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Photo Chemical Etching

  • Highly Durable Metal Parts
  • Precise Components with Tight Tolerances
  • Variety of Metals & Alloys with Unique Properties
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Photo Chemical Etching

Why Use Chemical Etching / /

Chemical etching is also known as photochemical machining (PCM), photochemical milling, photo chemical etching or just photo etching.

Designers, manufacturing engineers, and purchasing groups are recognizing the advantages photo chemical etching has to offer.

Some of the benefits of this unique manufacturing process are the ability to make a complex part that is beyond hard tool capability and to fabricate the part in dead soft or full hard material without burrs or metal distortion.

Another significant benefit is response time. An order may be filled in days, which allows the design to be proven without incurring the cost of a hard tool.

Photo etching is a growing industry, gaining experience and recognition as a viable method of working metal.

Designing for Etching / /

Sheet Sizes

  • Standard size 12″ x 24″
  • Maximum size with in-house tooling 18″ x 24″
  • Maximum size 36″ x 59″ (tooling cost higher)
  • Smaller sheet sizes also possible


  • Standard is +/- 10% of material thickness—other needs can be discussed
  • Smallest diameter hole needs to be greater than material thickness
  • Space between holes must be greater than metal thickness
  • Inner radius must be at least 100% of material thickness, outer radius must be at least 75%
  • Edge condition is burr free, however, there is a bevel on the edge equal to about 20% of material thickness

Optimal Material Thickness

  • Optimal: 0.002″ to 0.030″
  • 030″ to 0.062″ possible, but higher cost
  • <0.002″ possible

Partial Etching

  • Half-etches or partial-etches (etching partway through the metal) can be used to create bend lines for manual forming, part marking, or other features. Guidelines include:
    • At least 0.002” metal remaining at the bottom of the partial etch preferred
    • The width of the partial etch should be at least 1.5x the depth

Photochemical Machining Process / /

Step 1: Tooling

A photo plotter is used to create a photo tool which is a negative image of the part. The part is nested to maximize the number of parts per sheet. Two laminates are printed, one each for the top and bottom of the metal sheets.

Because each photo-tool is a made of film, tooling can be finished in just hours and at a far lower cost than required by other machining methods. Additionally, these qualities ensure that part designs can be changed and applied to production exceptionally fast.

Step 2: Cleaning

Proper metal preparation, degreasing, and the removal of surface contaminants is essential for proper adhesion between the raw material and the photoresist during the coating process.

Modern PCM companies have invested in “clean lines” for improved material cleanliness. These conveyorized machines are typically multi-chambered and material is put through a series of cleanings and rinses to ensure proper surface condition.

The quality and quantity of the finished parts depends greatly on the care taken during this step.

Step 3: Coating

The material is coated with photoresist directly after cleaning which reduces the chance of surface contamination and oxidation. The coating is photosensitive and resistant to the etchant used to cut the chosen metal. Dry film or liquid resist is applied to both sides of the work piece to allow etching for both sides simultaneously.

Advances in resist technology combined with new and improved Computer Assisted Design (CAD) artwork have enabled photoresist coatings to accommodate extremely complex features.

Step 4: Exposing

During this step in the photo etching process, material with the photosensitive coating is exposed to UV light. This is a straightforward process that transfers the photo tool image onto the coated material.

The metal is put into the double-sided photo tool and is exposed to UV light on both sides, an image is formed in the photoresist. This then becomes a durable image on both sides of the metal.

Step 5: Etching

Virtually all metals can be etched, although some are etched more readily than others. Most metals can be etched using a relatively innocuous etchant, an aqueous solution of ferric chloride.

First, the metal is rinsed of the remaining photoresist that hasn’t bonded to the metal. Then, etchants are applied to the metal in a conveyor machine. During this process, the non-bonded areas of metal are exposed to the etchants and begin to etch upon contact.

Because etchants are applied to the entire sheet of metal at once, PCE maintains the unique ability to make every cut simultaneously, which can save countless hours for parts with complex geometries or features, and especially for fine meshes and screens.

Step 6: Finishing

The next step in the manufacture of chemically etched parts is stripping off the protective coating of photoresist. Many companies use machines that have a strip chamber on the etch machines to increase efficiency.

Now your part is finished! Or is it?

Parts often require secondary processes or treatments post-blanking before they are finished and ready to be shipped. Luckily, Fathom can take care of that.

We offer a wide range of services including heat treatment, plating, and precision forming through partnerships with local treatment firms and our sister companies.

Chemical Etched Parts / /

Here is a sample set of parts created using chemical etching.

Chemical Etching Materials / /

  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Cold Rolled Steel
  • Copper
  • Inconel®
  • Beryllium Copper
  • Nickel Silver
  • Stainless Steel

Chemical Etched Parts Secondary Processes / /

  • Heat Treatment
  • Plating
  • Forming

Industries / /

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

Applications / /

  • Connectors
  • Electrical Contacts
  • Encoders
  • EMI or RF Shielding
  • Filters/Screens
  • Flat Springs
  • Signage
  • Washers & Shims

Services Offered by Fathom / /

Partner with Fathom on your next photo chemical etching project. In addition to photo chemical etching, Fathom offers a wide range of manufacturing services including CNC, injection molding, laser cutting, welding, wire EDM, polyjet and more. As part of our comprehensive services, we also offer finishing and post processing. Photo chemical etching is just one of 28 manufacturing services.

Additive Manufacturing

  • FDM
  • SLS
  • SLA
  • Polyjet
  • MJF
  • DMLS
  • DLS
  • STEP (Evolve)

CNC Machining

  • CNC (3 & 5 Axis)
  • CNC Lathe
  • Precision Grinding
  • Wire & Sinker EDM

Injection Molding

  • Injection Molding
  • Tooling
  • Compression Molding

Metal Cutting and Forming

  • Thermoforming
  • Sheet Metal Punching
  • Sheet Metal Cutting
  • Metal Forming
  • Laser Cutting
  • Water Jet Cutting
  • Chemical Etching
  • Welding
  • Micro Cutting


  • Die Casting
  • Urethane Casting
  • Composite Layups
  • Extrusion
  • Post Processing &amp; Finishing
    • Pad Printing
    • Powder Coating
    • Bead Blasting
    • Surface Grinding
    • Polishing
    • Anodize
    • Powder Coat Passivate
    • Chemfilm
    • Vacuum Metallization
    • Silkscreen
    • Plating
    • Tumbled

Machines Used by Fathom / /

Fathom’s manufacturing facilities are powered by over 530 machines, including mills, lathes, presses, press brakes, turret punches and additive systems. Fathom has equipment dedicated to metal prototype fabrication, including lasers, waterjet machines, finishing tools, autodeburring, 4 slide machines, multi-slide machines, press brakes, 300-ton presses, 22-ton presses, wire EDM machines, seely slide forming tools and 35-ton blanking presses.

Fathom provides not just photo chemical etching but also hybridized services leveraging prototype fabrication. Need metal prototype fabrication as part of a more complex project? Fathom can handle it. A recent case study is listed below where Fathom delivered 20,000 parts in 27 days using 55+ tools, including metal prototype fabrication services:

Case Study //

Real Customers. Real Results.

A customer came to Fathom with a complex project that spanned the technologies and processes of rapid production—and needed it done fast. Fathom delivered.

20,000 Parts // Within 27 Days
55+ Tools to Injection Mold 15,000 Parts First Article in 2 Weeks

55+ Tools to Injection
Mold 15,000 Parts

First Article in 2 Weeks

3,000+ 3D Printed Parts

3,000+ 3D
Printed Parts

2,000+ Metal Fabricated Parts

2,000+ Metal
Fabricated Parts

Hybridized Services Used //

3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing—PolyJet, SLS, MJF.

DFM Analysis + CAD Mods.

CNC Machining. Laser Cutting.

Stamping. Die Cutting. Post-Opp Drilling.

24-hour Turnaround Urethane Casting.

Injection + Compression Molding.

Model Finishing. Insert Assembly.

Advanced Project Management.

Fathom’s Locations for Photo Chemical Etching / /

Photo Chemical Locations Nationwide

Fathom’s manufacturing network has one location across the United States with photo chemical etching capabilities. Our locations are:


401 W. Shore Blvd.
Newark, NY 14513
ISO 9001:2015

Photo Chemical Etching FAQs / /

Q: Does Fathom offer photo chemical etching?

A: Yes, Fathom offers photo chemical etching.

Q: Is Fathom ISO certified?

A: Fathom’s certifications include ISO 9001:2015, ISO 9001:2015 Design, and ISO 13485:2016. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.

Q: Is Fathom ITAR certified?

A: Yes, Fathom is ITAR certified. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.

Q: Is Fathom AS9100:2016 certified?

A: Yes, Fathom is AS9100:2016. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.

Q: Is Fathom NIST 800-171 certified?

A: Yes, Fathom’s certifications include NIST 800-171. For site-specific certifications, please visit https://fathommfg.com/fathom-manufacturing-certifications.

Q: What is chemical etching used for?

A: Parts such as screens, filters, heat exchanger plates, signs, nameplates, labels and more, can all be produced using chemical etching.

Q: What are the types of photo etching?

A: Wet etching uses a liquid chemical to remove metal material. Dry etching uses a gas which is converted to a plasma, which is used to remove unwanted material.

Q: What is photochemical machining?

A: Sometimes called chemical milling, photochemical machining is the process of manufacturing sheet metal parts using an etchant and photoresist.

Q: Can Fathom offer quotes on photo chemical etching?

A: Yes, Fathom offers quotes for photo chemical etching projects.

Photo Chemical Etching Quotes / /

Ready for a quote or to calculate costs for your next photo chemical etching job? Fathom’s online SmartQuote platform can give you a fast quote on any file.

Across National
Time Zones

Precision manufacturing
from coast to coast.

1050 Walnut Ridge Drive
Hartland, WI 53029

444 W. 21st St. Ste. 101
Tempe, AZ 85282

46758 Lakeview Blvd
Fremont, CA 94538

7770 Washington St.
Denver, CO 80229

14000 N.W. 58th Court
Miami Lakes, FL 33014

1207 Adams Drive
McHenry, IL 60051

1401 Brummel Ave
Elk Grove, IL 60007

13758 Johnson Street NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304

1920 Slaterville Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850

401 W. Shore Blvd.
Newark, NY 14513

1513 Sam Bass Rd.
Round Rock, TX 78660

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