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Photo Chemical Etching

  • Ideal for Complex Part Designs
  • Manufacture Beyond Hard Tool Capability
  • Produce Parts Quickly Without Burrs or Distortion

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Example of a Photo Chemical part with its design on SmartQuote

Flat, Precise, Burr-Free Parts Fast
with Photo Chemical Etching

Fine Details and Complex Geometries Without Tooling

Photo chemical etching, also known as industrial chemical etching or chemical milling, uses a technique similar to building computer chips that enables the creation of complex shapes like very fine screens and filters, flat washers and shims and precisely shaped electrical contacts.

Because it doesn’t rely on heat or mechanical force, photo chemical etching produces parts that are free of burrs and distortion – perfect for precision applications like aerospace, electrical components and hydraulics.

It also doesn’t require hard tooling, making it perfect for quick turnarounds of prototype parts and iterating production part designs.

Photo Chemical Etching  //  Get A Quote

How Does Photo Chemical Etching Work?

Chemical milling is a machining process that uses films, masks and chemical etchants to produce complex and highly accurate flat metal parts at a per-part cost that is considerably less than other subtractive manufacturing methods. Watch these videos to learn more about photo chemical etching.

How does chem etching working

Newcut by Fathom’s Pete Engel explains how photo chemical etching works and shows examples of parts created using this affordable technique.

If you’re having trouble visualizing the photo chemical milling process, you may find this explainer video from PCMI to be helpful.

What Materials Can be Processed Using Photo Chemical Etching?

Contact our sales team for a more detailed list of materials and feature sizes supported.

  • Aluminum
  • Steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Beryllium copper
  • Nickel alloys
  • Copper and copper alloys
  • Magnetic alloys
  • High-temperature alloys
  • Controlled expansion alloys
  • Miscellaneous alloys

Advantages of Photo Chemical Etching

Our Fathom Newark staff has over 30 years of experience helping engineers get exceptional results with this elegantly efficient fabrication technique.

Fast Delivery // Because no hard tooling is required, an order may be fulfilled within days or up to a week for complex part designs. Multiple parts can be produced from a single sheet of metal. Little or no finishing is required.

Uncompromised Integrity of the Metal // Many types of manufacturing, such as machining and laser cutting, can cause thermal stresses and changes to the hardness, ductility or grain structure of the metal. Chemical milling doesn’t affect its internal structure.

Produce Complex Yet Affordable Flat Parts // Industrial chemical etching enables you to create parts with fine details and complex geometries that are beyond the capability of hard tools. It can be used to fabricate parts in dead soft or full hard material without burrs or metal distortion.

Low-Cost Tooling // Films for photo chemical etched parts can be produced directly from your CAD drawings. No hard tools or work-holding fixtures are required.

Easy, Fast and Inexpensive Prototype Parts // Photo chemical etching utilizes films to create parts, so you can iterate designs quickly and inexpensively. The same process used to create prototype parts is used to make your production parts.

Burr-Free Parts // Burrs are a common side effect of many types of metal production. Photo chemical etching produces a clean, smooth surface free of burrs and eliminates the need for manual finishing procedures.

Industries Using Photo Chemical Etching

Photo chemical etching is preferred by demanding industries that require flat, burr-free parts with tight tolerances and precise features:

  • Aerospace
  • Architectural
  • Automotive
  • Commercial
  • Decorative
  • Electronic
  • Medical
  • Military
  • Optics
  • Energy

What Can Photo Chemical Etching Be Paired With?

Flat parts produced using industrial chemical etching are frequently shipped to Fathom Ithaca for bending as well as laser cutting, water jet cutting or machining. PEM nuts or tapped threads are sometimes added to holes etched into flat metal parts.

Photo Chemical Etching Specifications

Download our Photo Chemical Etching Design Guide for details on tolerances, part feature sizes, material thicknesses and more.

How Does Photo Chemical Etching Compare to Other Cutting Methods?

Material Thickness Tolerance Kerf Part Volume Set Up Cost Lead Time  ** Notes
*CHEMICAL ETCHING 0.005″ – 0.060″ Is +/- 10% of material thickness, .002″ min. Equal to metal thickness 1- Infinity $350 Min. 6-8 days Metal Only. No Burrs. Beveled Edges. Half Etch and Holes.
FIBER LASER (4,000 & 6,000 WATT) AL: 0.250″ SS: 0.375″ CRS: 0.500″ COP: 0.250″ Brass: 0.125″ 0.002″ – 0.005″ .008″ 1 to High-Volume Low 6-8 days Metals – Fast
OMAX WATERJET Up to 6″ 0.005″- 0.015″ .020″/.040″ 1 to 5000 Low 6-8 days Metal, glass, plastic, stone, rubber, kevlar, carbon fiber, ceramics, etc.Taper up to 59 °
MICROCUT™ .0005″ – 0.5″ 0.0005″ -0.005″ 0.009″, 0.011″,  0.0196″ 1 to 5000 Low 6-8 days Metal, glass, plastic, stone, rubber, kevlar, laminates, carbon fiber, ceramics, etc.
WIRE EDM 0.001″ – 6″ 0.0005″ 0.005″ 1-200 Is Best Low 6-8 days Conductive Metals, Carbon

* Inner radius should be 100% of material thickness.  Outer Radius should be 75% of material thickness.
**Dependent on geometry, volume and material:  EXPEDITE options available.

Why Choose Fathom’s Photo Chemical Etching?

Fathom has the expertise and technology to help you meet your needs faster.

We’ve been producing parts using photo chemical etching for over 50 years. Our resident experts have over 30 years of experience helping customers optimize the part designs and material selections for this unique manufacturing process.

Our certifications include ISO 9001:2015, AS 9100:2016 and ITAR.

Our experts are ready to talk to you about your project. Get started today with an online quote.

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