I mentioned in my last post that I was a new owner of a Silhouette cutting machine and having great fun with it. My initial intentions were to use it as a supplementary tool for my metal clay work – for making texture plates, stencils and actually cutting design elements directly from thinly rolled clay itself. But the more I read about it and watched YouTube tutorials of it in use (before I even got it), the more I realised it was an incredibly versatile piece of kit and I knew it would be well used, for a variety of different types of work.
Whilst I’ve certainly made great headway in the metal clay direction, already having made several new texture plates and templates (and many birthday cards and gift boxes), the more I work with it, the more ideas it sparks – and it was such a tangential thought that has kept me occupied for the last few days.
I’ve spent time in the past doing salt water etching and whilst I loved the results and enjoyed the process, a key element to the success of the pieces I was etching was an old laser printer that I used for the resist designs – making a black and white print onto coated paper and then ironing this resist design onto the prepared copper surface – in itself, a very tedious and haphazard process. But my old printer started giving progressively inferior results and once I got a new (to me) laser printer from Freecycle, I decommissioned the old machine. But modern machines don’t use the toners that worked so well with such processes, so my etching was put on hold as newer techniques got my attention.
But having cut out some designs in adhesive vinyl to use as opaque masters to make photopolymer plates, I wondered if the vinyl itself might stick directly on copper to act as a resist – it stuck so cleanly to clear acrylic that I thought it was likely it would stick well to copper too. So I dusted off my etching equipment – luckily all put away together and complete – and gave it a go.
It works a treat – better than I dared hope. Etching is one of those processes where 90% of the effort is in the proper preparation – you simply can’t cut corners or try to sidestep any stages. The better your preparation, the better the results are likely to be – that effort really does pay dividends. So it can take a frustratingly long time to get to the good stuff and the fun part.
The very best bit of course is peeling off all the protective stuff you’ve stuck to the copper to prevent the non-design parts etching, to see if it worked. You can’t get a proper idea of the success of the etch until you see it all – sometimes a piece that looks good initially is spoiled by an edge of the mask lifting and leaving a streak of erroneous and unattractive etching where it’s not wanted.
Obviously, preparing a graphic to use in this manner requires some time in the Silhouette software, but I’m really enjoying that aspect of the work – drawing all of the designs shown myself from scratch as vector drawings. It has allowed me to revisit design ideas in my sketch book that I’d struggled to realise with other methods.
It also requires a slightly different thinking and the vinyl resist is of a different nature from a graphic created to print out – you don’t want delicate details unattached to other design elements, or overlapping so that they cut bits off each other and you don’t want lots of tiny holes between elements that will make it tricky to get a clean result without any rogue bits of sticky vinyl. You also need a good mix of dark and light areas to give a balanced result.
But this has been a most enjoyable and bonus diversion – I’d never even considered etching in my deliberations over the Silhouette – even if I never use it for anything other than birthday cards and etched designs, it will totally justify my family’s investment in it for me. Not to mention that I’m truly enjoying working with it.
I’ve also really enjoyed working with the design software and find it very powerful for creating what I want – you just need to think about the structure of a shape and which drawing tools will create the shape you want. I’ve always been fascinated with the regular repeating patterns in Moorish architecture and I’ve done a bit of tinkering with patterns formed from a repeating element – the geometric tools within the Silhouette studio software make such tasks a doddle and it’s astonishing to me that moving a shape just a little, creating more overlap or rotating the angle can give rise to an infinite number of different designs from a few simple shapes.