All Collections
Designing For Metals
Photochemical Machining Design Guide
Photochemical Machining Design Guide
Dan Emery avatar
Written by Dan Emery
Updated over a week ago

PCM (Photochemical Machining) is great for intricate designs like jewelry and name badges. You can etch into one side of your materials sheet.

What materials are available?

There are 3 material options available - Stainless Steel, Brass and Copper.

What sizes are available?

If you're using another software, please create an art board that's either 181mm x 181mm or 384mm x 384mm and work within this area.

Two of our design templates are available for PCM designs - P1 and P2 sheet sizes. These design templates match the size of the material sheets, and you can choose the one that best suits the size of your design.

How much will it cost?

Unlike the pricing for our other cutting services, PCM is a flat rate based on the size of your material. You can add as many designs as you like to maximize your material usage and lower the cost per unit. Please note that you will need to leave a small gap between multiple designs on the same sheet.

Below is an example of designs that have been tiled to fill out a template. The cost per bird is equal to the material price divided by the number of birds.

  • 7x7 -$200.00

  • 15x15 - $280.00

  • 7x7 -$180.00

  • 15x15 - $260.00

  • 7x7 -$200.00

  • 15x15 - $280.00

  • 7x7 -$250.00

  • 15x15 - $340.00

How do I get a quote?

Click here to get an instant online quote to make your design from 3 different metals. There, you'll select a material, upload your correctly formatted digital design file, then you’ll get an instant quote to make it.

How long will it take to receive my designs?

Orders ship in about 15 business days.

How do you design for Photochemical Machining?

You need to format your file in a certain way so we know what your design is to look like. The requirements for PCM are different from other fabrication processes and are as follows:

There are 3 design elements; etching, internal cut-out, and outline cuts:

Here's what this design looks like by comparison on the material:

To etch an area

Any textures or patterns that you want etched into the top of the material ...

Set the fill color to black with RGB values of 128, 128, 128:

To cut internal holes

Any cut-outs inside the outline ...

Set the fill color to black with RGB values of 0, 0, 0:

To cut an outline

The outer most line around your shape, the edge ...

Set the stroke weight to 0.8mm:

And set the stroke color to blue with RGB values of 0, 0, 255:

What is the smallest overall part size that can be made?

There is a minimum part size of around 0.5” x 0.5” / 12.7mm x 12.7mm. Parts smaller than this are too difficult to process and cannot be made. 

If you have small parts, please try to group them close together in a group. This makes it easier for us to keep count.

What is the smallest feature that can be made?

The kerf for PCM is half the material thickness but not more than 0.007" / 0.17mm. This means that a small amount of material is lost while the chemical cuts out your design. You need to make sure your design accounts for this.

Any positive features smaller than 0.04” / 1mm will be too thin and might bend or get damaged in handling. Any negative features (holes) smaller than 0.04” / 1mm may not be completely cut out. 

What is the finish of the surface?

Parts under 3” x 3” will be individually polished/tumbled to soften the edges and create a more uniform finish.

How close together can you put your designs in the sheet?

All design must be spaced to have 0.20” / 5.0mm of separation between them in the design file. As such you cannot share cutting lines. All designs must be isolated. There can be no joined or nested parts:

Nest similar shaped designs together.

To ensure that your designs come out as well as they can, be sure to group the same design in the same area of the sheet. Do not mixed different sized pieces across the sheet.

How do you convert fonts for Metal machining?

Any text you use in your design file needs to be converted to outlines. This is as simple as selecting your text and then choosing Type > Create Outlines from the top menu. You won't be able to edit the text once you've done this, so do it last after a spell check:

How do you save your file?

Save your design as a PDF file preserving the Illustrator editing capabilities:

If you're using another software, please save it as a PDF that keeps your designs as editable vectorised objects. 

What other tips should I know?

How to offset your cutting lines (In Illustrator)

You may want to offset your outer cutting lines to account for the thickness of the cut. Here’s how you do that ...

Draw your design at the dimensions that you want it. Use a white fill on the background shape and a “construction line” outline with a line weight of 0.01mm:

Make sure the outline is a closed shape ...
Select Object > Path > Offset path.
Offset the path 0.4mm with the “Rounded” option selected:

Set the offset line color to Blue (r:0 g:0 b:0). Change the line weight to 0.8mm. Remove the construction line from your design:

How to convert strokes to fills (In Illustrator)

To turn a black stroke into a filled shape in Adobe Illustrator, select your line and use the Object > Path > Outline Stroke command. We don't recommend converting lines that are less than 0.02" / 0.5mm in stroke weight.

Make sure you only use a solid, single color fill – no patterns or textures.

Creating complex shapes easily (In Illustrator)

You will find a key set of tools in Adobe Illustrator for creating designs is the Pathfinder window. You can access this by using the Window > Pathfinder command:

Using the tools in this window, you'll be able to combine shapes and remove one from another - resulting in clean closed paths that will help you easily cut out exactly what you're wanting to make. We recommend exploring these commands and discovering how they can help.


Ready to upload your PDF design file? Get an instant online quote by selecting your chosen material and then uploading your PDF.


Did this answer your question?