, then wash it with soap and water to get your grimy fingerprints off of it. That means don't touch the flat surface again, dummy!








6. Now, tape the PnP Blue design-side down so that it can't slide around on the surface. Make sure it does not have any wrinkles or kinks. Sometimes for this step I pre-heat the brass a little so that the PnP will kind of stick as I lay it down.




7. Lay the metal with the PnP Blue facing up on a burn-proof countertop or piece of flat wood. The plate needs to be flat while you iron. I put a paper towel under it. Then lay a doubled-over paper towel over it to keep the iron from touching it directly because it can melt and scratch the PnP with direct contact.






8. Set the iron to the highest setting and iron with medium pressure for 3-4 minutes. The idea is to get the plate hot while applying pressure, incase you couldn't figure that out. For this particular tag I used a twisting motion to keep the pressure and heat even.








9. When you are done ironing, the design will show up much better than it did before. See how the image is nearly black? That's what you want.




10. IMPORTANT: Let the metal cool completely before peeling off the PnP Blue. If you do it too soon, it will not leave the resist image. You can cool it with water on the back. Just be sure not to get any on the design side because it can wash off. Peel slowly and evenly.




11. There will likely be pinholes in the design. This is easily fixed with a nice Sharpie. Yes, that means that you could draw a design with a Sharpie and do this same technique. The Sharpie is not as resistant to the etchant as the PnP, but it works pretty well.



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Old 12-15-2010, 12:37 AM   #2
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

12. Cover the entire back of the tag with packing tape. This keeps the etchant from eating away the back. Try to get a perfect adhesive seal around the edges because the etchant likes to seep under the tape. It's usually not the end of the world if the back of the tag gets etched a little, but just remember that it will eat any of the brass that it touches. I like to leave a loop of tape on the end to act as a handle to lift it out of the etchant.






13. Trim the excess tape off.






14. Place the tag(s) in the flat bottom plastic container and pour in the etchant. I like to make it about a 1/4" deep for tags like these. The more the better since as the etchant eats the brass it keeps the dissolved metal suspended in the solution and is therefor constantly diluting itself as the process goes on.






15. The etchant works better and faster when it's warm, so partially fill a pan or another flat dish with water to be heated. If you use two plastic dishes you can fill the bottom one with hot water from the microwave - exchanging hot for cold as it cools. If you are using a pan on the stove like I did here, make sure there is enough water that the dish floats - not touching the metal of the pan so it won't melt. I turn the stove to almost the lowest setting. The water should not boil. Be sure to turn the stove's fan on because heating the etchant produces semi-smelly fumes.






16. Leave the tags in the etchant for 20-60 minutes. The longer, the more pronounced the design. Agitate often. You can tilt the container to see how they are doing. You can actually see that the areas with the resist are higher, if not, you can run your finger across and feel how deep the etching is getting. Don't rub hard as you may rub off the resist. I have never had that happen, but I suppose it could.

The solution will get darker as the process goes on and will become nearly completely opaque. For very deep etching I have replaced the etchant after one hour and gone for another hour.

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Old 12-15-2010, 12:37 AM   #3
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

17. Drain the etchant. Be careful because it will make a puke-yellow mess on anything it touches. Remove the tag and rinse it under running water. You can rub most of the resist off with your thumb. If it doesn't all want to come off, you can rinse it with brake clean. The Sharpie marks will not rub off, you'll need the brake clean for them. Remove the packing tape before you spray it with brake clean or you'll have a sticky mess. After all of the resist is gone wash the tag with soap and water again to get any oil off so the paint will stick better.








18. Try to use just enough paint to cover the background. The more you put on, the more you'll have to sand off. I work in multiple very thin layers until it is covered.






19. After the paint is thoroughly dry, use wet sandpaper and an undamaged sanding block to sand the tag on a nice flat surface - I prefer my garage floor. Like any other sanding job, start coarse and move up to finer. I use the grits listed above, but use whatever you prefer. I like to leave the excess brass around the tag to aid in holding while I sand.

You may accidentally scratch the background of the tag - I did. Just spray another VERY light coat, let dry and start sanding again. This time be careful, stupid!




20. After I have as much paint off as I want, I trim it down and use Nev-R-Dull to polish it. This seems to smooth the metal and painted surfaces alike. Polish the film off with a soft towel. If you have used cheap paint, the Nev-R-Dull may rub it right off.

To finish the tag off I use Meguiar's Paint Polish. I apply it with my finger to make sure I don't scratch it. This really seems to smooth out the paint well and gets rid of minor scuffs. I suppose you could go to a wax too if you wanted. If you have used cheap paint, the polish will very likely rub it right off.

This time I actually left the brass with a brushed look. See how the cheaper brass has a mottled color.




21. Drill the marked holes, mount the tag, rule the world!


DO NOT use it for aluminum!

It has a very violent reaction to aluminum. It's entertaining, almost scary and makes crazy toxic clouds. I wasn't thinking one time and tried to do this in a pie tin. The chemical ate through the bottom in about 10 seconds!

I have heard of using other chemicals for aluminum with the same resist.



Here's a points cover I did for the bike...





A couple more.



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Last edited by KIRK!; 12-16-2010 at 01:17 PM.
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Old 12-15-2010, 12:42 AM   #4
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Way sweet man thats legit!
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Old 12-15-2010, 12:45 AM   #5
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Cool! Enjoy the helper while you can.
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Old 12-15-2010, 12:55 AM   #6
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Great job on the how to and the tags! Thanks for the post.
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Old 12-15-2010, 02:46 AM   #7
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Well written piece, with great pics. Thanks Kirk.
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Old 12-15-2010, 03:32 AM   #8
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

had to book mark this thread nice i like it a lot thank you for posting this
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Old 12-15-2010, 03:53 AM   #9
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Well thought out and photographed. Thanks for taking the time to share with us dirty bikers. I used to etch with asphaltum as a resist. Scratch through and drop in acid. Good for one-offs but yours is awesome for repeatability factor.
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Old 12-15-2010, 04:27 AM   #10
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

awsome thread!! i can see some brass tags on my new bike!!
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Old 12-15-2010, 05:03 AM   #11
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Badass. Love it!
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Old 12-15-2010, 05:19 AM   #12
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Nice job. Thanks.
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Old 12-15-2010, 06:23 AM   #13
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Great Tech thread, Thanks
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Old 12-15-2010, 06:30 AM   #14
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Very cool.

This guy does it a little differently, it's not as slick as Kirk's method, but he uses a more home-grown tecnique; inkjet toner & electrolysis (a variation of the battery-charger rust removal trick).

I've got a bunch of .50 caliber brass I've been meaning to do something with...

http://steampunkworkshop.com/electroetch.shtml
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Old 12-15-2010, 06:33 AM   #15
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Excellent how too, I'm really digging the sharpie idea. I have also used the etching solution to bring the pattern up on damascus knifes, works well.
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Old 12-15-2010, 06:47 AM   #16
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Nice tech.

How deep would you estimate the etching to have eaten after an hour soak?
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Old 12-15-2010, 07:21 AM   #17
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

WOW!!

Thanks for the write up, i know how I will be spending my Sunday now.
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Old 12-15-2010, 07:58 AM   #18
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Thanks for that.

Great write up and nice work!
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Old 12-15-2010, 08:06 AM   #19
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Excellent write up of the process. I taught high school electronics a couple of times and had the kids making their own tiny circuit boards using etching solution and loved playing around with making relief work in the copper sheet. Thanks for sharing and taking the pics along the way!
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Old 12-15-2010, 08:20 AM   #20
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Default Re: TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

dig it bro, Im an old graphic artist from back in the day when we did things like that...diazo and all that shit.

Thanks for the info, great to see someone still doing these type of things.
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