Made this one for Nathan Latona of Tera Melos, one of the great bands of our time. I never miss a show when they come to town and they never fail to impress. In fact they blow minds away. Check em out, especially if you’re into Mathrock/prog/technical rock/actual talent.
I’ve been lucky enough to see these guys play three times now. The last time they came to town someone was kind enough to film the show, and you can see my friends and I all crammed in the front row: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Da7eM1AFE0
Etching is always a rough process. The GIF goes quick, but there is lot of work happening in between those pictures. Every little thing has to be scraped just so with a dental pick. Talk about tedious. You can see that the image didn’t transfer correctly the first time so some steps had to be repeated (Lost 3/5 Words in the first transfer). In the end, it’ turned out fine and I’m happy with the results. Here’s how to make one yourself:
How to Etch a Guitar Pedal Enclosure -by Gar
1. Use a high contrast image for your pedal. This means it should only be black or white, no grays whatsoever.
2. Invert and flip your image horizontally. If you want the black parts of your image etched, they must be printed as white (and vice versa). Flipping your image horizontally (mirroring) ensures that everything won’t be backwards when it’s transferred as well.
3. Print a couple copies of your picture onto Glossy Photo Paper with a Laser Jet Printer. I use Staples Photo-Basic Gloss for my projects, and it seems to work well enough. Always keep your printer on the highest print settings, such as 600 dpi.
4. Cut out your image and place it face down on your bare metal enclosure.
5. Place a sheet of normal printer paper on top of your transfer and make sure that your image doesn’t shift when you do.
6. Using an iron on it’s hottest setting, iron the image onto the the pedal enclosure. This should take about a minute. Be sure to rub the image evenly with the iron and give extra attention to the corners and sides of the enclosure. Add more pressure as time goes by. When done properly the top piece of printer paper should browned slightly from the heat. Careful, your pedal will be hot!
7. Drop the hot pedal into a bucket of water. It should sizzle as it touches the water (if you got it hot enough). Let it sit fully submerged for 5-10 minutes.
8. Peel back the paper fibers, which at first will come off in big pieces. Re-submerge in the water for another 5-10 minutes.
9. Using your fingers, rub off the excess paper fibers using gentle pressure. This step can take considerable time. Make sure to keep the fibers wet, dipping the enclosure in water every minute or so. Eventually, as the fibers are removed, you will be able to see the dark toner image underneath become more visible.
10. When most to the fiber is removed with your finger, use a dental pick to scrape out paper fibers that remain in the negative spaces of the image (the parts that will be etched). These areas must be completely exposed in order to get dissolved by your etchant. Prepare to spend a lot of time during this step.
11. If parts of your image did not survive the transfer process, remove the transfer toner with pure acetone and start over again. Small mistakes can be fixed (see next step), and if it’s convenient you can possibly etch what you already have and do a second transfer/etching later on (as shown in the above animated GIF) for parts that didn’t’ transfer correctly. It’s rare to have perfect transfers on enclosures.
12. Fixing Mistakes. After all of the negative areas of the transfer are cleared of paper fibers, let the enclosure dry completely. Areas that accidentally had the toner removed can be restored using dark nail polish. Apply a layer of nail polish to the area and allow it to dry. Once dry you can scrape away the areas that need to be exposed with a dental pick or similar tool, leaving the areas that need to be protected from the etchant covered with nail polish.
13. Cover all the areas that you don’t want etched with dark nail polish. Don’t forget the sides of the enclosure. You don’t have to coat every space that is already covered with toner (although it’s a good idea to cover as much as you can). Applying one or two layers of nail polish will ensure that areas won’t be affected by the etchant. Going the extra mile with this step will spare you a lot of headaches.
14. Once the nail polish is dry, float the enclosure face down in a container of Ferric Chloride. Make sure the container is glass or plastic as Ferric Chloride eats through metal. USE GLOVES AND PROTECTIVE EYE GOGGLES, WEAR CRAPPY CLOTHES! DO THIS STEP OUTSIDE! This stuff will burn you and anything else it touches, as well as make toxic fumes.
15. Gently rock the container, being careful not to splash the Ferric Chloride. Agitating the liquid ensures an even etching, as the bubbles that will form will prevent fresh etchant from reaching the areas that need to be etched. Occasionally lifting the enclosure and re-floating it on the surface of the etching solution is also advisable.
16. Let the pedal float in the etching solution for 30-45 minutes. The time used is largely dependent on temperature. Warm etching solutions dissolve metal quicker than cold ones. For instance, if it’s warm outside (70+ degrees) try not to let it etch more than a half an hour. If it’s cold (50 or below) let it etch for longer. DON’T OVER-ETCH: Letting your enclosure etch for longer doesn’t necessarily mean it will make a deeper etch, more than likely it will begin to etch under the toner and widen/ruin your lines.
17. Once enough time has passed, dunk your pedal into a separate container of water and sodium bicarbonate (Baking Soda). Add baking soda to the water until no more can be dissolved, making a concentrated solution. Excess baking soda is fine. This solution will neutralize the Ferric Chloride so it will no longer etch your pedal.
18. Rinse off your pedal with water thoroughly. Optional: scrub your pedal’s etched areas with a toothbrush.
19. Once your pedal is clean and dry, remove all of the toner and nail polish with pure acetone. Pure acetone is preferable as some nail polish removers with acetone aren’t strong enough to dissolve the toner. Once clean allow to fully dry.
20. If you want the etched parts of your pedal to appear darker, mask all of the negative spaces of the image (now the un-etched areas) with masking tape. Again, going the extra mile here will spare you certain headaches later on as some deeper naturally occurring pits in the metal of your enclosure will permanently remain whatever color you decide to paint them.
21. Spray your enclosure with the spray paint of your choice. I prefer to use flat black, but any color can be used. Don’t over spray and use sweeping motions with the spray can, beginning and ending on either side of the pedal. Never start or stop spraying paint on the enclosure directly, as this often will lead to uneven applications. Apply several coats and allow the paint to dry.
22. Remove the masking tape. Using very fine sand paper (400 grit or better), wet-sand the surface of the enclosure so that the only paint that remains is in the etched recessed areas of the enclosure. Don’t sand more than you need to as it is possible to ruin parts of your image if you go to crazy.
23. Drill out your enclosure and make the guts.
24. Rock out!
Etching is a bitch, but for as much as it sucks to go through the motions, the end results are often worth the efforts. I can’t stress enough the importance of Step 13, so go nuts with your nail polish. Nothing sucks more than getting little unwanted pits and marks in your enclosure.
Intaglio printmaking shares a lot of similar techniques, especially if you want to try to do free hand images. Someday I’m going to take a stab at free-handing images onto my pedals for a more personal touch. But the ultimate goal is to successfully transfer an Albrecht Durer print onto a pedal, the ultimate exercise in tedium.