The invention relates to a method of etching a substrate. The substrate is located opposite a target electrode in a vacuum chamber, and the surface of the target electrode is bombarded with energetic particles of atomic dimensions. The target electrode is an intermetallic composition (compound, alloy or finely divided homogeneous mixture) of two metals A and B such that upon bombardment the electrode emits negative ions of metal B which have sufficient energy to produce etching of the substrate. Many target materials are exemplified. Typically the metal A has an electronegativity XA and metal B has an electronegativity XB such that Xb - Xa is greater than about 2.55 electron volts, with the exception of combinations of metals having a fractional ionicity Q less than about 0.314. The source of the energetic particles may be an ionised gas in the vacuum chamber. The apparatus and its mode of operation are described in detail.