We are sometimes asked how we make our engraved memorial plaques.
So here’s the low-down on the process (it applies to all engraved plaques, of course, not just memorials).
The first job is to cut the plaque to shape. Engraved memorial plaques are usually square or oblong, but we can make them in any shape you want.
Etchants (there are different ones, depending what material you’re etching) cut through everything that’s not protected from them, so the next step is to make a vinyl mask to expose the lettering and/or image you want cut and protect the rest of the plaque. The mask is cut by hand normally, but if it’s very intricate it will be cut by laser.
The mask is wrapped right round the plaque, front, back and sides, as both sides of it come in contact with the etchant. The plaque is passed over rollers through etchant spray, and comes out with your lettering and any image “cut” into the surface. Stainless steel sometimes needs two passes through the spray due to its hardness.
Reverse etching uses the same process but instead of cutting the words and images into the plate they are covered and the plate itself is cut away, leaving the letters and pictures standing out from the background.
Slate, wood and plastics such as traffolyte, perspex and eurotrim (a light brass-effect plastic) are laser-etched using carbon dioxide.
Once the etching is complete, the masking is peeled off. Each plate is washed to remove any residue, as any remaining residue can cause the metal to rust over time. Door buzzer-entry plates, which have lots of small holes in them, are washed in a dishwasher to make sure the etchant is properly cleaned out of all the holes.
Once the material is clean, the bare etched plaque is painted with two-pack paint: a grey undercoat followed by your chosen colour. The paint is applied to the whole front surface of the plate, and the areas that aren’t meant to be coloured on the finished engraved plaque are then removed, leaving your words and images clearly visible. If we’re working with brass, the unwanted bits have to be removed very delicately, using tweezers, to avoid scratching the surface.
For extra protection against vandals or really severe weather, we can apply laser blackening instead of paint. Blackening paste is applied to the etched plate and the image is fired into the metal using a laser. The image is literally burnt into the metal so that it will never come off.
Infilling isn’t the end of the process: the completed engraved memorial plaques still have to be finished.
Bronze is cleaned up using Scotchbrite pads and then patinated to darken it. Patination would happen naturally over time but the metal goes through an ugly phase, so we prefer to do it before the plaque leaves the premises. It was originally done with horse urine but now we use ammonium hydrosulphide. Once that’s cleaned off, the plaque is finished with a thin coat of lacquer.
Stainless steel also gets the Scotchbrite treatment unless the customer wants a mirror finish. If that’s the case we use medical quality cotton wool to polish it (ordinary cotton wool is too rough), and take any rings off our fingers before we start to avoid scratching the polished surface.
Brass also gets the delicate treatment to avoid scratches. It can be lacquered but we don’t recommend that as the lacquer can spoil with weathering, damaging the brass and requiring serious restoration.
As you can see, making engraved memorial plaques requires care, expertise and some pretty sophisticated equipment – definitely a case of “don’t try this at home”! We have years of experience and can help you with whatever sort of engraved plaque you want, for whatever site. Just phone or email us and we’ll be happy to advise.