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Etching Silver Using Nail Art Stamps



So my love/hate relationship with etching sterling silver continues. I've tried a few times now and always end up with different results most of them not that great to be honest. I've tried connecting the silver and a piece of copper to a 9v battery and also heating the ferric nitrate. Sometimes the results are good sometimes not so good. I currently have an etched piece of silver sheet waiting to be reticulated and rid it of the mess that is the etched "pattern". 

I now know that using stamps and Stayz On ink just doesn't work with silver - the time needed to etch using ferric nitrate is much longer than etching copper and the ink starts to wear away after about an hour. This results in the pattern being patchy as the resist is eaten away and the silver ends up quite lumpy and course looking. I have yet to try using pnp paper. I don't know why but it all seems a bit of a faff to do. I don't have a laser printer so would need to find somewhere or someone to do the printing for me. The transferring of the pattern to the silver looks tricky to do too. It would by far be the most sensible way to go though so maybe I will get over my reluctance and just do it one day.

Nail varnish has been the most successful resist I've used so far so thinking about it a while ago I pondered on how to get designs in nail varnish onto silver. I'm not blessed in the drawing department so apart from doing dots, attempting to draw patterns freehand in varnish was not even considered! I did remember a project in Art Jewelry magazine from a while ago where the designer Dana Evans etched some silver using nail art stamps.  At the time I didn't really get it, the process looked complicated and I hadn't done any etching at that point so it didn't really grab me that much. But now it seemed a great way to get some patterns on silver so I researched nail art stamps and bought the stuff I needed.




This photo shows the metal plate etched with various designs, a nail art stamper (top right), a scraper and a WH Smith clubcard that I never use! I used the card instead of the scraper as I found it easier. I bought the nail art plate from Amazon - it's a Cheeky brand plate. The stamper and scraper came from ebay. Don't do what I did and order one of the cheap pattern plates on ebay as they are poor quality copies of the brand versions, the etching is shallow and the edges are very sharp and will shred your fingers if you're not careful. I still have the scars on my thumb. I spent a couple of hours one morning driving myself mad trying to get the stamper to pick up the design from the cheap plate which just didn't work as the pattern isn't deep enough. I thought I was destined to be a nail art failure! That was until I bought a genuine design plate and when I tried using it with the stamper it was so easy. I  didn't think the ebay seller of the faulty plate would want it returned with remnants of my blood on it (quite a lot of blood) but I did leave relevant feedback for a shoddy product which made me feel better.




So, how does it work? It's really simple - you apply nail varnish along one side of your chosen design (the one-coat varnishes are recommended or you could use an old varnish that has thickened), use the metal scraper or plastic card to spread the varnish over the entire design then press the stamper onto the design. The stamper picks up the pattern in varnish and then you stamp your metal (or if you're normal your nail).




I practiced on a bit of paper first and also swapped the nail varnish as the green one started peeling off the metal for some reason. You have to work quickly and have a supply of cotton pads/buds and nail varnish remover ready to clean everything after each use. It's a bit fiddly but I did get quicker as I got used to it. If you mess it up you just remove the nail varnish and start again. There are lots of videos on YouTube demonstrating the technique by people who have lovely nails unlike me :D You can't make metalwork jewellery and have lovely nails......




Stamped and ready for etching. I will admit I didn't think the nail varnish would hold up, it seemed pretty thin but after 4 long hours of being immersed in ferric nitrate the silver came out pretty well. I think my ferric nitrate may be on it's last legs as it is very cloudy and sludgy looking now. It might be time to replace it and find out from the council where I need to take the old stuff for it to be disposed of safely.


 


The silver after I'd removed the nail varnish and cleaned it with steel wool. You can click the images for a larger version for a better look.
It's still got a pink tinge from the nail varnish but that will disappear with the heat from my torch once I start using the silver. It etched pretty well and cleanly so I am pleased with it. 
The obvious drawback is the small size of the designs - they are about 17mm wide. I bought the "jumbo" size design plates but as they are meant for use on nails they aren't going to be very big. I think a bit of careful thought when it comes to how you are going to use the silver will mean you can make the most out of what you have. Which all sounds a bit cryptic! I like making small things so I'm happy with them :D

Comments

  1. This is a really inventive idea I can see that you are going to produce some lovely pieces of unique and unusual pieces of handmade jewellery by using these methods.
    I am sure that the designs are going to be endless.
    A great idea and thank you for sharing with such great detail

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  2. Very interesting! I have not heard of this and I am very impressed with your results. Looking forward to seeing what you make with them.

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  3. I'm totally wowed with the result! I too have tried etching and never quite get what I want....and the PnP route is a pain, I agree. But wow oh wow, the things we could do with that etched beauty! Wanna mail me one lol? xx

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  4. Great Post Tracy! I am yet to get to the Ferric Nitrate part of my etching. Still only working on base metals. I have the PNP paper and I have read that you can run the PNP through a laminator with the metal to transfer images, as well as ironing the PNP on (which doesn't look as easy as it sounds!). Maybe I'll try the nail art as I already have a kit for my nails! :)

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  5. Tracy, Thank you for sharing this technique! The only success I've had with etching silver has been using the old printmaking technique using asphaltum and either painting it on freehand or scraping away the resist with a scriber. I ruined my new laser printer with pnp paper, and failed with sharpie markers. I'm going to give this a try!

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  6. Thank you for your comments!
    I was so glad the etching came out ok after hours of waiting, blood loss from the "bad" first plate I bought and a bit of fiddling about!

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  7. What a clever, inventive way of etching! I really enjoyed reading this post. Great photos too.

    Best wishes, Alex

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  8. I am absolutely fascinated by this process and so excited for you to have all these new patterns and textures to play around with. Looking forward to see what you make with them.
    Kristin :)

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  9. Hi Tracey, These patterns are really lovely, I love reading your blog to see what you will be creating next. I was just wondering what you managed to find out from the council regarding the safe disposal of the acid. I have previously done some etching too and when I contacted the council I was told they only give one off permission to households not to businesses. They sent me to a waste disposal company who quoted £125+VAT. Crazy!
    Thanks Martina x

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  10. Thanks Kirsten. It was a fiddly thing to do but worth it!

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  11. Thanks Martina. I've emailed my local council waste disposal dept so I'll let you know what they say.

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  12. Jill from Serendipity Jewellery DesignsMonday, October 28, 2013

    I had never thought of using nail varnish as a resist. What a great idea. The designs look much bigger than 17mm. What size sterling silver sheets are you using - I noticed that they seemed to have a punched hole in the top? I have never seen any like that before. Lovely etching - well done!

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  13. Very beautiful and so natural looking ... I really like your jewellery!

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  14. You might want to check out the large size nail art plates available through http://www.moyou.co.uk/index.php/http-www-moyou-co-uk-index-php-collections-html.html

    I wonder if one could use Gelli plates to transfer larger than fingernail-sized images?
    http://www.gelliarts.com/

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  15. You can also check out www.messymansion.com.au, the MM stamping plates there are the biggest on the market (2.3cm x 1.7cm). If folks have ideas of what they'd like on the plates, I could also make some for the jewellery community. I used to work with metal clay before moving into nail stamping.. I'm so excited to see this process!

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  16. Rammed Earth and Julia -
    thanks for the links and your tips. The designs on the plate I have are about 15mm x 20mm. I might try using a bigger stamper to transfer more of the design (never thought of that!)
    The moyou website sell them for £4.99 and they're in the UK which is handy :D

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  17. Novel approach indeed! May I suggest that you do not give up on PnP altogether. Laser printers are under $80 now (make sure it is an HP, not a Brother) or you can print by Inkjet and photocopy on PnP. I agree that the traditional PnP method of transferring using a clothes iron is very hit and miss so I made myself a gizmo for under $40 which included $17 for a hotplate from Canadian Tire. See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27683124@N07/5938731204/in/set-72157622484352534 , as well as all kinds of other stuff if you are interested. The other two resists that I like for manual application (should you decide to go that way in the future) are Pebeo pens for positive and Duplicolor primer for negative.

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  18. Thanks for the info crquack. I didn't know you could photocopy onto pnp. I may give up on etching silver and just use my rolling mill for texture now as I find silver etching a bit hit and miss.

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  19. hi hun
    where did you get the plate from - i bort ebay one and images are so feint - none of them transfer. others from 1 seller on ebay habe been fine.

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    Replies
    1. I used a Cheeky brand plate I bought on Amazon. The cheap ones from ebay don't transfer well {if at all}.

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  20. Does ferric nitrate come as crystals? How do you mix it? I want to try this!

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    Replies
    1. Alisa,
      You can buy it as crystals that you mix with water yourself or you can buy it as a solution which is what I did.

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  21. Hi! I really want to create my own nail stamping plates. Is there a machine that press in steel???

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    Replies
    1. Hi Karlla,
      I think the designs are laser cut into the metal. If you Google it you should be able to find companies that offer this service.

      Delete
  22. Make a small jelly plate to transfer. ??

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  23. Probably you can use a vinyl decals so you can make bigger patterns

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  24. Why not use nitric acid rio etching mordant on silver. Takes 5 minutes.

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    Replies
    1. The added precautions needed for using nitric acid put me off a bit to be honest.

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