Enclosure Etching

This is by no means a “must do it this way” tutorial. This is simply what works for me consistently. I will try to explain each step of my process.

Items I needed:

I start with a layout that I create using my Photoshop template. I use the same template for making a drill templates & etch masks. DO NOT FORGET TO FLIP YOUR IMAGE. I seem to remember that just as I start to iron on the etch mask of course.

Here is a copy of my Photoshop Template
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I sand the enclosure with 600 grit just to get off any imperfections. The picture below doesn’t look that great but its just the awesome garage lighting.

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Cut out the template and make your folds.

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Lay the template face down on your enclosure and prepare it for the wrath of the iron.

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Plug in your iron and get it maxed out on the heat setting. I set the iron on the enclosure for 10-20 seconds just to stick the presentation glossy paper to the enclosure so it will not move on us.

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I now begin to use the tip of the iron to move back and forth over the full surface of the etch mask.

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I turn the enclosure and repeat the last step.

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Keep turning.

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Let this “as hot as the surface of the sun” enclosure cool for about 10-15 minutes. I will then toss the enclosure in the sink with cool water running it. Wait until the paper the paper is soaked and falling apart.

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Remove the paper.

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I use a kitchen sponge (scrubby part) and lightly scrub the remaining paper off the art work. I know it sounds crazy to use the course scrubby part of the sponge on the toner mask, but it actually works well as long as you don’t over do it.

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Here is an up close of the mask after a light scrub. The goal here is to check each small crevice in your art work and make sure there is no paper left. Notice the loops in the “L’s” and ho there is no paper left behind. This will make for a good, clean etch.

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I use plain old blue scotch painters tape to mask off the sides of the enclosure so they will not be effected by the etchant.

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Make sure you run your finger along the edge well to make sure the tape has fully adhered to the enclosure. I have yet to have any issues with this method in the etchant bath.

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This is my fully OSHPD approved container for spent etchant. I will use new Ferric chloride solution for about 10 PCB boards then I will pour the Ferric chloride in to this container and use it just for etching enclosures. I have found that the used Ferric chloride works well on aluminum since it is much softer than copper and reacts faster.

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I use Rubermaid or the 99 cent store alternative sandwich containers to hold clean water and the ferric chloride solution. I also setup some small pliers to hold on to the enclosure with since it will get every hot to the touch in the ferric chloride.

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Here is an example of how I do the etching bath. Don’t mind the messy bench or my huge hairy arms. As you can see in the video I use a dipping motion in the etchant and then the same dipping motion in the water. I found that this helps rid the enclosure from any of the deposits that are left on the face from the etchant and helps keep the etch consistent.

After done with the Ferric chloride dips and the water dips I then take the enclosure to the since and prepare for a final rinse and scrub.

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Here is a closer look at the etch and what is left of the mask on the enclosure. Looks pretty bad at this point doesn’t it? It will look 100X better once its scrubbed a bit, I promise.

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Remove the tape from the enclosure.

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And using a different sponge than the one you used for the paper scrubbing in above step, start to scrub the enclosure until all rust colored residuals are gone and you are left with a aluminum color.

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Here is a close up and at this point you can see how deep the etch is.

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At this point I like to get the holes drilled for my hardware. I use my Photoshop template that I used for the etch mask and print out a drill template.

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Cut out the template and lay it on the enclosure and use the punch tool to punch out my centers of the hardware.

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Like so…

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Unibit and a drill press were the 2 most used tools on my bench. If you are going to make this a hobby then I suggest sell a few pedals and buy these tools ASAP.

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I then use a reamer to clean up the holes a bit from any burrs or shavings.

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Enclosure painting tutorial

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26 comments

  1. Johnny

    Helpful & straightforward etching advice Cody. Thanks for taking the time to put together the tutorials. You’ve encouraged me to try etching an enclosure myself now. (Personally I always wear rubber gloves when handling & using ferric chloride; also goggles… a bit OTT maybe, but I’d rather not get any stains on my skin if I can help it). Cheers, Johnny

    • cdeschenes

      Johnny, thanks for the comments and concerns. I normally use gloves but found it hard to do so when filming. But I agree with you, stains suck and who knows what it does to your skin chemically.

  2. MW Hemingway

    This, and your whole blog really, are an amazing service for a pedal building novice like myself. Thank you! I didn’t think I’d bother with etching, but this is the first thing I’ve seen that didn’t make it look intimidating. I’d love to see you do a quick tutorial on what you do to paint pedals as well.

    • cdeschenes

      Thanks for the kind words. I am working on a painting tutorial but its been on hold for awhile due to time constraints with work right now. Hope to have something soon.

      Cody

  3. zedsnotdead

    Just found your site, i am a novice diy builder and it really is so helpful!
    I struggle so much to get nice enclosure finish, you wont believe how many I had tossed away – after etching or after a bad paint/decal job.
    Looking forward for the upcoming update on paiting.
    Thank you so much for your time and effort!
    Cheers!

    • cdeschenes

      Thanks for the kind words and I am so glad the information is useful to you. I completely understand where you are coming from with enclosure finishing. I still struggle with it and think its just part of the building process. If we were to build the same pedal day after day then the finishing process would come second nature. Since we (DIYers) use a unique design with every pedal, for the most part, it seems like it can be a learning curve with each design. I have found myself getting more comfortable with the etching process and not stress out with every build and this is just from forcing myself to doing it a bunch. Also do not be afraid to try new things and suggestions by others in the forums. I am working on finishing the tutorial on painting but its been very time consuming as of right now. I have been taking advantage of free time and building like crazy. Thanks again and hope to see you and your builds around Madbean’s forum.

      Cody

  4. Rafael

    Hi Cody,
    Let me ask you a noob question: when you etch an enclosure, the words and design go higher than the enclosure, or do become deeper? I’m asking because it looks like that “Marshall” looks like it is higher than the enclosure itself.

    Kind Regards

    • cdeschenes

      I do whats called a reversed etch. It etches away all the blank space of the enclosure and leaves the text/artwork raised. Its all how you make your mask. I am thinking I need to update the tutorial to show the difference between an etch and a reversed etch. Thanks for the question and hope this information helps.

  5. Alan

    Thanks SOOO much for the tutorial! My etch came out pretty decent; can’t wait for the painting tutorial. Keep up the good work man!

    • cdeschenes

      Thanks, glad it helped you out. I was having problems with the painting tutorial since the photos were so hard to show the process. I will continue to work on it as time permits and see if I can come up with something soon.

  6. Hylandren

    I wish your outstanding tutorial had been around before I did my first few etches! I have already recommended yours to people wanting to etch. I have always used PNP blue, and I am fairly happy with the results, except for very small details in type. Did you try PNP blue before going with the presentation paper? You se to get great small details…

    • cdeschenes

      Thanks Hylandren, I have never tried PNP since it was not available locally. I just tweaked my paper selection and printing density until I got the results I was after. I am a firm believer that the constant movement in the etching solution is what gets my best results. Thanks again for the comments and glad its helping out.

      Cody

      • zedsnotdead

        Pleeeease don’t forget to continue your amazing tutorial and teach us how to paint the enclosure next! Pleasseeeee!!

          • zedsnotdead

            Hey Cody!
            I am about to etch a enclosure, and I will try to paint it and then use some fine grit sand paper to make the lettering and art to show up on bare aluminium, but i am afraid I will damage the painting. Do you have any advice to avoid this?
            Thanks a bunch!

          • cdeschenes

            What I do is get a small sanding block like a 1″ by 1″ and I wrap it with 1000 or 1500 grit wet sand paper and I then start sanding the raised areas under running water until I expose all aluminum. The paint may dull some from the wet sanding around the raised areas, this is ok since the clear coat will revive the paint. I have used matte finish clears and glossy clears with no issues. Hope this helps.

            Cody

  7. nuclearsound

    Hi and thanks very much Cody for your tutorials that are very nice to read, and made me dream that I was able to follow that myself 🙂
    I’m now finishing the coating of my first pedal, and I’ll very soon etch my reverb pedal. I know I should have followed your advices but I had lots of H2O2 & 2HCl so I tried that solution that I used for etching PCBs but the etching is not very deep on my aluminium enclosure. Thus the labels are “not so readable”. Do you think it could only be due to this etchant, or could it also be caused by the previous parameters (paper, toner, density, heating time & temperature) ? I’ll go to my drugstore very soon and I’d like to know if buying ferric chloride would solve everything 😉

    Thanks again and good wind as we say in french !

    • cdeschenes

      I have never used H2O2 & 2HCl for etching before so I can not say if that’s the problem or not. Try doing more dunks in the etchant with cool down periods in between. I found that if I leave the enclosure in the etchant to long it will get too hot and the toner mask will come off. I usually dip/dunk my enclosure in for 20-30 second periods and wash off with cold water in between. I then feel the enclosure with my finger softly to gauge how deep the etch is. Hope this helps.

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