Choosing the Right Technology for Your Application: Photo Chemical Etching

When it comes to manufacturing precision metal parts, you face tons of options. A simple search online will show you results for many different manufacturing methods like stamping, CNC, laser cutting, etc. But which one's right for you?                               

In a lot of cases, the most cost-effective and precise method is photo chemical machining.

What is Photo Etching?

Photo Etching is a non-conventional machining process that exceeds all other methods to produce components. If you are manufacturing complex geometric parts, photo etching is the better choice.

Advantages of Photo Etching

Photo etching is a fast and cost-effective alternative to traditional manufacturing methods and can be one of the most inexpensive processes for manufacturing short-run metal parts. Other methods require elaborate manual and mechanical techniques, whereas the photo etching process is all computer generated, greatly reducing tooling costs.

Another benefit of using this process is the delivery time. The photo chemical machining process can save your company money with a turn-around time quicker than any of the other technologies.

The process can produce anywhere from one to a million parts, with the exact same tooling used every time. This allows you to go from concept to prototype to full production quickly and easily.

Unlike several other technologies, photo chemical etching never changes the properties of the metal, therefore there is no change to the temper and there isn’t any heat affected zone applied.

Lastly, the process maintains dimensional tolerances without creating burrs or sharp edges. This means no costly deburring fees and a consolidated manufacturing process.

Types of Metals used in the Photo Etching Process

When it comes to photo chemical machined parts, you can use most metals and alloys. Standard commercial grade metal is not normally supplied; instead photo etchers generally prefer higher quality metals due to their superior finish.

However, when it comes to needing fast turnaround, standard materials can be supplemented to meet delivery time expectations.

Parts are produced from either flat sheets or coil stock and cut to size.

Metals that are most commonly used in flat sheets are:

  • Aluminum
  • Stainless Steel
  • Copper
  • Brass

Metals that are most commonly used in coil stock are:

  • Nickel
  • Beryllium Copper
  • Copper
  • Phosphor Bronze

Applications for Photo Etching

Photo chemical etching is a versatile process for many applications. This process never changes the properties of the metal, therefore no change to the temper and there isn’t any heat affected zone applied.

Some applications in which photo etching is used are:

  • Industrial applications such as fine screens and meshes
  • Thin Gauge Parts
  • Battery Grids
  • Sensors
  • Springs
  • Encoders


When choosing the right technology for your precision metal parts, make sure to do the research and weigh out all the pros and cons.

Advanced photo etching tips design engineers should know.