Today’s topic revolves around using different surface finishing techniques. You will see that different terminology is often used by some, even when you might be discussing the same process. This can get to be quite confusing when things like paint filling get thrown into the mix so let’s discuss the processes and difference between etching, carving, engraving, and milling.

Etching, Deep Etching, and Carving Techniques

Deep Etching Glass at JIT Companies

Deep Etching on Glass Surface

Etching is a process that can be used on any type of surface as it only changes the surface texture of the material to a frosted or matte finish. The most popular material used when etching is going to be metal or glass, as they yield the best results. When this process is used on glass it can also be as interpreted as Deep Etching or Carving. On glass, the depth of the etched surface will be based on the amount of air pressure used along with the type of abrasive used in the sandblasting process (see photo to right). It also needs to be mentioned that this process also includes the use of a mask or sandblast resist to protect the un-etched areas from being impinged upon. This process gives one the ability to achieve great detail on many types of projects when required. Once the etching process has been completed the mask can be removed to reveal the etched surface or in the case of paint filling, be left in place while the paint is applied and then removed once the paint has fully cured revealing the final finish (see series of 4 images below – click to enlarge).

  • Etching used on any type of surface
  • Changes surface texture to a frosted or matte finish
  • The most popular material used for etching (&  best results) is metal and glass
  • On glass, etching is referred to as Deep Etching or Carving
  • Mask or sandblast resist protects un-etched areas and helps produce fine details

Etching and Carving - JIT CompaniesEtching and Carving - JIT Companies Etching and Carving - JIT Companies Etching and Carving - JIT Companies



Engraving Techniques

Engraving 3-dimensional fine details in hardwoods - JIT Companies

Laser Engraving Detail on Hardwoods.

Engraving is usually considered to be a process in which some type of tool is used to engrave the surface being worked on. This can take the shape of special grinding wheels, router bits, and diamond tools that can cut deeply into the surface creating 3-dimensional effects based on the design and type of equipment being utilized in this process. Lasers are also capable of producing 3-dimensional designs with extremely fine detail, especially when used on hardwoods (click photo on right to enlarge).  Based on the design and type of equipment being utilized, the materials being processed can be anything from wood, metals, plastics, and glass. These engraved areas can also be paint-filled to highlight desired parts in the finished project.

  • Engraved V-Grooved Glass Mirror Produced Using a CNC Glass Machining Center

    Engraved V-Grooved Glass Mirror Produced Using a CNC Glass Machining Center

    Engraving creates a 3-dimensional effect based on design & type of equipment

  • Lasers produce detailed 3-dimensional designs on hardwoods
  • Materials such as wood, metals & plastics can be engraved
  • Engraved areas can be paint-filled for highlighting

Milling Techniques

Milling is a process that is usually connected to the metalworking side of projects. This equipment includes CNC machinery which uses special cutting tools to precisely follow a predetermined cutting path to remove the material or to produce recessed features in the material surface. This process works well if the design requires a deep cut-out and on materials that can be difficult to work with such as stainless steel. Milling can also be performed by a process known as Chemical Milling. This process is similar to the etching process in that it also requires a special resist to protect the rest of the material from being damaged during processing. Strong chemicals are used in this process to remove material away from the exposed surfaces of the part. The amount of material that can be removed is limited in-depth but the amount of detail that can be achieved is amazing. Materials used in this process include thin gauge Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Copper and Bronze but can also handle thicknesses up to 1/4”. Sizes that can be processed will be determined by the type of equipment being used. If the material is thin enough this process can etch all the way through to create very fine detailed parts that could not be accomplished by any other method.

Closeup Detail of Chemically Milled Stainless Steel Paver With Patina Application

Closeup Detail of Chemically Milled Stainless Steel Paver With Patina Application

  • Milling includes metalworking and CNC Machinery with special cutting tools and a predetermined cutting path
  • Ideal for deep cut-outs in a variety of materials including difficult materials such as stainless steel
  • Chemical Milling is an etching process using strong chemicals to remove materials and expose surfaces and create detail
  • Materials used in chemical milling include thin gauge stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and thicknesses up to 1/4″ (Size processed depends on the type of equipment)
  • Thin materials can be etched all the way through to create detail not achievable by other methods

Check out a Video of our Milling Process Below:

Questions on Etching, Carving, Engraving, or Milling?

As you can see, these metalworking terms, (Etching, Carving, Engraving, Milling) can be used interchangeably and might be confusing to newcomers. At JIT Companies, we ask a lot of questions when it comes to these types of projects just to make sure everyone gets off on the right footing. There can often be misunderstandings when these terms or other common metal finishing terms we use are thrown around as they may have different meanings to different people.  If you’re confused as to what process you should be using for your project, let JIT be your guiding light. We’ll get you to where you want to be without any surprise speed bumps along the way.
Have more questions? Give JIT Companies a call on your next project 507-326-5240 or contact us here….You’ll be glad you did!