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Metallographic Ceramic Etchants

The anti-corrosive properties of most ceramics make them difficult to etch by standard metallographic etching techniques. Most useful etching techniques for ceramics include: thermal, molten salt and plasma etching. A good resouce for additional etchants can be found with the etchant database provided by PACE Technologies:

PACE Technologies Etchant Database Click here to get order

CAUTION: Safety is very important when etching. Be sure to wear the appropriate protective clothing and observe all WARNINGS on chemical manufacuters SDS (Safety Data Sheets). Also review the COMMENTS and CONDITIONS Section for each etchant.

Sample Preparation:
Engineering ceramics are very hard, therefore specimen preparation procedures generally use a CMP (chemical mechanical polishing) component to remove induced microstructural damage.

PACE Technologies Recommended Preparation for ceramics and ceramic matrix composities (CMC's) PACE Technologies Metallographic MET-MANUAL Link
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Recommended Etchants

Oxide Ceramics (e.g alumina, zirconia, etc.)
Etchant Conc. Conditions Comments
Thermal etching in air
Minutes to hours at 100-200°C below the sintering temperature AL2O3,
Molten Salt
Potassium hydrogen fluoride melt

5-10 minutes in Pt crucible Al2O3,
Distilled water
Phosphoric acid
15 ml
85 ml
Boiling for 5 minutes to
2 hours
Distilled water
Sulfuric acid
50 ml
50 ml
Boiling for 1-5 minutes ZrO2

Carbide Ceramics (e.g silicon carbide, tungsten carbide)
Etchant Conc. Conditions Comments
Molten Salt
Sodium or potassium bicarbonate melt

10 minutes in Pt crucible SiC
Hydrochloric acid
Hydrogen peroxide (30%)
10 ml
10 ml
Seconds to minutes WC

Nitride Ceramics (e.g. silicon nitride)
Etchant Conc. Conditions Comments

Thermal etching in high purity nitrogen


Several hours at 1600° C Si3N4
Molten Salt
Potassium hydroxide melt
Seconds to minutes in Pt crucible >Si3N4
Hydrofluoric acid


10-15 minutes Si3N4

Boride Ceramics (e.g. zirconium boride, titanium boride)
Etchant Conc. Conditions Comments
Latic acid
Nitric acid
Hydrofluoric acid
30 ml
10 ml
10 ml
Seconds to minutes ZrB2 ,TiB2

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