Saltwater Electrolysis Etching of Stainless Steel Tins

Using Scotchbrite abrasive pads, I sanded the surface of the tin where the image would be etched. The tins have a thin, plastic coating which must be removed.

The image I wanted to etch is a woodcut print by Albrecht Dürer, Rhinoceros. Using GIMP, I scaled the image to fit on the tin cover, did a inverse transform, and saved the final image as a negative.

I printed the negative onto a sheet of Press & Peel Blue film using a laser printer. Press & Peel Blue is also used to transfer pre-etch trace outlines onto printed circuit boards. After cutting out the printed image from the sheet, I then ironed it on to the tin cover for at least  10 minutes.

After the ironing, I quenched it under cold running water and peeled off the Press & Peel Blue from the tin.

I have an electrolysis setup which includes a plastic Brita water filter tank that I found discarded in the sidewalk one day and a modified DC power supply that I salvaged from an old Cisco router. I filled the tank with a gallon of lukewarm water and dissolved about a cup of salt in it.

I used the +12V terminal on my power supply which is rated at a max current of 5A. I hooked up my multimeter to measure the current and it read OL. The multimeter is rated to measure up to 2A, the OL indicated that I was pushing more than 2A through the solution. BTW, anything over 100mA is sufficient to cause death by electrocution. The specimen was connected to the positive lead cable (red) while a dummy tin was connected to ground (black).

After the electrolysis, I cleaned off the toner mask using a cloth and “Goof Off” spray.

The result:

I’m still in trial and error phase.


1. I need to get a decent Fluke multimeter so that I can measure both the current and resistance of my setup.

2. The toner mask transfer is still a work in progress. The Press & Peel Blue film has a tendency to leave spots and there are places where the image didn’t stick as well as I would have like. I will try using glossy magazine paper.


One Response to “Saltwater Electrolysis Etching of Stainless Steel Tins”

  1. that’s awesome! too bad you can’t do that on cell phones :-/ that would a cool way of adding personal flair to an iphone

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