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What Is Photo Etching?
Photo etching is the process of using ultra-violet light to fix an image onto a sheet of metal, and then using chemicals (etching solution) to etch the shape into the metal, removing more and more of the material until only the shape is left – a metal component that is far more precise than anything that can be cut or machined. 
  Photo etching is a very precise method of metal cutting and etching that uses specially formulated acids such as Ferric Chloride (FeCI3) to produce designs on flat sheets of metal with thicknesses up to 2.5mm. Due to the nature of this process, it is possible to photo etch parts with an unrivalled level of complexity, incorporating special features, in most metals, with thicknesses ranging from 5 μm to 2.5mm. 
Using our chemical manufacturing process, ACE have changed what is possible, providing a level of detail and quality that leaves our competitors standing.

Go-To Process

Low set-up costs and incredibly fast lead times make photo etching a go-to process in batch sizes of ones to multiple millions.

Low Cost Tooling

The tooling for photo etching is digital, low-cost and can be modified quickly. Many customers select photo etching because of the flexibility it provides for supplying samples in days rather than weeks or months.

Any Complexity

Component features are etched at the same time so part/feature complexity is not an issue. The complexity of the profile does not affect the price… to process thousands of apertures or just the one, the price remains the same.

Right First Time

No heat or force is used when photo etching, so the mechanical properties of the metal remain unaltered and parts are free from stresses and burrs.

The Benefits of Photo Etching

Only ACE can consistently supply photo etched parts manufactured with the unrivalled consistency, demanding tolerances and cost reductions we can offer to our customers.

Traditionally, processes employed in metal profiling to produce metal parts and components have included stamping, punching, laser and water jet cutting. These methods impart inevitable stress on the material, and can result in distortion, burrs and surface imperfections, leading to a loss of integrity and quality in the finished component. Hard tooling methods can involve long lead times, especially when alterations are required, and costs that scale quickly as design complexity increases.

 ACE's photo etching process allows for the highest possible level of flexibility and complexity at the best price – and produces a product of the same consistency and quality from the first etching to the last, without the characteristic drawbacks of other cutting methods.


What are Photo Etched Parts?

Photo etching is the future of metal components design and manufacturing. It is a much more consistent process with tighter tolerances than are achievable through traditional machining or stamping.

Photo etched parts are metal components that have been 'etched' or eroded out of sheet metal (such as stainless steel, titanium, aluminium and more,) using a highly controlled chemical process. Unlike stamped parts, photo etched parts have not had their mechanical properties altered by stress or heat. This makes photo etched parts uniquely suitable for use in precision engineering applications where the chemical and mechanical properties of the component must be tightly controlled.

At ACE we advance the photo etching field by continuing to develop our own state of the art photochemical etching processes. This includes our unique titanium etching solution that is safer and does not use dangerous, corrosive chemicals like hydrofluoric acid (HF). Read more about our TiME etching process used to create titanium photo etched parts as well as our research-based approach to etching technology innovation.
What are photo etched parts


The Benefits of Photo Etched Parts

Photo etching is normally performed in a series of eight steps:

  • Smooth edge profile photo etched parts have a smooth surface etch profile
  • No surface burrs
  • Tight tolerances possible ±10% of material thickness
  • Complex geometries at no extra cost
  • 1:1 aperture aspect ratio possible
  • Thicknesses from 0.07mm to 2.5mm
  • Part size up to 1500mm x 600mm
  • Fast turnaround
  • Serial production capacity
  • No heat-affected zones

A Quick Overview of the Photo Etching Process

  • Choosing the metal
  • Metal Cleaning
  • Printing
  • Developing
  • Stripping
  • Lamination
  • Etching
  • Inspecting & finishing

The ACE Photo Etching Process

Our process starts with digital tooling, where we receive data from the customer in the form of a DXF/DWG file or dimensioned drawing. This method allows customers the flexibility to include several variations of a design on one sheet of metal. Once a sample has been approved and the best design chosen, ACE uses the same data to produce a photo tool for higher volumes. The photo tooling can be modified in a matter of minutes, and samples produced in hours, not days or weeks.

Once the design is printed onto the chosen grade of metal sheet and chemically developed, the sheet is passed through the etching machine on a conveyor, where the acid solution is sprayed and attacks the unprotected surfaces of the metal, until the photo etched parts are completed, and the resulting components can be rinsed and inspected.

ACE Are Leading The Photo Etching Industry

In this fast-moving manufacturing age, ACE has a proven track record of developing photo etched parts. We are constantly creating innovative chemical etching techniques and manufacturing millions of etched components every year in 2000 different metals and in thicknesses of five microns to 2.5mm.

Our team of technical experts are ready to advise on standard products for your sector or bespoke components that meet a specific technical application. Contact ACE today to see how we can help you achieve your manufacturing targets, on time and on budget.

The Photo Etching Process In 8 Steps

Step 1

whatisphoto etching

Choosing The Metal

Sheet metal or coil is selected from a comprehensive metal store (over 2000 different types of metal on the database from 0.07mm to 1.5mm thickness) and is cut to the required size. We only use high photo etching quality metal for all of our processes. Material is allocated with a unique batch number traceable to incoming material certificates. Cosmetic inspection is carried out to ensure material quality is good.

Step 2

Metal Cleaning

The metal to be used is chemically cleaned to remove any rolling oils or contaminants from the surface, this is important as contamination will inhibit the application of the photo-resist and could negatively impact the quality of the finished photo etched parts.

Step 3


The cut sheets are laminate coated with UV light sensitive photo resist (laminar) which is applied to both sides of the sheets using heat and pressure. The excess laminar is trimmed from the sheets.

Step 4


The Dry Film laminated sheet has the photo tool image applied to it by exposing the image onto the metal using a UV (Ultra Violet) light source. The component image is transferred to the metal sheet.

Step 5


The exposed sheets are passed through a developer and chemically developed, chemistry washes away un-exposed soft areas and leaving the component shape protected.

Step 6

Photo Etching

Sheets are placed on the etch machine conveyor, the etch speed is calculated based on the metal thickness and etch rate which is based on metal chemical composition. A pilot sheet is etched and measured, once the target size is correct the speed is set for the rest of the sheets and samples are periodically measured to ensure machine settings are constant.

Step 7


Rinse and strip the photographically resistant dry film from the metal sheet, the etched sheet is now ready for the final inspection. Photo etched parts can now have secondary operations applied such as forming, plating, heat treatment, etc.

Step 8

Inspecting & Finishing

QA inspection on critical dimensions as agreed with the customer are undertaken using a CMM (Coordinate Measuring Machine). Finished etched components are visually inspected and final inspection of the parts is carried out to ensure they are cosmetically perfect for the customer. Inspection is carried out to different inspection procedures to suit particular customer requirements.

Is There A Difference Between Photo Etching and Chemical Etching?

Photo etching is simply the name given to the process of using light and photo-tools to fix the image of the component to be etched. Photo etching can be used interchangeably with terms including chemical etching and chemical milling, although those terms may refer only to the chemical process of etching.

Photo etching

Metals That Can Be Used To Produce Photo Etched Parts

Photo etching
And many more metals & alloys...


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