Let’s discuss briefly about those three processes.
Acid etching involves covering the stainless steel with a masking layer and leaving exposed the parts of a substrate (in this case we are talking about stainless steel) to a strong chemical that eats away at the exposed parts. You can eat away at the design itself, leaving it recessed OR you can mask the design and eat away at the background, leaving the design raised. These tags can be paint-filled for color. Acid etching is super durable, UV stable, and great for high quantities.
Here at AGE we have CO2 lasers, so to laser etched on our stainless steel we must first coat the metal with Cermark. Once the heat of the laser beam hits the Cermark, it darkens and fuses to the metal creating a permanent mark. Also, super durable and UV stable, these pieces last a very long time. Over here at AGE we have 5 lasers so we can run very large quantities very quickly without disrupting our smaller jobs. That said, laser etching is good for small jobs as well.
Screen printing is another option for high-volume jobs. Generally less expensive than acid etching, it is also (as you will see in the videos) a bit less durable. Screen printing on stainless steel can make some beautiful tags and is a great option if the piece is going to be mounted and not exposed to a great deal of touching. It is also a UV stable option.
Let’s move on to the video. In the video we exposed acid etched, laser etched, and screen printed stainless steel tags to a 20 swipes of sandpaper scratch, a two-minute boil, 20 seconds of direct heat from a propane torch, being run over by a tractor for a few minutes, and 126 days of saltwater tank exposure. You can read more about each test by clicking on the links (except for the sandpaper one, apparently I didn’t write about it, just made a video).
In a nutshell, when exposed to 20 swipes of sandpaper, laser etched (bottom left) and acid etched (right) fared quite well. The screen printed (top left) had multiple spots where the ink rubbed away.
The two minute boil didn’t really do anything to the tags at all. Seriously, they looked exactly the same.
Oh it was so much fun torching the tags AND we got some unexpected results. The ink in acid etched tag completely burned away, but the tag was still very legible and it did not affect the etching of the tag. The ink on the screen printed tag completely burned away as well, however, and this is what was really surprising, where the ink had been there was a sort of ghost image and the tag was still quite legible. The laser etched tag fared the best though. It looked exactly the same aside from a scorch mark.
The tractor test did not yield any surprising results. Of course the acid etched (bottom) and laser etched (top right) tags looked great after the beating, aside from a few scuffs. The screen printed (top left) did not do as well with the ink rubbing off of some spots.
Oh the salt water! The tags on the left in the below picture are the tags that were submerged and the tags on the right are fresh tags. After 126 days submerged in saltwater, the laser etched (middle) and screen printed (bottom) looked pretty good. There are some brown spots on the metal, but the images are fine. The acid etched (top) had some of the ink peel away! The surprising part for me is that the screen printed ink did not rub off at all.
If you are looking for durability in a tag, stainless steel is a great option, especially if you are going to be exposing it to crazy situations (like running over it with a tractor). We also have a fourth option for stainless steel that I have not included in the durability tests: rotary engraved stainless steel. These tags are going to fare very similarly to acid etched. If you need recessed text but are needing small quantities, rotary engraved stainless steel is the way to go. It is a super messy to produce (as shown in the bottom picture), hard on the equipment used to produce it, and must be done one at a time, so it can be quite expensive. As always, you can call or email us and we are happy to guide you in your selection process.