Replicating a data tag

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Replicating a data tag

Post by HealeyBN7 »

I thought I would take this rainy Friday to document the process that I have been using to replicate old, missing or just for fun data tags. I'll see how far I can get describing my technique as I watch the house/barn for leaks and lakes. I already had to install a sump pump to clear our waterfall and crawled up on the roof to seal cupola windows in the barn...back to tags.

You can make tags from aluminum, brass or silicon bronze. Here are a couple pictures to get you thinking.

The first tag is a prototype taken from a photo. James Whitson built some of the Peerless and Warwick bodies. It is bronze and measures an inch by two and a half. It's small. I made a dozen of these for the Peerless and Warwick club. This one didn't come out clear enough to give out.
The second tag shows the P&W lubrication requirements in aluminum. The data is raised and the backdrop painted with a black lacquer spray. It is big. It measures five by seven or thereabouts.
This one is also aluminum and found its way onto the valve cover of the Zetec engine in the Lotus. It is not really a copy of anything other then a simplified jacket patch.
picture of lotus badge on valve cover.jpg
Here is a fun one...If Peerless advertised their Le Mans success in 1958, like Jaguar did, they might have created a badge like this.

The process works by transferring laser printer ink, which is really plastic, to the brass, aluminum or bronze thus creating a sealed surface that protects the metal from the acid etch. It is not a perfect system so one trick lies in ensuring the metal is clean enough so the plastic has a chance of doing its job.

I tried several versions of this process, and I think I finally have a repeatable formula.

You will need:

Laser printer (not an inkjet or dot matrix. I am using the smallest least expensive B/W HP laser printer with wifi)
Sheet laminator (I picked up mine from HF)
PnP paper (Press and Peel blue printed transfer circuit board paper from an electronics supply house)
Muriatic acid (swimming pool concentrate (usually sold by the 2 gallons))
Hydrogen Peroxide (16 oz or larger bottle)
Alcohol (rubbing and Scotch)
Plastic bowls or shallow plastic dishes to lay the parts in
Optionally - Crock Pot to warm the acid/peroxide solution (use only for bronze)
Fresh air - mandatory
A drawing package (I am using Inkscape as it supports vector graphics scaling and has an accurate ruler and it is free)
Other stuff - tape, scissors, tin snips, etc.

To get started you need a photo/drawing or black and white printable image. We will printing this image in reverse on the PnP paper. It has to be black and white. The crisper the image the higher likelihood it will transfer cleanly. Areas with too much black ink won't fully transfer. This is a problem that I'll talk about later.

Step 1.
Find or draw your image, then reverse it. Print it a few times to ensure it looks correct. It is best to waste regular paper. The PnP paper is expensive. You will spend most of your time on step 1.

Step 2.
Insert a piece of PnP paper into the laser printer. You will be printing on the dull side. If your image is small you can cut a piece of PnP paper and using blue tape, tape it to a piece of regular paper. I'll print to regular paper first, then that tells me where to tape on the smaller piece of PnP. I found that you only need to tape along the leading edge.
Step 3.
Cut a piece of metal in the rough shape of the tag. I found that if I printed a border as part of the image, I could use that later to trim the tag to size.

Step 4.
Clean the metal. I use a green scotch bright household pad and scuff the metal until it is dull. Work in both directions.

Step 5.
Cut the PnP image from the paper slightly larger then the image itself, yet hopefully it is still a bit smaller then the metal.

Step 6.
While the laminator is heating up, place a few drops of rubbing alcohol on the dull, yet clean, metal surface of the tag. Place the dull side of the PnP paper with the image centered on the tag. Work the alcohol out from under the paper, like a decal. This will ensure the tag and image clean and ready from laminating. No dirt or specs of lint under the paper - right?

Step 7.
Feed the metal and PnP sandwich into the laminator. You will be doing this several times. The metal will get hot. You want it hot enough to transfer the laser print, yet not so hot that the image smears. This will take practice. I would on my cheap HF laminator there are two roller heads. I try to avoid then as they apply more pressure to the ink and can smear the image. The rate at which you can heat and transfer the image is dependent on the size of the tag. The Warwick tag was probably the largest image that you can transfer. At that size, the metal spends too much time cooling off before being cycled through the laminator again.

Step 8.
Let it cool. When it touchable (100 degrees) use a wooden stir stick from Starbucks or tongue depressor to rub the shiny side of the PnP paper and help the bonding, like the old rub on letters from the stationary store.

Step 9.
Carefully peal back the paper. You should be left with a perfect image on the clean metal. If there is any residual PnP goo, you can rinse this off in water. If there are any missing areas you can fill these with a paint pen or cut a small sticker from packing tape to apply to the area.

In the photo below you can see that this one is not reversed and has too many transfer gaps. I had several pieces of metal, but if this was my last one, there is no reason why you could not scotch bright off the image and try again.
Step 10.
Now use your finest Scotch and locate a clean glass. Have a drink. Repeat as necessary. This is a major accomplishment and if you have a good image you should be thrilled.

Step 11.
Prepare your acid/peroxide solution. I find that 20-30% peroxide works with the remainder being muriatic acid - don't add water. The peroxide speeds up the reaction by adding oxygen to the acid. You need less peroxide with aluminum, and the most with bronze. You don't need to mix up more than you need and you only need enough to fully cover the tags. I use an inch in a shallow bowl if the tag is laying flat. The direction of the tag flat or on it's side has an impact on the etched surface. I found that if the tag is laying flat, the surface is rougher then if it vertical. I think this has to do with the material being etched away then falling back onto the surface of the metal.

Step 12.
Take some packing tape and cover the back of the tag. This will prevent it from being etched and if you leave the tape long enough it gives you something for you to use to move the part around.

Step 13.
Place the tag in the solution - outside in fresh air. As the reaction takes place any steel in the surrounding area will rust. Google the precautions. If you like your stainless sink - keep it far away. Keep an eye on the etching process. The warmer the temperature the faster the etch, hence the crock pot for bronze. For aluminum the reaction is so violent that the acid will heat up. A small aluminum tag takes no more then 5 mins, where the bronze tag like the Whitson tag above took 5 hours in the crock pot at 130 degrees. Be careful.

Step 14.
When it is done, remove the tag and wash off the acid. You can use the scotch bright pad to remove any stubborn ink.

Step 15.
Polish, trim and admire your work:)

An alternative to doing this yourself involves sending your Scotch to me.
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Re: Replicating a data tag

Post by Larry Kluss »

Thanks for sharing. That really is quite impressive and interesting. You've obviously spent a lot of time with trial and error to determine what works and what doesn't. The results are fantastic.
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Re: Replicating a data tag

Post by Martin Keller »


Your the man Dean.

Great write up and explanation. :thumbs:

I think your "How to write up" deserves a bottle of Scotch from me for good measure and for providing the technical information on how to reproduce old or missing data / information plates.

Maybe Austin could make a video of the whole process and put it on a CD.
I would buy one and I suspect that a number of others would also for their library of how to do's.
Who knows it could lead to a production company of how to do's.

Martin Keller
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Re: Replicating a data tag

Post by gorms68 »

For future reference...
Blended or Single Malt

Awesome job as usual Dean!
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Re: Replicating a data tag

Post by Fifty Six MGA »

That is very cool.

I organize and host a surf kayak and SUP contest each fall. Last year, I made my own trophies by printing and copying onto wood. I'm inspired to try this for this years contest.

I may have some questions as I start the process!!!

Really impressive.
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