Etching plates are typically made from metal but can also be made from clear plastic, which is softer than metal and perfect for beginners. Copper etching plates are the most popular type and are ideal for professionals. Zinc etching plates are also commonly used. Metal etching plates are often covered in an acid-resistant ground, and artists use an etching tool to etch their design into the ground, revealing the metal below. The plate is then dipped into acid, which bites into the revealed metal, deepening the lines that make up your design.
Another popular etching plate choice is solarplate, a light-sensitized, steel-backed polymer used by artists as a simple, safe, and fast alternative that doesn’t require the use of grounds, acids, or solvents. Exposed with ultraviolet (UV) light and developed with tap water, solarplate has an exposure time as short as two minutes, depending on the time of day, season of year, and the geographic location of the exposing light source. Solarplate printing or etching not only uses art supplies that are less toxic than those used in traditional printing methods, but are also more versatile.