A photoengraver uses photographic processes to etch metal objects to create dies, plaques and other materials. People in this profession typically learn their trade on the job, under the supervision of an experienced photoengraver who can provide them with advice and instruction. It also is possible to attend a technical school to learn the basics before starting work. Employment prospects in this field are variable, and it helps to be flexible with job types and materials.
The photoengraving process starts with artwork from the client. The photoengraver uses this to expose a sensitized metal plate and then dips it in an acid bath. The variable exposure allows the acid to eat more deeply into some areas of the plate than others. When it is sufficiently treated, the photoengraver can remove it from the bath, clean it, address any defects and polish it to prepare it for the client.
Circuit boards and other components can be made using this technique, and it is available for creating dies, stamps and similar products. Letterpress printers might rely on the services of a photoengraver. Ornamental pieces such as commemorative plaques and decorative metal accents also can be produced with this method. The skill of the photoengraver can determine the demand for his or her work, because people who can produce very fine, detailed, accurate pieces tend to be more desirable for clients.
Photochemical milling is a complex and delicate process. The photoengraver needs high-quality materials and a keen eye for detail, because precision can be very important when working with components such as circuit boards. The work environment must be clean and well organized. The chemicals used can be very dangerous, so adequate environmental health and safety controls also need to be present to protect everyone in the working area. These safety measures include drums for disposing of exhausted chemicals and a contract with a firm that can handle hazardous waste.
Training and work opportunities for photoengravers can vary around the world. This process has been supplanted by other techniques in some regions, and it might be difficult for a photoengraver to find work in these areas. Cultivating specialty skills in an area such as circuit board production can be very useful, but if the skill becomes obsolete, the photoengraver will need to consider expanding his or her practice or switching careers. Before pursuing a career in this area, it might be helpful for a person to look at employment forecasts in this field to assess the demand for photoengravers and determine which skills would be most useful to develop.