Electro Etching

Electro etching, or electrolysis, is a form of intaglio etching that is widely overlooked in the printmaking world. Instead of using a traditional acid solution, we use tanks filled with electrolyte, using zinc sulphate for zinc plates, and copper sulphate for copper plates. The plates are connected to a small electrical current, around one volt.

It may seem like you need scientific knowledge to electro etch, but no more than you would for changing a plug or jump starting a car.

One of the main advantages of this technique over acid etching, is that it does not create harmful gases, so there is no need for expensive ventilation equipment. The electrolyte solution does not become exhausted over time like with acid, so etching times can be predicted more accurately.



Pictured above is a copper plate that has been electro etched using the ‘graphite ground’ technique. This is a method unique to electro etching, which involves coating the plate using a graphite ink mixture.

This ‘ground’ is very soft and reacts to the slightest touch, meaning that very sensitive marks can be made on the plate, with hands as well as drawing tools. The exposed areas of the metal are then etched in the electrolyte.


Once the plate is etched, it is ready to be inked and printed. Ink is applied to the surface of the plate and then pushed into the etched parts of the metal.

The excess ink is removed by wiping by hand, using scrim, tissue paper or newspaper. The plate is then printed onto thick printmaking paper, using an etching press, designed for applying a high level of pressure.

The process requires a metal strip to be attached to the back of the metal plate, to allow for the flow of electricity. Above as pictured is a zinc plate, immersed in a make shift plastic tank. The larger the tank, the larger the plate you can etch.

Here is a close up look at two etched plates, the silver coloured metal is zinc, and the other is copper. Lines etched using electro etching tend to be clean cut and etch deeply.

Here, artist Oliver Hoffmeister used the graphite ground technique as well as wax ground. He was able to capture subtle marks made by his hand while drawing, and used different materials on the plate to create a wide range of depth.

Pictured above, artist and graphic designer George Stewart made electro plates by drawing into a wax ground and used different kinds of markers and paint pens. He then printed his plates onto risograph printed backgrounds, for an extra pop of colour.