Tables for
Volume A
Space-group symmetry
Edited by M. I. Aroyo

International Tables for Crystallography (2016). Vol. A, ch. 3.2, p. 740

Section Etch figures

H. Klappera and Th. Hahna Etch figures

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Additional information on the point group of a crystal can be gained from the face symmetry, which is usually determined by observation of etch figures, striations and other face markings. Etch pits are produced by heating the crystal in vacuum (evaporation from the surface) or by attacking it with an appropriate reagent, which should not be optically active. The etch pits generally appear at the end points of dislocation lines on the face. They exhibit the symmetry of one of the ten two-dimensional point groups which, in general,22 corresponds to the symmetry of the crystal face under investigation.

The observation of etch figures is important when the morphological analysis is ambiguous (cf. Section[link]). For instance, a tetragonal pyramid, which is compatible with point groups 4 and 4mm, can be uniquely attributed to point group 4 if its face symmetry is found to be 1. For face symmetry m, group 4mm would result. The (oriented) face symmetries of the 47 crystal forms in the various point groups are listed in column 6 of Table[link] and in column 3 of Table[link].

In noncentrosymmetric crystals, the etch pits on parallel but opposite faces, even though they have the same symmetry, may be of different size or shape, thus proving the absence of a symmetry centre. Note that the orientation of etch pits with respect to the edges of the face is significant (cf. Buerger, 1956[link]), as well as the mutual arrangement of etch pits on opposite faces. Thus, for a pinacoid with face symmetry 1, the possible point groups [\overline{1}], 2 and m of the crystal can be distinguished by the mutual orientation of etch pits on the two faces. Moreover, twinning by merohedry and the true symmetry of the two (or more) twin partners (`twin domains') may be detected.

The method of etching can be applied not only to growth faces but also to cleavage faces or arbitrarily cut faces.


Buerger, M. J. (1956). Elementary Crystallography, especially chs. 10 and 11. New York: Wiley.

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