Selecting between metal nameplate marking processes can be difficult if you don’t know the differences between them. The etching and photo anodization processes each have their share of pros and cons.

No matter what your biggest decision-making factor might be, there is an identification solution right for your application.



Simply put, the etching process creates a surface level impression on a metal material to produce a design. The two main methods for etching metal are laser and chemical etching.

Laser etching is exactly as you’d imagine it. A high power laser cuts directly into the metal substrate to produce a clean design. This can range from basic text characters to simple images and designs.

The chemical etching method works a little bit differently. Instead of a laser, a chemical process removes only the desired areas of the material, leaving the finished design when it is completed. Think of it similarly to screen printing, how ink is pressed only onto the areas of the design where it is intended.

Blue Screen Printed Metal Nameplate

Both of these processes create an easy to read design in the nameplate or tag. However some applications require adding color to their identification markers. This can be for aesthetic purposes, or functional utility as well.

In order to add color, the tags are first etched and then filled in with a color epoxy or similar compound to leave a standout design.


When you are considering using products in an industrial environment, the first thing that might come to mind is durability – Will my nameplates hold up to the rigors of a work setting?

While etching is not considered the most resilient process, it does have a moderate level of durability. These nameplates can last several years, especially if they are placed in an indoor environment away from wear and tear.

The big concern with this process’ durability is when you include a color fill. The epoxy or other chemical used for filling does not share the same resistance to wear as the metal does. It will be prone to fading or removal if exposed to harsh conditions.


Etched nameplates are used in countless industries.

Here are just a handful of examples:

  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Oil & Gas
  • Aerospace
  • Construction
  • And Many More!


There are numerous material options for the etching process. Some of the most common choices include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Brass


Laser and chemical etching are both capable of creating a design customized to your exact needs. In addition, various sizes of tags are available to suit many different applications.


The other added bonus is color text, which few processes can achieve. This allows for greater control over the aesthetic of your nameplates.


Customization is king with etching. Being able to produce variable data designs, with multiple color options is a big deal for many industries.

The only other process allowing for colored text on a colored background is screen printing, which is not nearly as durable.

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to etched tags is their durability. They are best suited for more forgiving environments if possible.

If you are planning to replace your nameplates every couple years, they are a better fit than someone expecting the tags to last decades.

Photo Anodization


Photo anodization (also referred to as MetalPhoto) is unique in many ways. Unlike surface level marking, this process embeds information directly in between layers of the anodized aluminum.


What makes it so special is that nearly any image or design can be produced, and the resulting design is flat to the touch. There is no topical ink or indentation in the metal.

This makes for an incredibly durable tag that is easy to read.


Since the design is surrounded by protective layers, the level of durability for these nameplates is outstanding. They are rated for 20+ years outdoors in all weather conditions.

This extreme longevity is why photo anodization is a preferred solution for industrial and military applications across the globe.


Photo anodization is used by too many industries to name. From standardized use in the military UID system to CSC plates on shipping containers, this process handles it all.

A few industry examples include:


Unlike other processes, photo anodization is limited to just one type of material. It must use a specially made anodized aluminum which is designed for this process.

Pallets of Metal Coil Stock Material

If your industry guidelines call for a certain material such as brass or stainless, this will not be the right solution for you.

The anodized aluminum material is very lightweight yet extremely durable. Anodization makes the aluminum more resistant to corrosion, and can also add a solid background color to the material if necessary.


High durability is great, but what about customization? Photo anodized nameplates are not lacking in that area either. Nearly any image or design can be added to one of these tags. This includes barcodes, logos, and other information.

Yellow Telephone Utility Pole Tag Mounted on Pole

A solid color background can provide some added pop to a design or the ability to use color coding. However, any design using this process will be black. For example, you cannot create a blue nameplate with orange text.

If the design must be in color, the entire background can be black, leaving colored in areas for the design.


Photo anodization is an incredibly versatile solution. It offers the appearance of a printed design, but with the durability of an indentation process.

The ability to add any image, logo, data matrix, QR code, etc., is outstanding for applications requiring many forms of information.

Color can be added to the background of the aluminum for aesthetic and functional purposes, however one of the main drawbacks to the process is the lack of multi-color designs. You can’t include a logo with 5 colors or green text on a purple background.

In addition, some industries may require specific types of material, which just aren’t capable of this process. This can limit where photo anodized tags are used.

As with all processes, it has its limitations.

Wrap Up

Like most process and material choices in the world of tags, choosing the right solution really relies on you. What makes the most sense for your application and industry?

If your tag is going to be exposed to salt water on a daily basis, getting an etched and filled nameplate solution would not make any sense.

Likewise, if your nameplate must have red text on a blue background, photo anodization isn’t going to work.

Finding the right identification starts with your application. If you can figure out exactly what you need first, deciding on a process is much easier.

Contact Us!

Still not sure which process fits best with your application? Let us help guide you. We are more than happy to point you in the direction of the right solution.

Our customer service representatives are straightforward and only care about getting you the solution that works best for you. Give us a call today (800) 428-0095 for a free quote and to answer any of your questions!