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Zentangle Etching On Copper

I've never tried doing Zentangle designs, I don't think I'm good enough at drawing if I'm honest, but I do love Zentangle patterns! A jewellery maker friend of mine recently very kindly sent me two Deborah Read zentangle stamps (thanks Jill!)
I thought I'd use them for etching and decided to try a different way of suspending the copper sheet in the ferric chloride this time too. I normally stick the copper pieces to packing tape and suspend the tape across my etching dish so the copper is immersed in the etching liquid as shown in the photo below.....

This works fine for small pieces but anything larger than about 1.5 inches is too heavy for the tape and pulls it down so it ends up touching the bottom of the dish. It also means the copper pieces start to peel off the tape after about an hour which is not good news if you want to do a deep etch! The answer would be to get a deeper dish and more ferric chloride but I thought I'd try hanging the copper vertically in the etching solution this time.

I started by punching a hole in the top of each piece of copper then covered the back with nail varnish to protect it. You can apply nail varnish to the sides too but as I will be cutting shapes from the etched pieces and not using the whole piece I didn't bother this time. I then applied Stayz On ink to the zentangle stamp when I eventually decided which part of the fabulous crazy heart pattern I wanted to use! I cleaned the front of the copper with wire wool then placed it onto the stamp and pressed firmly.
The photo shows the copper piece on the stamp (with unintentionally colour co-ordinated nail varnish!) and you can see how I managed to get lots of bits of wire wool stuck to the back too :D

The second zentangle stamp inked up before stamping. This one has lots of cool designs to choose from too.

The stamped pieces of copper

Next I needed a plastic container suitable for hanging the copper pieces vertically. I found just what I needed in the kitchen cupboard. It was an old measuring beaker and was just the right size for the amount of ferric chloride I have. I found a couple of sticks outside and armed with some 16g copper wire I attached the stamped copper pieces to the sticks and dangled them in the etching solution. I left them for just over an hour, lifting them up and giving them a wiggle every now and then to remove any etched away copper particles.

I then soaked the copper pieces in water and bicarb, dried them and cleaned the ink off with wire wool. I've noticed this seems to produce fumes which could be a reaction between the etching solution and the steel in the wire wool. It makes me cough sometimes so I'd do it in a ventilated area or outside. I don't know of a quicker way to remove the ink than using wire wool. Heating the metal with a torch would remove it but will probably create fumes too and pickling it doesn't get rid of the ink.

The finished etched pieces partly cleaned up with wire wool. I removed the nail varnish on the back with acetone and washed the copper before pickling it which cleans it thoroughly and helps to stop it tarnishing too quickly.

I found etching this way was much less messy, and there was no fiddling with sticky tape. The only extra step is painting the back with nail varnish and adding the hanging hole. I noticed you don't get the "Jesus ray" effect around the edges of the metal you get with the other method either.

I'm glad I tried etching this way as it's ideal for larger pieces that I was having trouble with previously. I'm going to use the same method next time I etch some silver as silver takes so much longer than copper and I was having problems with it falling off the tape. I'm really glad I didn't throw that measuring beaker away last time I had a kitchen cupboard clear out!


  1. to keep your pieces from sagging I use those inexpensive foam nail files and tape them to the back and it keeps them straight - you still tape to each side of the container

  2. That sounds like the answer to my sagging problem, thanks Deborah!
    I've just linked to your website too :D

  3. Acetone will get rid of the staz on as well - I pour a little in a plastic container (leftover sour cream, dip ) and let sit
    My blog has a bunch of step by steps and tips as well :

    see etching multiple small pieces - shows the nail files

  4. Thanks Deborah, there are some great tips on your blog.

  5. I am waiting on my first batch of Ferric Chloride to be delivered, so I can give etching a go, so thank you for sharing this tip!

  6. This is so cool! Stamps come in everything these days. I have never seen a zentangle stamp before. I love zentangles too but have not tried drawing them. Pinterest is full of such inspiration!

  7. Thanks Val. I didn't realize you could get zentangle designs on stamps either til I found Deborah Read's shop on Etsy :D


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