Printmaking 101: Galvanic Etching

"Rest Stop" by Dean Russell Thompson, a galvanic etching

New artist member Dean Russell Thompson is a multi-talented artist–creating works using lithography, woodcut, and the interesting process of galvanic etching.

Galvanic etching, (also known as electro-etching) is a “green” or “safe” alternative to traditional acid intaglio processes as it puts off no acid fumes or flammable gas and there is no hazardous waste to be disposed of.  Here are the basic, abbreviated steps to how it works:

First, an image is transferred to a metal plate.  The most common (maybe only?) way we have heard of is using an image printed using a laser printer and ironing it onto a metal plate.  The heat of the iron sticks the toner to the plate, and the paper can then be soaked off.

The plate with the toner image is then put on exposed wiring or a metal grid and immersed in a solution of water and copper sulfate.  The wiring is connected to a battery (lawnmower, car, etc).  When the battery is turned on, a charge runs through the wire and the plate.  Anywhere there is toner, the brass stays in place.  All exposed areas are bitten away, as the acid does in a traditional etching process.

The result is a plate that can hold ink just like a traditional etching.  From here on out, printing the place is the same as printing any other intaglio plate.

If you’re interested in learning more about this process, we found the most helpful website to be by Steampunk Workshop, which goes into way more detail than we have here.  You can see examples of Dean’s galvanic etchings in the gallery and on our website.

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2 responses to “Printmaking 101: Galvanic Etching

  1. A couple of clarifications:

    1. Anything that is electrically insulating can be used as a resist. Traditional asphaltum resists work fine as do acrylic resists, photopolymer film, paint, shellac, etc.

    2. The electrolyte is dependent on the metal being etched. Zinc sulfate for Zinc, Copper Sulfate for copper.

    3. A regulated DC power supply works much better than a battery as you can better control the etch rate and current draw.

    Dean Russell Thompson

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