Before we begin, it’s worth noting that this process, if not done properly can be extremely dangerous, and yes, even deadly. If the proper precautions are taken, you’ll be fine… but if you decide to give it a shot, you are doing so at your own risk. Kids, ask your parents. Parents, please, for the love of god, say no.
With the disclaimers out of the way…
What you’ll need:
-Laserjet printer (this will ONLY work with a laserjet, not an inkjet)
-Press’n’peel blue paper (available at www.pedalpartsplus.com) or high gloss magazine paper
-Acetone (fingernail polish remover will work, as it’s basically just acetone)
-plastic tub/glass pan
Step 1: Finding your Graphic:
You’ll want something that only has black and white to it. Shading won’t work with this process, so line drawings are best. For our purposes, I’ll be using the graphic from my new Phoenix Fuzz pedal. Don’t be afraid to use something with some detail, as press’n’peel is designed for circuit board etching, and can handle the details! Keep in mind when printing that you’ll want to use a negative image, and a mirror image. This is particularly important if you want to use text. Basically, anything that is NOT black when you’re done with your transfer WILL etch. Here’s a picture of the graphic I’ll be using, printed on the press’n’peel. (Take special note of the paisley ironing board. This is not necessary, but is highly recommended.)
This is a fairly simply process. All you need to do is rough it up a little bit with the scouring pad. Don’t go crazy with it, you mainly want to remove any residue on it, and give it a little bit of a textured surface to give the toner something to grab onto. When you’re done with that, give it a good rinse and dry. By the way, you’ll notice the rusty stain in my sink. This is from the muriatic acid from previous etching ventures. Best to use a utility sink if you have one!
Lay your press’n’peel on the enclosure with the glossy side facing up. Ideally, you’ll have some blue around the entire outline of the design. Give yourself some extra black around the image too.
I like to place a piece of paper between the iron and the press’n’peel to prevent friction when you move the iron. The last thing you want is the transfer sliding around once it gets hot. If it does slip and your transfer gets messed up, you can wip the toner clean with some acetone, and start again. The transfer is the most difficult part of the process, and it may take several tries.
Set your iron to the hottest temperature before the steam settings, and with light pressure, iron it to the enclosure. It’s best to keep the iron still for 30 second or so to allow it to bond to the metal, after that, you should be able to move the iron around without messing it up.
Check periodically. You should see spots of the black ink get darker through the transfer. When all of the toner has that uniform dark color to it, you should be ready for the next step!
This may sound obvious… but at this point, the enclosure will be HOT. I’ve found it’s best to not let it cool naturally, but to carefully (using oven mits, a towel, tongs, whatever works) and immerse it in cold water. The sudden cooling will help the paper separate from the toner, leaving your image transferred to the enclosure.
Next, CAREFULLY peel the paper away from the enclosure. If you see the image start to separate, stop and go to another corner. You will probably have a few spots where it doesn’t transfer perfectly, we’ll fix that in the next step.
If you have a few spots where the transfer missed… you can repair them with a sharpie. I like to do a layer, let it dry, then do a second layer. The marker will resist the acid, but not as well as the toner. Eventually the acid will eat through the marker if you’re not careful, so keep a close watch on those spots when etching
Begin by preparing a mixture of Acid and Hydrogen peroxide. You’ll want to do this in a WELL ventilated area. Open a window or 12 if you can… turn on an exhaust fan in the kitchen, etc. Depending on the material you’re etching, the byproducts can be anything from hydrogen gas (explosive) to chlorine gas (toxic). Also, muriatic will burn you, damage clothing or surfaces, and if splashed into your eyes, can blind you. Safety goggles are definitely recommended.
I like to use equal parts acid and peroxide. For a really deep etch, you can use pure acid, for a light etch, increase the peroxide accordingly. Keep in mind that the deeper you etch, the less detailed it will be.
Place your enclosure in the plastic or glass container. Don’t use metal here, for obvious reasons. You can use a plastic cup or one of those disposable food containers for the acid/peroxide mixture.
Carefully “paint” the mixture onto the transfer with a cotton swab. Keep in mind that any area NOT covered in toner will start to react. If it’s bubbling, it’s etching!
After a couple of minutes, the bubbling will stop. At this point I generally wipe the enclosure clean (carefully, so as not to mess up the design. It will be a little soft now) and go one or two more rounds, depending on how deep you want to etch. Again, pay special attention to the areas you fixed with the marker. If those areas begin to etch, you can rinse the enclosure off, dry it, and remark those spots.
When you’re satisfied with the etching, rinse and dry the enclosure.
Step 7: Removing the transfer
The toner from the transfer should wipe clean relatively easily with acetone. If it’s being stubborn, you can use the scouring pad soaked in acetone.
Step 8: Finishing touches!
Hopefully you’re left with an etch you can be proud of! At this point you can either leave it as is, touch it up with some polish or fine grit sandpaper (I like to use 1000 wet sanding paper to smooth out the texture across the whole design)
You can use paint or ink to give your design shading or texture, or let it tarnish for an aged look.
Please be responsible in disposing of the remaining acid! Many communities have drop sites for disposing of hazardous materials. You can also use baking soda to neutralize it, again, in a WELL ventilated area.
IF you’ve got any questions, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. If you give this a try, send me a pic of your results!
About the author:
Matt Cheezem is the owner of CheeseBlocks Effects, who are makers of fine stomp boxes including the CheeseBlocks sCream Cheese overdrive! CheeseBlocks also does pedal mods and custom pedal designs. Please visit them at their website or follow them on Twitter (@CheeseBlocks)
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