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  1. #1
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    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…
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  2. #2
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    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8677.jpg

    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8698.jpg

    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8699.jpg

    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8700-001.jpg

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8701.jpg

    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8702.jpg

    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).

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8704.jpg

    Using this method I was able to successfully produce the transfers I wanted. There was a lot of do-over, though.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8705.jpg

    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.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8707.jpg
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  3. #3
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    Chemically Etching the Aluminum Badges

    Google Search: “hydrochloric acid etching aluminum”

    Google Search: “neutralize and dispose of muriatic acid”

    WARNING: This can be a very dangerous process if you’re not careful. My description herein is not to be taken as a complete step-by-step process.



    The basic ingredients you’ll need are 31% muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid), 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda (to neutralize the acid when done). Protective gear such as nitrile chemical resistant gloves, face shield, and an apron are highly recommended. You’ll also need a measuring cup and bowl for the etchant.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8684.jpg

    The above photo was taken before I started the first batch. I ended up repeating the process two additional times and I learned a few things. Buy a larger box of baking soda than I have in the photo and have a 5-gallon bucket standing by for neutralizing the acid later.

    Most of what I found for PC board etching (etching copper) recommended using 2 parts of hydrogen peroxide and 1 part of muriatic acid. What worked best for me was using 3 parts hydrogen peroxide and 1 part muriatic acid. The 2/1 solution was just too strong and would react violently enough to generate heat, lift the toner right off of the badges and ruin them. None of the badges in the first batch survived.

    The 3/1 solution produced a much slower reaction and gave me the results I was after. It did take longer (about 30 minutes) to etch each badge down to the level I wanted. You don’t have to use a lot. I measured out 6 ounces of peroxide and 2 ounces of muriatic acid and it was plenty enough to etch a badge.

    It was interesting to watch the reaction. The initial acid solution is primarily clear (first photo). Once the badge is put in it turns to a dark grey (second photo) and eventually changes to a champagne color (third photo).

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8754.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8757.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8759.jpg

    On the floor beside the workbench I had a five gallon bucket with about 1-1/2 gallons of water and I dissolved a large amount of baking soda into the water. When the badge was done etching, I would remove it from the acid (using a plastic fork) and submerse it into the baking soda water. I then used an old tooth brush to scrub the submerged badge to neutralize any acid remaining on it.

    When finished, I slowly poured the acid mixture into the baking soda water (mind the reaction). Once it settled down, I continued to add baking soda (slowly) until there was no further reaction. When neutralized, the mixture can be poured down the kitchen sink.

    What I learned in the first batch was my mixture contained too much muriatic acid. I mixed the second batch at a lesser strength and successfully etched one plate. I then became all excited and put in the remaining three plates. The mixture heated up (due to the volume of the reaction) and it lifted the toner right off of the aluminum and ruined the remaining three plates. The final third time worked because I (A) used the weaker acid mixture and (B) only etched one badge at a time. I also disposed of the etchant and mixed new etchant for each subsequent badge.

    Here are a couple of the better results.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8762.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_2151.jpg

    Be sure to save any of the ruined badges. You can use them for practice when trying to bend them to the shape of the head tube….
    Contact information: http://about.me/marpilli

  4. #4
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    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

  5. #5
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    Bending and Painting

    I now need to bend one of them to fit the head tube. I cut a piece of 2x3 at a 45* angle and attached the two pieces together like this.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8764.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8765.jpg

    I taped the badge into the V and also taped up the head tube to prevent it from being scratched.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8766.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8763.jpg

    I placed the block against the head tube and gently (but firmly) tapped the block with a mallet until the aluminum started to bend. I had to reposition the badge and the block a few times to get the desired result. Again, be patient and work with the badges you ruined during the etching process. I also used a different bike to test just so I could be sure I wouldn’t be denting the frame.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8767.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8769.jpg

    After the badge is in the proper shape, I washed it down using TSP and a brush, thoroughly rinsed, and let it dry completely. I taped off the back and gave it a single good coat of black appliance epoxy. I used the same black appliance epoxy to paint my fork lowers.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8772.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_2165.jpg
    Last edited by marpilli; 05-18-2012 at 08:34 AM.
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  6. #6
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    Brushing and Application

    After letting the painted badge dry for 24 hours, it was now time to remove the paint from the raised areas. I used a brass wire wheel attached to a dremel on the lowest speed setting. I very gently touched the spinning wheel to the raised ridges and the paint came right off.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8781.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8783.jpg

    To apply the badge I used some E-6000 adhesive (the same adhesive I used to hold in some cable guides here). Clamp the badge to the head tube for 10-15 minutes and we’re all done…

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8785.jpg

    Here are some images of a completed badge on my 1994 GT Karakoram.

    Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8800.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8802.jpg Acid Etching Custom Head Badges-img_8805.jpg

    I’ll be using one of the remaining badges on my 1995 GT Aggressor next weekend.

    Let me know if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.
    Contact information: http://about.me/marpilli

  7. #7
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    That is pretty cool.

  8. #8
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    Awesome Post! I dig it when people show what they are doing. Way to figure it out yourself!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by davesauvageau View Post
    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
    Very neat, I didn't know about that. Thank you.
    Contact information: http://about.me/marpilli

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by the-one1 View Post
    Edit: typed too slow to see new posts.


    I tried to post it all up as quickly as possible. You guys still beat me to the punch.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by vulture View Post
    Awesome Post! I dig it when people show what they are doing. Way to figure it out yourself!
    Thank you! Half the fun is the trip getting there.
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  12. #12
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    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
    and
    How to Etch a Brass Name Plate Part 2 - YouTube

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  13. #13
    conjoinicorned
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    Really great post, thanks!
    what would rainbow unicorn do?

  14. #14
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    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.

  15. #15
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    Great write up and even better results with your quest to make your custom head badge.
    Yip yip yip nope nope nope

  16. #16
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    Nice job !!! Looks awesome
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  17. #17
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    that's a really nice job. Last time I looked into this there were a ton of people doing it, which really surprised me.

  18. #18
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    Thank you all for the kind words!

    Quote Originally Posted by dr.welby View Post


    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.
    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?

    Searching for PCB etchant and citric acid turns up the phrase "Edinburg Etch". Am I headed down the correct path?

    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    that's a really nice job. Last time I looked into this there were a ton of people doing it, which really surprised me.
    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".
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by marpilli View Post

    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?

    Searching for PCB etchant and citric acid turns up the phrase "Edinburg Etch". Am I headed down the correct path?
    That's the stuff. It's just RatShack PCB solution (ferric chloride?) and some citric acid powder from the homebrew store.

  20. #20
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    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!

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by dr.welby View Post
    That's the stuff. It's just RatShack PCB solution (ferric chloride?) and some citric acid powder from the homebrew store.
    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.
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by red dog bikes View Post
    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!
    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.
    Contact information: http://about.me/marpilli

  23. #23
    Belltown Brazer
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    Wicked Cool! Thanks for sharing! B
    I am Belltown Bikes LLC. Steel bicycles hand made in East Hampton, CT

  24. #24
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    Wow, great thread, Marpilli! What part of Dallas are you in? I'm up in Richardson.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by MDEnvEngr View Post
    Wicked Cool! Thanks for sharing! B
    Thank you!

    Quote Originally Posted by jay_ntwr View Post
    Wow, great thread, Marpilli! What part of Dallas are you in? I'm up in Richardson.
    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.
    Contact information: http://about.me/marpilli

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