The Difference Between Etching and Engraving

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Etching and engraving are two popular methods in the world of printing. They are used to make different images and patterns from a rough surface, flat surface, and metal plate. However, some mistakes etching from engraving and vice versa. While both feature a high degree of detail and customization, they differ in some aspects. Find out here! 

Etching vs. Engraving 

Quite sure, you’re already familiar with these two material production processes or at least have a bit knowledge about them. They are methods of cutting lines on a tough surface like metal. The main difference between the two is that etching is considered a chemical process, while engraving is a physical process. An etcher burns lines in a surface of a material using acid. On the other hand, an engraver makes use of pointed, sharp tools to cut lines straight into the hard surface (called incising). 

Let’s tackle these two processes in a deeper level. 

What is Etching? 

It is the process of removal of a material from the surface of another material to produce designs, letters, or lines. The artist, known as the etcher, covers a steel or copper plate using a wax layer and then scratches a preferred design through the wax. Acid is applied to the metal surface so as to eat away the exposed metals. Aside from a layer of wax and acid, a pointed needle is also used in the etching process to draw an image. 

Etched materials or metals are used by an extensive array of industries, from furniture to transportation and energy to military applications and aerospace parts. Copper, brass, aluminum, stainless steel, and cold rolled steel are the common materials being etched. 

Types of Etching 

There are actually many different types of etching available, with wet etching and dry or plasma etching as the most common. 

  • Wet Etching: It is typically isotropic, which leads to the etchant chemicals extracting substrate materials below the masking material. Due to the fact that the substrate material needs to be coated using the etchant chemical, wet etching required a massive quantity of etchant chemicals. Although, it has a fair share of advantages including simple equipment, high selectivity, and high rate of etching. 
  • Dry/Plasma Etching: In this type of etching process, the etchant gases or plasmas are utilized to get rid of the substrate material. It emits gaseous products. Physical removal, chemical reactions, and a blend of both are the 3 types of dry etching. As for the benefits, it is able to automate and lower down the consumption of material. Dry or plasma etching is considered to be less dangerous compared to traditional acid etching as well.


So, why you should try etching for your next printing project? First of all, the tooling for etching, especially for metal, is digital. This means the changes in design can be done as quick as possible, plus the optimization for design is free from any potential risk. Besides metal, there is a range of different thicknesses and materials that can be etched. Logos and identification numbers could be etched on metal parts even without post-laser marking. Most of all, expect for precision and flexible design. 

What is Engraving? 

Now we come to engraving. It is generally a process of creating a surface to produce a textual and visual effect. Engraving is carried out on a variety of materials, including stones, metals, paper, and glass. While one of the oldest printmaking methods, engraving is still alive and kicking effortlessly. 

The jewelry industry has been using this method to create and design those intricate, beautiful pieces you see in the store. It is also ideal for security purposes and decoration. Today, many manufacturers use high-power laser engraving machines to perfectly make a highly visible, long-lasting image. 

Types of Engraving 

Among the types of engraving are: 

  • Hand Engraving: The most laborious and ancient engraving method that is carried out by an experienced artisan with a small engraving tool. Features high craftsmanship value and conventional beauty. Hand engraving is considered as the most expensive option due to the amount of time you need to consume completing the project. 
  • Laser Engraving: The most adaptableand state-of-the-art engraving procedure. The laser beam is used to produce logos, designs, or letterings in a range of materials like acrylic, coated metals, wood, and leather. Often, cutting boards, pet urns, make badges, wooden picture frames, and portfolios are engraving with a laser method. It is possible to maintain your material’s original shape. The process is very precise, making it very ideal for making serial numbers and logos. 
  • Rotary Engraving: It utilizes a machine-controlled tool to make an engraving. While rotary engraving is less costly compared to hand engraving, it is not suggested to use on heat-sensitive materials. Items like picture frames, card cases, jewelry, trophies, and cups are often engraved using this process. One form of rotary engraving is the diamond engraving. 


What makes engraving one of the most preferred methods in printmaking is that it creates any linen or pattern accurately. Not to mention, the effort required to do the design is only minimal. It is usually used to make guns, jewelry, silverware, and alike. Copper is the most favorable metal.

The Differences​…

To sum it up, etching is done with an acid to remove the metal, while engraving makes use of a pointed and sharp tool to cut lines on the surface of a metal. 

The etching is perfect for thin materials, metallic materials, and small projects require small amount of physical effort. Engraving can be used for big objects as well as in materials like stones, plastics, metal, and wood. It needs more physical effort. 

Which do you need? 

The rule of thumb is to choose one that is right for your application. For instance, you want to make a logo for your booming business. Hence, you’ll need a metal to engrave your company logo. Durability is visible to both. The shape, corners, holes, thickness, and colored inlay can be customized through engraved, while etching has the ability to etch and fill.

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