In this tutorial I will try to teach you, or at least give you the basics for etching acrylic. You can also use the techniques on other materials, but since the acrylic is commonly used by us modders, that's the material I will cover.
I know there are sites out there that offer laser etched windows, but those are pricey, and you have the risk of it being damaged in shipping. If you don't want to deal with the price and hassle, you can always just do your own etch! As a bonus, you will have the feeling of something accomplished. No other window will be like it, it will be yours, and yours alone. EQUIPMENT Acrylic
Or plexi glass if you prefer. There are many different types of acrylic of various thicknesses and hardness. I usually use 1/8" acrylic for my etches, but I have also done some on 1/16". 1/16" is easier to etch (I'll tell you why later), but it has the unwanted characteristic of being very thin, and can crack very easily under too much pressure.
There is also Lexan, which is a harder type of acrylic, 100% stronger than glass I believe, but I could be wrong. I use the midrange acrylic, because it has the strength, and the softness that's perfect for etching. Most places that sell acrylic will show the differences between the different types. Etcher
Well, of course you need some sort of tool to actually DO the etch don't you? In this tutorial, when I say "etcher", I mean an etcher
. There has been some misconceptions when I say "Dremel etcher". Dremel is a brand. An etcher
is a tool, also known as an engraver
. Don't get the etcher confused with the Dremel Rotary Tool. They are nothing the same, they only share the brand name. Dremel Etcher My Tool Store
This is the tool I use for my etching. I picked mine up locally for about $20us. I also use the standard point that comes with it. It says it's a "carbide" point, but it looks like regular stainless to me.
Some people may want to use the Dremel Rotary Tool with the flex arm, which is fine and dandy, but I prefer to use an etcher. In my opinion you have much greater control with the etcher. The Dremel Rotary Tool doesn't have the ability to do the extremely small details like the etcher does. An inexperienced, or experienced, hand will find the dremel loves to run away on it own, simply because of it's rotary nature.
Think of the Dremel Rotary as a Sharpie, and the etcher as a sharpened pencil. That'll give you an idea of how different the results will be. SETUP
This is an extremely important part of the process. Your going to be sitting on your ass for a long
time, so you're gonna want to be as comfortable as you can. Get a comfy chair, and a table that is at a comfortable height and will not strain your back. If your like me and have bad eyes then you'll be hunched over for quite a while. Lighting
*THIS IS CRITICAL!*
You will need all the light you can possibly get. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a light table (or light box), then that's probably your best bet. If you're a poor bastard like me, then you'll have to make your own area.
I do all my work in my bedroom with only a single overhead halogen bulb. This is hardly adequate, especially when my noggin is between the light and the work area. Grab a couple, or 3 or 4 lamps and set them up so that you have good light coming from multiple directions. Later I'll tell you why the lighting is so important. GETTING STARTED Creating Your Source Image
Now that you have everything, and you have a good spot to work, it's time to find yourself something to etch. For a beginner, you'll want to find an image that is simple. Simple lines, without a lot of shading. A good starter source is comic books, because of the bold outlines of the art. If you have something that you just have
to etch, photoshop it and try to simplify the image some.
I gather my work from various places, from magazines to google images, and sometimes they're not the size that I want. My handy dandy scanner/printer/copier comes into play a lot here. Use any photo editing software you have to stretch and crop the image to your heart's desire, and print it out as a mirror of the original image
. You don't want to etch your screen name on your freshly cut window just to hold up the finished product and have your name backwards. DOH! For larger projects, most printer software will let you print "poster" images, where it will stretch the image across many sheets of paper.
Now you have something to etch. Here's where it gets simple, yet complicated all at once. Starting the Etch...Finally!
Place your printed image on a flat surface. REMEMBER BACKWARDS! Then place the acrylic over the top of it. Center the image to where you want it, remembering that it is backwards
to what it will be when you are finished. I usually will tape the corners of the paper to the acrylic, so the picture doesn't move around. Later, if the tape left some residue, you can use some mild soap to clean it off. I wouldn't use an adhesive remover, because it may eat into, or fog the acrylic.
I take the protective covering off of the acrylic because it distorts/blocks the original image, making it harder to work. Etching creates debris, so be sure you blow it off instead of wiping it. If you wipe it, and you'll most likely scratch the acrylic.
Now here's why the lighting is so important. While your etching, you'll be focusing on 2 different images. The original image that's printed on the paper, and the etch that you're creating. At first this can strain your eyes and be awkward, but after 5-10 minutes you'll be used to it. You want all the surrounding light to cancel the shadows that your etch will throw on the paper. Remember, the acrylic is thick, it will throw shadows. The extra lighting will negate them, eliminating additional stress to your eyes and getting rid of false lines that you may think were part of the original image.
It would be a good idea to practice a few lines on some scrap acrylic before you touch the real thing.
Once you start the etch, go slow. There are 2 reasons for this. First, the etcher works better at slow speeds. If you go too fast your smooth line will turn into so many tiny dots instead of something solid. With some practice you'll be able to find a good working speed. Remember the tool has a knob to adjust the speed. Second, if you rush you will be more prone to err. You don't want to be 99% finished with an etch and then slip and ruin the whole project. You can't erase here, so please be patient.
That's really about all there is to it. With some practice, and a lot of time, you should be able to produce some true works of art. I'll throw in a couple of examples of what can be done with a simple etcher.
This is a piece that took many hours to finish. I'll go on a limb and say approx 8 hours +/- to finish this one.
Here are some other examples with an Etcher:
Also some that were done with a Dremel Rotary:
There are some advanced techniques that I haven't covered here, such as the etch coloring and how to do the shading. I will try to add more on those topics later.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. Remember, practice practice practice before you try the real thing!