Precision photo-etched products are a great way to generate many semi-custom parts without breaking the bank. “Photo etching” is an industrial process that uses thin photo-sensitive metal sheets to mold plastic, epoxy, or resin parts. This process can be used to produce any number of functional or ornamental components, from onboard electronics panels and dashboards to engine detail pieces and name badges that reflect your personal style.
The options available using this type of product are nearly endless. Your imagination only limits the possible combinations. You could create custom speaker grilles for your vehicle interior or exterior speakers, decorative beltline trim for a racecar, air vents and other ducting for your engine bay, nameplates, and badges, switch panels.
Photo etch products provide you with an easy-to-use mold for casting plastic or resin parts; they are also very functional. The process of forming the metal sheets into pre-curved shapes allows them to hold their shape after being cut out by the laser, which makes them perfect for applications that require strength and rigidity like dashboards, speaker grilles, etc. Just think about it; if you were to make a part out of plastic like ABS or PVC sheet stock, then you would need to cast it in urethane or fiberglass resin (expensive) OR machine it on CNC mill (complicated) OR form it by hand (time-consuming). With the photo-etch process, you’re simply exposing a metal sheet to light, making it easy and affordable to produce as many parts as you need.
The beauty of using these metal sheets is that they are corrosion resistant! Metal components typically rust from exposure to heat or water, but since etched photo products are coated with a clear matte finish similar to anodizing, you do not have to worry about them corroding over time. Photo etch products can be sanded and painted with an airbrush or spray paint gun, so if you make a gloss black speaker grille for your car’s interior, then sanding and painting it flat black will give it a finish that’s even more durable than the factory plastic.
EASY TO WORK WITH
Photo etch products are very easy to use. To make a part, simply cut out each piece from the sheet using tin snips or a jeweler’s saw and then lightly buff the edges with sandpaper or a metal file. Next, coat both sides of your part with an adhesive such as super glue and apply it to whatever surface you’re going to mold it onto (i.e, speaker grille, engine bay components). Once set in place, mix up some two-part liquid urethane resin or epoxy according to instructions on the package and pour it over your part. Once cured, peel away from whatever surface you molded it to, prime it with an automotive-grade primer, and spray away.
FAST PRODUCTION TIME
Precision photo-etched products are perfect for producing large quantities of parts quickly. You can cut them out using tin snips, or a jeweler saw in 10 minutes – 1 hour per sheet, depending on complexity. Once you have all your pieces together, simply coat both sides with superglue, apply them to whatever surface you want the mold to be cast on (i.e, dash trim), and pour plastic or resin over them to make as many duplicates as needed.
Photo etch products are extremely affordable. A local metal sheet supplier charges $4 – $5 per square foot for 16 gauge 304 stainless sheets, so a 10″x10″ square would only cost you $25 – $50. Precision photo-etched products are sold at a fraction of the price compared to metal sheets; however, if they were to be manufactured from steel, then they would end up costing hundreds of dollars per sheet.
So there you have it! Now that you know all about precision photo-etched products, what will you create?