Applications of Chemical Etching

Chemical etching is a powerful tool that is used throughout many different industries. That is because when it’s used it can be more cost-effective than other methods such as laser cutting, stamping, and electro-discharge machining. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it can be used for a wider array of applications that can be used throughout manufacturing. Here are the 4 main applications of chemical etching.

Part Formation

Example of part formation through chemical etching. Blue represents photoresist, and grey represents sheet metal.

One of the great benefits of chemical etching is that you can manufacture many small parts with it by using a film to selectively protect the material and etch away the exposed parts. Through selective etching, we can impose the same image on both sides of the material and both sides of the panel to be etched away. So long as these images are aligned properly, the etching from both sides will eventually meet in the middle and cut out a piece of material in the shape of the imposed image. By using chemical etching to create these parts, you can efficiently mass-produce them without any burrs, heat stress, or significant operating cost.

Feature Formation

Example of feature formation. Note that both sides of the panel have different patterns, but where the patterns overlap there is a gap. This is to support the idea that any patterns overlapping on the opposing sides can etch and meet in the middle of the panel — thus creating a gap.

Using chemical etching for feature formation is similar to part formation. The primary difference is that in part formation, you are etching on both sides to cut through and form a piece of that material with the shape you desired. In feature formation, you are applying the same selective etching and applying it to make a feature, such as a groove or an indented pattern, on a piece of material. A common example for this would be in printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing. In PCB fabrication, you would selectively etch copper to form your circuitry. Through this process, you cannot etch through to the other side because there is a fiberglass core in the middle of the panel. Not being able to through to the other side comes with some precision because too much etching can quickly cause your desired features to be etched away. Although the common example is in PCB manufacturing, this application can also apply to chemical milling by doing a partial etch. In chemical milling, you would not have a etch resistant core in the middle of the panel so you would have to keep account of how deep you are etching, and you would have to ensure that features on the opposite side of the panel would not meet and create a hole (unless that is what you want).

Surface Preparation/ Finishing/ Thinning

In some cases, the products you are making may need a particular kind of surface preparation. Whether you are trying to thin down your material, make the surface rougher, make the surface smoother, or just give the surface polish, that can be achieved with chemical etching. In chemical etching there are different factors, depending on your etchant, that you can be manipulated to obtain different characteristics on your etched product.


In some cases, maybe your product is not something you would necessarily make – rather it is something that needs to be reclaimed. It is not unheard of for chemical etching to be used to separate two components to get one as a product. This is not a common use of chemical etching, but it can be a useful process in removing undesired coatings to reclaim metal or vice-versa (reclaiming of the coating on the metal).

Chemical etching is a versatile tool that can be applied to nearly any industry. If you have a particular process, you think could be achieved through chemical etching, contact us and we can help you develop your process and test it in our in-house customer lab.