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Laser Photo Etching vs. Chemical Photo Etching

By Mike Wallis

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If you look back a few hundred years you would find a very attractive form of art known as "etching". This required the artist to create metal plates that would feature a sort of reverse image carved into them, and which would be run through a special press to produce a single piece of art. For instance, lots of book plates were actually etchings made for the printer to insert into the book.

Today, we still do etching as a form of art, but we can also take technology and create remarkably photo realistic images using a similar etching process. Known as photo etching and is typically done using lasers or chemicals.

Below is an overview of some of the differences and uses of both laser photo etching and chemical photo etching.

Photo Etching
Some Basics

Laser Photo Etching

Chemical Photo Etching

Definition - is the process of using a laser beam (Typically a CO2 laser) to etch away selected areas.

Laser Photo Etching

Definition - is the process of using a photoresist and etchants to corrosively machine away selected areas.

Chemical Photo Etching

Laser photo etching on marble Chemical photo etching on metal

Laser Photo Etching

The laser process, as you might easily guess, is done using a very precise laser beam to actually burn an image into almost any suitable material. Whether it is a piece of wood, granite, acrylic, metal, marble, glass, or some other durable substance, the laser can make all kinds of fine and deep burns to create a nearly photographic result. There is no need to use any sort of press to make images, however, as the laser process is complete in itself.

Laser photo etching can also be used to create things like memorial plaques, trophies, and other personalized items. The technique can create precise blocks of text and even reproduce a photographic likeness.

Chemical Photo Etching

There is also chemical photo etching that is somewhat outdated when compared to laser photo etching. This is because it uses chemical compounds that actually corrode away selected areas of a plate or material. Though this process can produce accurate and detailed imagery, it is not usually comparable to the results available through laser photo etching and can be labor intensive resulting in higher cost. Chemical photo etching is now more widely used for making precision metal parts rather than photo replicas.

Wether your considering using a laser or chemical etching for a given applicaion your should remember, however, is that a source image (usually a photograph or image of some sort) cannot be hazy or blurred if it is to be reproduced well. This is because a laser etching process requires the use of a scanner and computer to guide the laser device. If an image is too "flat" and without a lot of deep, mid, and light tones, it may result in a relatively flat etching too.

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