Thursday, October 8, 2009

DEMO! Easy Glass Etching

It's finally time for another step-by-step DEMO! Just in time for holiday gift making, we've got Easy Glass Etching - this is a great way to personalize or ornament glassware from Goodwill or the dollar store, make the glass pebbles you use for memory magnets even cooler, or even decorate plain glass ornaments from the craft store! I'll go over the supplies you'll want to have at hand, then give basic instructions and a few variations.


I get most of these things locally at Collage (the same folks who provide the on-site store for Art & Soul), but most craft stores will carry these basics:

  • Armour Etch glass etching cream
  • Sticker back paper (the kind you put through your home printer works great, though you can also use contact paper, to make your stencils)
  • Stickers with simple shapes (you can use the basic shape, either the positive or negative as a stencil - lines, circles, and letters work great)
  • Rubber gloves (to protect your hands from the etching cream)
  • A cheap paint brush or two (to apply the etching cream)
  • Paper Punches (to make shapes in the sticker paper)
  • Rubbing alcohol or Glass cleaner (to clean fingerprints off the glass)
  • Painter's masking tape
  • Glassware! (Glasses from Goodwill or the Dollar Store, glass pebbles or slides from the craft store, glass ornaments from the craft store - smoother and flatter surfaces are easier to work on that rough or curvy shapes)

Easy Glass Etching Basics

The designs are limited only by your imagination! Keep in mind, though, that you are basically making a stencil: the etching cream eats away at the surface of the glass, making it whiter or more opaque, and wherever the stencil is, the etching cream can't go.

1. First, take a clean glass, and begin applying stickers to create a pattern. I'm being careful not to get too many fingerprints on the glass as I apply the stickers - even the oils from your skin can act as a resist to the etching cream! You can use any kind of stickers or sticker paper to create your stencil.

2. Next, take some blue tape and block off any additional areas that you don't want to get the etching cream on. It's thick, but it's still a liquid and it drips. And anywhere it drips it will leave a mark! I've learned the hard way to make sure I have a good 1" border around my stencil.

3. Then, use your fingernail or a burnishing tool (like a bone folder or the back of a spoon) to burnish the tape and the stickers down. You really want to be sure that they're stuck down well, or the etching cream will ooze under the edge and make the edges of the design uneven. Sometimes, you can look at the sticker from the back and see where it's not adhering well.

4. Now, pull on your rubber gloves and open up that etching cream! Using your cheap brush, apply a thick and fairly even coat of Armour Etch to your glass where you want it to etch. The etching cream doesn't work as well over large surfaces (it tends to look uneven). It does better in small areas, as an accent.

5. Wait 1-2 minutes. (Wait 1 minute minimum, but know that I've let things sit as long as 5 minutes and had them still turn out ok.) You may start to see bubbles form, and that's ok - it's just a sign that the cream is working it's magic! It's a chemical reaction that eats into the surface of the glass.

6. After 1 or 2 minutes rinse the cream off in warm water. I use my utility sink for things like this; if you're using your kitchen or bathroom sink, make sure to clean it out well. You really don't want this mixing with stuff you eat or things you eat off of. The sticker paper and the tape will come off easily from the glass with a little tearing and rubbing, and won't leave any residue. This is part of why I use sticker paper instead of contact paper - contact paper is much more difficult to remove, and leaves more residue.

7. Clean with detergent and dry. The design may be tough to see when it's wet, but it will show up more as it dries. Lovely! Forget wine glass charms - decorate each glass with a different pattern! Or try one of these many variations . . .

Variation 1: Sticker Paper and Hole Punch

1. Grab a sheet of blank sticker paper, the kind you put through your own personal home printer. Punch a design out of the sticker paper using a regular paper punch. (You can also cut a design out using an exacto knife - or you can use the knife to clean up edges that don't quite punch out.)

2. Again, make sure your glass is clean! In this example, I've got a blank glass holiday ornament from a craft store. It's nice because it's kind of a cube shape, and has nice flat surfaces for etching! Then, cut out the stencil, leaving a generous border.

3. Peeling the paper off the back of the sticker, position the stencil and stick it to the surface of the glass. Burnish it down with a fingernail or a burnishing tool like I'm using here. Then, follow steps 4 - 7 from the Easy Glass Etching Basics tutorial above to apply the etching cream.

Here, I've used two different star punches to punch a larger stencil pattern out of sticker paper and apply it to the glass all at once.

Variation 2: Multiple Stencils and The Round Surface

Because of the distortion that happens when you apply sticker stencil to a round surface, and the difficulty in finding a place to hang or set it while it dries, round and really curvy surfaces present a special challenge.

Here, I'm decorating the surface of this glass ball ornament in stages. I've already put a few snowflakes on it, as you can see, and now that it's dry I'm going back and adding more in.

Start applying your stencil from the center, and work your way out with your thumbs. There will be wrinkles in the stencil, but this way you can distribute the wrinkles evenly and keep the design from getting too distorted.

Here, you can see the wrinkles as I keep working to burnish the stencil to the surface with my thumbs and thumbnails.

Then, when you go to apply the etching cream, create a little nest of aluminum foil for it to sit in. This will keep the ball from rolling off the table, or dripping etching cream all over the floor.

The Results!

Etching is subtle - not something I'm exactly known for - but it also adds an extra layer and dimension to mixed media work. Imagine etching the glass you use to frame a piece, or etching the surface of a collaged and soldered slide glass necklace. Then, of course, there is colored glass, and paints that can be poured inside those glass ornament globes . . .

Have fun!


fingerstothebone said...

I always wonder about that etching safe is it to wash down the drain? You can make gocco stencils for etching, but I've never done it because of the safety concerns. ??

Dayna Collins said...

Wow! What a great tutorial!

Michael5000 said...

Cool tutorial!

...but is fingers going to find her windshield opaque with elegant etchings for having asked the wrong questions?!?

Crafter said...

A nicely detailed picture tutorial. I am giving away free stencils based on others designs if you interested. Let me know either way. You can check it out at

Just send me an email directly if you are or arent interested.

Thanks and keep up the great blogging.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying technique after technique without success to produce detailed small snowflakes on my plates and it never even occurred to me to use a punch with sticker paper!

Great idea! Thanks for the tip!

Unknown said...

You can use your stencils easily for is to etch glass. This is a process where you would place your stencil patterns on a piece of glass whether it’s a glass mug, glass window, or mirror.