Etching Glass

Etching glass is a pretty easy technique, and it will make any project unique.

Materials for Etching Glass

Clear contact paper
Glass cleaner
Paper towels
Etching Cream
Small disposable brush (I use the foam brushes) Exacto knife
Protective gloves

Which Glass Etches Best

Clear glass and light colors etch the best. The glass I have used in this tutorial is a light green GNA (German New Antique)

A dark colored cathedral glass and any opalescent glass etched with etching cream won't look like it's etched as you can see in the pictures. The first picture is with the etching cream on the glass. The second picture is after the etching cream was on for 5 minutes then wiped off.

Etching cream on dark glass and opalescent glass

Etching cream rinsed off

Instructions for Etching Glass

Etching glass step 1

Clean the glass thoroughly. You don't want any oil, dirt or finger prints on it.

Etching glass Step 2

Cut off enough contact vinyl/paper to cover the entire piece of glass and a bit more to wrap around the edges. Etching cream will etch any part of the glass it touches. I know, because I've scrimped on contact paper a few times and, without fail, I've had a drop of etching cream land on exposed glass that wasn't part of the design.

You can also use pre-made stencils. Armour Etch has many stencils pre-cut on contact type vinyl/paper. They are called Rub N Etch.

Etching glass Step 3

Make sure all of the air bubbles are smoothed out from under the contact paper. I use a small wooden wall paper roller, but a credit card or anything that's stiff but won't tear the contact paper will work.

Etching glass Step 2

If you don't have a large enough piece of contact paper to cover all of the glass, use masking tape to fill in the exposed areas after you have removed the air bubbles.

Etching glass Step 4

Lay the glass over your stencil. Move it around until you have the design in the right place.

Etching glass Step 5

Trace the stencil on to the contact paper. I use clear contact paper is for this very reason. You can use opaque contact paper and transfer the stencil on it using carbon paper, or you can glue the stencil to the contact paper and cut through both layers, but I find this method the easiest when I'm etching glass.

Etching glass Step 6

Cut out the pattern using an exacto knife, or any knife with a fine sharp blade. It won't matter, in most cases, if you cut a bit more or less on a given section, but try to stay as close to the lines as possible.

Etching glass Step 7

After all of the pieces are cut and removed, clean the glass again. This cleaning will remove any adhesive remaining from the contact paper. If it isn't remover, it will act like a mask and prevent the etching cream from etching the glass in those spots. There's nothing more upsetting than to have done the etching and remove the contact paper, only to find little spots that didn't etch because you didn't clean the glass after pulling off the stencil pieces.

Etching glass brands of etching cream

These are the two most popular brands of etching cream used for etching glass. I use both of them, but I prefer Etchall because you can use the cream more than once. You simply scrape it back in the jar once the etching is completed. However, for this tutorial I used Armour Etch because my Etchall got extremely hot last summer then froze in my unheated studio this winter. Now it doesn't etch:-(

Etching glass step 8

Once the contact paper is in place, the stencil is cutout and the glass cleaned, it's time to apply the etching cream. Cover the cut out stencil with a thick layer of etching cream. You can use a bristle brush or a foam brush. I like the foam better because it leaves an even layer with no brush strokes showing like you get with a bristle brush.

Etching glass step 8a

To make sure you have the entire stencil covered, turn the glass over and look at the back side. You will be able to see light coming through any uncovered areas. Then it's just a matter of turning the glass back to the front side and applying more etching cream to cover those areas.

Etching glass step 8b

Set a timer for the amount of time stated on the instructions for the etching cream. For Armour Etch it is 5 minutes.

Etching glass step 8b

When the time is up, use a paper towel and wipe off the etching cream. You don't have to wipe it right down to the glass, just get rid of most of it.

Etching glass step 9

Now you will rinse the remaining etching cream off under warm running water. Gently rub over the glass to remove all of the cream. Be careful so you don't dislodge any of the contact paper. Dry the glass with a paper towel.

*At this point, I apply a second coat of etching cream when I'm etching glass. The instructions don't tell you to do this, but I have found that a second coat makes the etching, I guess for a better word, brighter. You don't have to do this, but I would recommend experimenting with the etching cream on a couple of small pieces of glass. Do one piece with one coat and another piece with 2 coats so you can determine for yourself if there is a difference.

Etching glass step 10

Once you are finished rinsing the glass you can remove the contact paper. Spray the glass with glass cleaner to get rid of any adhesive residue, wipe it dry and have a look at your etching. I'm quite sure you'll be pleased with the results. One note of caution, and this is to prevent you from an unpleasant surprise. When the etching is wet or even damp, it only looks like a slight dullness on the glass, not a nice bright etching. Make sure it is absolutely dry before you hold it up to the light for a look.

The first time I was etching glass, I didn't dry it thoroughly before I held it up to the light, and I was very disappointed because the etching cream obviously didn't work. It was only after I ranted and raved about the faulty etching cream that one of my employees had a look and showed me that it was a perfect etch. It had dried by the time he looked at it. Lesson learned!

Where to Use Etched Glass

You can etch anything you can imagine as long as it is clear glass or a light color. You don't even need to limit it to stained glass. Wine glasses, bowls, platters, Christmas ornaments, etc look beautiful with a touch of etching.

For stained glass work here are some suggestions:
Picture frames
Face or hand features
Borders on panels
Angel or bird wings
Box lids
Candle shelters
Leaf veins
Flower petals
Anywhere you can imagine!

Where to Find Stencil Patterns for Etching Glass

There are many stencil books available, like the one I used for the pattern in this tutorial. Some are available at the library.

Rub N Etch These are pre-cut and ready to stick on the glass.

Stencils by Theme These are downloadable picture that you will trace on your contact paper.

More Stencils by Theme Again, downloadable and must be traced on contact paper.

If you are having problems with etching glass and have a question you want answered, click here to ask your question.

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Return from Etching Glass to Free Patterns For Stained Glass

This page was last updated on October 10, 2012

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