Photo Etching Process

Precision photo-etched components manufactured from the widest range of metals.

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What is Photo Etching?

Photo etching is an advanced subtractive sheet metal machining technique. Also referred to as photochemical etching or chemical etching, it involves using digital tooling and chemical etchants to manufacture complex components with exceptional precision and versatility.

What is the photo etching process?

The chemical etching process

The photo etching process starts by applying a light-sensitive photoresist material to a metal sheet. A mask with the desired pattern is positioned over the coated metal, which is then exposed to ultraviolet light. The unexposed areas undergo a chemical reaction, forming a protective layer. The metal is then sprayed with an etchant solution that dissolves the unprotected areas, leaving behind intricately etched and highly accurate metal components.

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Photo etching benefits

Through the use of photo etching, we can provide an extremely cost-effective approach to profile, shape and enhance precision components. This advanced technology delivers unparalleled accuracy, speed and unique properties that surpass traditional sheet metalworking techniques.

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Unlimited complexity at a fixed price

No hard tooling icon

No expensive hard tooling required

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Superfast, low-cost design iterations

Fast lead times icon

Lead-times in days, not months

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Suitable for virtually any metal

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Accuracy to ±0.025mm

Comprehensive range of materials

The versatility of photo etching allows its application to virtually any metal, irrespective of hardness or temper. Annually, we process over 100 tonnes of sheet metal, covering more than 2,000 metal types, offering purchasing advantages and ensuring a wide variety of metals in stock for our customers.

Typical Photo-Etched Components

With our photo etching service, we can cater to both one-off prototypes and high-volume production requirements, enabling us to serve a diverse range of specialist component applications.

Photo etching FAQs

What are the minimum and maximum component sizes that are suitable for photo etching?

Photo etching is compatible with sheet metals ranging from 0.010 mm to 2.5 mm in thickness and up to 600 mm x 1500 mm in size. However, note that thicker parts may require longer etching times, making metals above 2.5 mm often uneconomical for processing.

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How accurate is photo etching?

Photo etching offers exceptional accuracy, with standard minimum etching tolerances at ±10% of the metal thickness, down to a minimum of ±0.020 mm. For even greater precision, we encourage customers to collaborate with Precision Micro during the design phase, allowing us to tailor the process to their requirements.

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What level of detail can photo etching achieve?

The minimum standard etched opening achievable is 0.1 mm, while for depth-etched features like microfluidic channels, it is 0.020 mm. With further development, even finer features can be attained through the etching process.

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What quantities can photo etching produce?

With the cost-effective digital tooling involved, photo etching provides the flexibility to produce components without minimum or maximum quantity limitations.

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How much does photo etching cost?

Cost considerations in photo etching are influenced by material thickness and component size. The price is based on the sheet, allowing for lower unit prices when maximising the number of parts per sheet. However, thicker sheets may require more etching time, affecting the overall component cost.

How long does photo etching take?

Photo etching lead times are measured in days, not weeks or months, setting it apart from traditional metal machining methods. For standard components without additional post-processing, delivery can often be achieved in two working weeks, while urgent demands can be met even quicker, depending on production capacity.

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Chemical Etching Whitepaper

Learn how chemical etching can overcome the limitations of traditional sheet metal machining technologies.