HOW TO ETCH STERLING SILVER
PART IIIC : Using Digitally Cut Vinyl as a Resist
This method assumes you have a digital cutter, which is quite an investment. I have a Silhouette Curio machine that I use for other tasks. When I realised that I could use it for etching my life lit up!
Any digital cutter that cuts vinyl is great – Silhouette and Circut are the main brands.
I can’t teach you here how to use your digital cutter, and so the details outlined below are very simplified steps to the process with some examples. You will need to know/ learn your software and how to cut vinyl in order to do this. There are a lot of online resources to help you do this, including specific tutorials on vinyl cutting, ‘weeding’ and how to use ‘transfer paper’. It’s very easy once you know how – honestly, you can cut and have your resist on your metal in minutes once you’ve got your design perfected. The design part takes a little longer though, so to start keep it simple.
Use the software provided with your cutter to create your design. You can import files, free-draw or use stock images.
Be warned, when creating bespoke designs, you can enter the rabbit hole of digital design… I have spent days and nights on some designs to get it to cut and fit. Start simple, and then move to more detailed and creative designs as you gain confidence.
Work at a large magnification to create your image. Once the image is ready, group it and scale it to the size of your Silver. Cut and test. Cust and test! You may need to simplify it to cut at such a small scale.
Remember to include a cut for the outline shape of your piece.
I also usually allow a 1mm clearance from my cut to the edges of my Silver, but you can go to the edge if that’s part of your design. For example, if I’m etching a 12mm Silver disc, I will cut an image within a 10mm circle.
These examples show the basic (and simplified) steps to creating a design on my Silhouette:
1. Prepare your design, ensuring there are clear outlines to enable cutting and removal or areas to be etched. You may need to trace and amend an object. Do this in a magnified view.
2. Scale your design to fit your silver. You should be able to match the 1/10th of a mm. Create an outline of your silver shape so that it can be cut too.
3. When you're ready to cut, do a test run on a small piece of vinyl. Line it up on your cutting mat and send it to cut, using the default settings for the Vinyl you're using.
You may need to cut and test a few times before your final design is working for you.
Test how easy it is to 'weed' out the areas for etching, and amend the design until it works.
Once you're happy with the cut, and how it 'weeds'; you can run as many copies of the design as you need.
4. On a clean worksurface, ‘weed’ the areas of your vinyl to be removed (these are the areas that will be etched away). Keep the Vinyl on it's backing film at this stage. Use a ‘weeding’ tool, or angled fine-point tweezers; and carefully pinch and pull out the vinyl you don’t want.
5. Remove any remaining vinyl outside of your design, so you are just left with the image(s) you want to transfer to your Silver.
6. Using transfer tape pick the vinyl from its backing film.
7. Lay the vinyl on your prepared, cleaned (acetone) Silver.
8. Lightly burnish with a rubber scraper.
9. Remove the transfer tape and burnish again in all directions.
10. Now you’re ready to attach these to your etching mount and etch (see PART IV).