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he most common etchants for heat treated steels or martensitic microstructures contain picric acid dissolved in alcohol and acids. A good resouce for additional etchants can be found with the etchant database provided by PACE Technologies, http://www.metallographic.com/Consumables/Etch.htm

Sample Preparation: Both heat treated and un-heat treated steels must be properly prepared to reveal the true metallographic microstructure. A number of recommended procedures can be found at the following links:

http://www.metallographic.com/Procedures/Steel%20Description.htm

http://www.metallographic.com/Brochures/Met-Manual-2b.pdf

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

 Etchant Conc. Conditions Comments
Picral
Ethanol
Picric acid
100 ml
2-4 grams
Seconds to minutes For heat treated steels
Do not let etchant dry-explosive
Ethanol
Nitric acid
Hydrochloric acid
Picric acid
80 ml
10 ml
10 ml
1 gram
Seconds to minutes Grain boundaries
Nital
Ethanol
Nitric acid
100 ml
1-10 ml
Seconds to minutes Do not exceed 10% nitric acid -explosive