When we refer to "decorative etching," we are distinguishing the application from what we call "precision etching." Decorative etching takes many forms, some of which we will cover below, but from the chemical etching process standpoint, we are more focused on appearance than dimensions. Precision etched parts are defined by specific dimensions and tolerances that require particular methods of inspection and sampling.
When etching decorative products, we include .250" gauge holes in the phototool. When the gauge pin fits, the etching is done. This method keeps the mechanical inspection process simple and quick. More attention is paid to the aesthetics of the etching, as decorative projects can be quite detailed.
Chemically etched decorative products are generally shipped from our shop "tabbed in the sheet." Often times, the sheets are sent for plating, coloring or another metal finishing operation where is is most economical to handle the parts sheetwise.
The limited inspection requirements and shipping in the sheet have significant benefits in terms of cost. Indirect labor (inspection, packaging) is virtually nil. Decorative products are our most economical sheets. We typically ship decorative within two weeks since there is little to no engineering involvement.
The most commonly used alloy for decorative etching is brass which we stock in both polished and mill finish. Stainless steel, aluminum and copper are sometimes used as well. Most decorative applications are in .015/.016 or .020" thick metal. Although, we have etched projects on .005" and up to about .060". We are installing a new etching line specifically for silver. The equipment is on order and will be installed in May 2013.
The three major categories of chemically etched decorative products are giftware, jewelry and scale models.
Giftware takes many forms, including bookmarks, ornaments, picture frames, inlays, letter openers, charger plates and so forth. Giftware finishes may include electroplating, enamel, cloisonee or digital color. Some trophy and award elements are produced by photo etching as well. Giftware often encompasses specific commemorative themes including historic places, people and events. For our annual bookmark series, we highlight themes related to manufacturing and technology.
Jewelry items made by etching include earrings, pendants, charms, bracelets, and pins. There is an endless variety of distinctive themes and designs created for jewelry, some of it very complex and delicate. Chemical etching may be the only practical means of fabricating them. In some designs, the etched element is "dapped," which is a simple spherical embossing to give the parts a "third" dimension. Finishing options are similar to giftware and may include precious metal plating
Scale model kits are among the most intricate of the decorative etching projects. Some kits may contain hundreds of small parts tabbed to frets. Most of the model kits are in brass, often .005" to .008" thick. The parts are designed with half etch lines so the elements can be folded into 3-D structures. Popular subjects for metal scale models include railroads, ships, planes, military vehicles, buildings, bridges and more. We have etched metal accessories for action and anime figures as well as cult movie paraphernalia.
Additional uses for decorative etching include architectural elements and lighting diffusers; affinity tokens and emblems, durable signage, wall art, clock faces and hands, belt buckles and ornamentation for clothing, eyeware and home furnishings.