Acid Etching Custom Head Badges
I wasn’t sure if I should post this thread in here (Frame Building) or in the General forum. There really isn’t an obvious choice for DIY head badges. In the end, I thought it might appeal more to the DIY folks in here rather than those in the General forum. Moderators, if you feel this thread should be in General (or some other forum) please feel free to move it accordingly…
I wanted to create custom made head badges for a couple of my mountain bikes. There were a lot of good examples when searching MTBR and the internet; but, nothing really stuck me as what I wanted (or that I had the skills to create). I knew I wanted the design to be my MTBR avatar. I decided against a sticker. And I don’t think I have the skill to engrave or cut out something with that much detail.
A few days later I was chatting with a friend and our conversation migrated over to PC board etching. PC board etching has been around for awhile (I’ve etched boards well over 20 years ago) and widely practiced by electronics hobbyists. I then did some research and found examples of people using modern day etching chemicals (muriatic acid) to etch aluminum. That’s how I was going to do it…
Preparing the Badges & Toner Transfer
Google Search: “toner transfer”
I found a suitable logo and did some basic manipulation in a photo editing software. I flipped the image (so it’s a reverse image – you’ll see why in a bit) and inverted the image.
The piece of aluminum stock was purchased at the local building supply store and was 48” L x 3/4” W x 1/16” D. I cut out four pieces of stock about 1” long.
Instead of using specialized toner transfer paper, I grabbed an old sheet of labels and peeled them all off. This left the silicone slick backing. I printed a sheet of my images onto the slick backing using a laser printer set to print on “overhead” sheets.
Using a fine grade steel wool, I brushed one side of each badge until it became nice and bright. Afterwards, I brushed the surface with a paper towel to remove any loose bits. Be sure not to touch the brushed surface with bare hands as it will prevent the toner from sticking.
Disclaimer: I’ll spare you the long details of trial and error and provide what worked best for me. However, I will mention when I had to do something more than once and what I think I had done wrong on the previous attempts. Hopefully this will help someone learn from my mistakes.
To successfully transfer the image from the paper to the aluminum badges took some practice. I cut out an image and placed it over the badge (toner side towards the badge) and then taped it (using painters tape) on the back.
I put down a hard, flat, surface on my workbench (brass plate in my case) and the put a folded piece of cotton cloth on top of the surface. The aluminum badge was placed on top of the folded cloth (with the image side down – tape side up) and the hot iron (no steam settings) on top of the badge.
The idea is to heat up the aluminum so the toner will dislodge from the paper and adhere to the aluminum. After letting it heat up for awhile (60-90 seconds), I would give the iron a gentle push down onto the plate and the remove the iron. Then flip the badge over onto the bench to cool down (use gloves, it’ll be darn hot).
While one was cooling I’d prep and work the next plate. As it starts to cool you might notice the image will become very “light”. This is good as it indicates the toner has adhered to the aluminum and isn’t on the paper any longer. Here’s an example of one that has cooled (left) and one that just came off the hot plate (right).
Using this method I was able to successfully produce the transfers I wanted. There was a lot of do-over, though.
If the image didn’t transfer properly, just grab that piece of steel wool and erase it right off. Tape a new image on and go at it again. Be patient and take your time. You’ll eventually get what you’re after.
In Printmaking, artists etch copper plates for intaglio printing. This might work for you and there is information on it that is easy to find. Maybe check that out?
Intaglio (printmaking) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
My motorcycle runs on infant blood
Awesome Post! I dig it when people show what they are doing. Way to figure it out yourself!
Very neat, I didn't know about that. Thank you.
Originally Posted by davesauvageau
Thank you! Half the fun is the trip getting there.
Originally Posted by vulture
Great post! I started looking into making head badges like this with copper and brass but never got past watching Youtube videos.
Here's two I bookmarked:
Copper Etching on Copper with Sherri Haab - YouTube
Brass How to Etch a Brass Name Plate Part 1 - YouTube
How to Etch a Brass Name Plate Part 2 - YouTube
Really great post, thanks!
what would rainbow unicorn do?
I etch copper and brass, using the toner transfer trick, but I just print it on to glossy magazine paper and then soak it off once it cools.
To etch the metal, I use PCB etchant with a little citric acid which gives a deeper etch.
Great write up and even better results with your quest to make your custom head badge.
Yip yip yip nope nope nope
Nice job !!! Looks awesome
that's a really nice job. Last time I looked into this there were a ton of people doing it, which really surprised me.
Thank you all for the kind words!
That looks fantastic and I'm very interested in what you used to etch it. The last PCB etchant I used (a long time ago) was from Radio Shack. Are you using something different?
Originally Posted by dr.welby
Searching for PCB etchant and citric acid turns up the phrase "Edinburg Etch". Am I headed down the correct path?
I don't doubt there are. I'm mediocre at best with my search abilities. I'll be taking note of anyone else on here that etches so I can pepper them with questions and make my next batch look a little less "utilitarian".
Originally Posted by unterhausen
That's the stuff. It's just RatShack PCB solution (ferric chloride?) and some citric acid powder from the homebrew store.
Originally Posted by marpilli
Awesome stuff! I was laying out a design to cut my copper headtube badge using a jewelers saw, but after this thread, I'll have to look at etching as another option.
Thanks for sharing!
What's the ratio (or quantity) of citric acid powder to PCB solution? I'll definitely be giving it a try. Time to make some custom head badges for my kid's bikes.
Originally Posted by dr.welby
Thank you. I read through a post where someone made a great head tube badge using a jewelers saw (a bulldog design?). I just didn't think I had the skills to cut it out by hand. Iron-on and acid seemed like more fun, anyway.
Originally Posted by red dog bikes
Wicked Cool! Thanks for sharing! B
I am Belltown Bikes LLC. Steel bicycles hand made in East Hampton, CT
Wow, great thread, Marpilli! What part of Dallas are you in? I'm up in Richardson.
Originally Posted by MDEnvEngr
Thanks! I'm up in the Frisco area. I've seen your avatar on the DORBA site. It's always nice to meet a 'neighbor' here on MTBR.
Originally Posted by jay_ntwr