Do-It-Yourself Brass Nameplates

It's easier than you think!

| April/May 2003

  • Brass nameplate
    The end product is almost impossible to tell from an original nameplate.
    Photo by Jeff Conner
  • Brass nameplate
    It's hard to believe the brass nameplate started out as the simple rubbing.
    Photo by Jeff Conner
  • Brass nameplate
    The PnP Blue transfer on brass plate stock. This is what it looks like before it's dipped in the ferric chloride solution, which removes the metal around the black toner mask.
    Photo by Jeff Conner
  • Brass nameplate
    After a dipping in ferric chloride, areas of the brass plate masked with toner end up raised. The etching process described here removes the metal around the masked image and words so they stand out on the finished plate. 
    Photo by Jeff Conner

  • Brass nameplate
  • Brass nameplate
  • Brass nameplate
  • Brass nameplate

Finding an original brass nameplate isn't always easy, and while reproduction nameplates are available for many of the more popular engines, those of us with less common equipment are often left empty handed. If you're missing the original nameplate, or your original is badly damaged, there is a fairly straightforward process for making your own reproduction nameplate, and one that looks identical to the original. Called photo etching or chemical milling, the process involves chemically removing metal around an image mask to leave raised letters and images.

The etching process
In commercial photo etching, transferring the image to the metal requires photo-sensitive chemicals, ultraviolet light and chemical developing of the image prior to etching. I was not going to get into another $300 project to produce a $10 part, so I searched for an easier method.

The hobby electronics field provided the answer with a product called Press-n-Peel Blue (PnP) toner transfer paper, an emulsion coated mylar film that you copy your artwork to using any laser copier. This material is used for making intricate printed circuit boards, which are etched the same way as a nameplate. The toner from a laser copier transfers to the PnP film, and the emulsion on the PnP Blue lets the toner easily transfer to a metal plate using a simple clothes iron. The laser toner bonds to the brass, becoming a mask for etching with a solution of ferric chloride. There are other paper transfer methods (and I tried many of them), but in my experience PnP Blue provided the best results.

Making the art
The first step is to find an original nameplate to use as a pattern, since an original will give you the best results. Barring that, a good pencil rubbing taken from a nameplate is second best, and a good close-up photo (with a ruler placed next to it to give scale) will do.

Simple artwork can be done with plastic tape and rub off lettering, permanent marking pen or, as I did it, with computer-generated artwork. It is not necessary to be computer literate, or even own a computer, but it makes it a bit more fun. A computer helps with the more difficult work of reproducing shapes, logos and special lettering, and inexpensive programs enable even a novice like me to produce outstanding results. You can also try your local high school or community college graphics art instructors, who often need special projects for students.

Making the mask
Once your artwork is done you have to make a mirror image of it before copying it to the PnP Blue since the PnP Blue image is applied face down on the metal. Most software programs will let you reverse an image, or you can copy your artwork onto clear acetate, flip it over, and copy the mirror image onto the dull side of the PnP Blue film (always copy to the dull side of the PnP Blue). Be careful with PnP Blue when copying an image to it; PnP Blue film is thin and slippery and will jam in some copiers. It is better to tape it to a sheet of copy paper using removable, double-sided tape. Also, set the copier on its darkest setting to ensure a good mask.

9/25/2010 11:04:27 PM

new to gas engines, machine shop experience


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