What is a photo tool? And how is it different than hard tooling?

Short Version: Photo tools are an essential step in the etching process. They are the means by which we transfer your design from your CAD file onto the metal.

Long Version: Photo tools are very different than traditional manufacturing tools. They are Mylar sheets with printed graphics used in photochemical etching to produce your actual metal part or product.

There are many ways to produce photo tools, the most common of which is a laser photoplotter which precisely exposes the Mylar according to a CAD file unique to your part. Photo tools can be single or double sided. Double-sided photo tools are two separate photo tools which need precise alignment, or registration. Double-sided photo tools enable parts with more complex geometry and features.

Prior to 1985, photo tool creation was a labor-intensive process which translated printed drawings into exaggerated print negatives, sometimes at 100X magnification. Photo reduction via massive copy cameras yielded precise part details on Mylar at 1:1 scale. The advent of the personal computer was a game changer for every industry, and manufacturing was no exception. Over the next two decades, paper drawings gave way to CAD files, while optical techniques gave way to digital ones which were more precise, more efficient, and more capable.

And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further…

This month, Switzer is offering free tooling – a $200 value – to both our new and loyal customers.

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