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eching_bThe first thing to remember is that we are here to get your job done. Whether you are an architect, a sign company, or a motorcycle shop, we are knowledgeable about how to outline your job, so don’t worry if you are not sure the best way or metal for the job. We will! Talk to us!! Between laser cutting, e-coating, laser etching, and photometal etching and machining, we have the equipment and trained labor standing by to get it done faster and probably less expensive than the next guy. And we are more fun!!
Etched metal signage offers a break from conventional plastic signs that often imitate real metal. Fewer design firms specify etched metals due to the lack of coherent information about etched metal capabilities. The decrease in the number of etching companies in the U.S. is the result of increasingly stringent environmental regulations. PMA’s modern waste treatment facility allows us to offer traditional etching giving designers a greater choice in unique building signage.

We see many applications for environmental graphics. There is a metal for every environmental and color scheme. Here are some suggestions leading to your specific designs.

Metal Colors

There are two basic choices in metal signage. One is what we call “warm” and the other is “cool”. The red metals such as brass, bronze, and copper offer warm graphics whereas stainless, aluminum, raw steel and zinc suggest “cool” colors. Of course both metal choices can be enhanced with coloration by painting, printing accent colors or a chemical metal treatment such as patina or oxidization.


Considering the cost of raw materials, the natural metal is often the predominantly visible coloration. Brass, bronze, and copper (yellow, red/brown, orange/pink hues) vary with decoration techniques such at paint or oxidization. They can be bright or subtle. These metals are often used to enhance traditional or high end appearances. Finishes such as “oil rub” are clear coated for a gloss or stain appearance.

Gloss clear coats offer a modern look while stain or semi-gloss offer traditional looks. By that we mean that gloss coating is usually a “flashy” character and satin a traditional, mature appearance. Stainless, aluminum, steel and zinc metals are “cool” by nature but may be enhanced to harmonized colors. Steel, in more recent years, is being used for an “industrial”, Old West, Old World, “Gothic” effect. Steel may also be surface treated for a “rusted” of aged effect.

Metal Presentation

Both “warm” and “cool” metals may have raised or sunken graphics. We chemically remove more metal in creating raised graphics and generally details are better etched with sunken graphics. Very large graphics up to 4′ x 12′ are better in sunken etched format. Remember that metal finishes are topical. There is no grain in metals below the surface finish. The core metal often looks entirely different than the finished surface. Brass, bronze, and copper core metal often turn several colors when the air starts to oxidized the virgin metal. With chemical treatment, the raw metal core as well as the surface of these metals may be darkened or given a unique finish for a distinctive appearance. With a raised graphics created by etching the background, the lettering can be sanded to a brighter finish to provide contrast. Direction of grain is optional however we recommend a non-directional finish for public displays with little or no security. If a face is scratched, a non-directional finish may be repaired without removing the sign from its location. The “cool” metals, stainless, aluminum, zinc and raw steel will also change coloration in treating the raw sub-surface of the metal. Stainless appears white in its core and will eventually turn to a soft grey if exposed to the elements. Usually the face of an etched stainless plate requires no clear coat. Once etched, a finish on the stainless face will always remain consistent if installed indoors. With the exception of salt water spray and heavy particulates carried by strong winds, most metals will always have a contrast in graphics. Aluminum, zinc, and steel should be clear-coated for outdoor use. Steel should be coated for indoor applications. Depth of etching varies with each metal. In sunken graphics, etch depth may be shallower if oxidized. Paint fill usually shows a relief even though the cavity created in etching is supposedly filled with paint. Zinc will produce the most dramatic relief whether sunken or raised. This metal often resembles cast metals but offers exceptional detail capabilities.


We hope this short overview of etching allows you to see the many applications
for etched signage. Feel free to call PMA for design suggestions of the effect
you’d like to achieve.