Etching designs onto glasses, mirrors, jars, bottles, and other glass items is a wonderful way to transform an ordinary object into a unique, personalized creation for your own use or to give away as a thoughtful gift.
However, etching on clear glass can be rather difficult to see, and you may have wondered if using colored glass would produce more dramatic, noticeable results.
Can you etch colored glass? Colored glass can be etched just as easily and with the same methods as clear glass can. The benefit of using colored glass is that the etched, frosty designs will stand out in sharper contrast against the colored glass for a more noticeable and striking effect.
While etching on plain glass is fun and easy to do, using colored glass instead adds an entirely new element to your work and will make your designs really pop.
Etching Colored Glass
Etching colored glass is not only possible, it is actually advantageous.
You see, as beautiful as etching is on clear glass, unless the vessel is filled with a dark-colored liquid, the design is often practically unnoticeable.
Using colored glass, however, creates a sharp contrast between the color of the glass and the white, frosted appearance of the etching.
The designs will be clearly visible even when the vessel is empty.
So, what exactly is etching? Etching uses an abrasive, reactive, or dissolving material to remove the external surface of the glass in a targeted area to create a design in the glass.
There are several etching methods: acid etching, etching cream, and abrasive or sandblast etching.
Most glass etching hobbyists use etching cream to surface etch their glass items. It’s super easy to use, and most projects can be completed in about 20 minutes.
In addition to the three methods, there are also three techniques that will produce different effects.
Surface etching only removes a thin layer of the glass’ surface, leaving behind a rougher texture and a white, frosted effect. This can be done using any of the above methods.
Carving goes deeper into the glass to create a 3-D effect.
This is often done on the reverse side of the glass to create hollow portions of varying depths. When viewed from the “right” side, the image appears three dimensional.
The results can be stunning, but this technique is only possible with sandblasting, which requires more skill than the cream etching we’ll be discussing here.
Shading uses sandblasting to create various shades of gray, as opposed to the white formed by surface etching, by blasting areas with abrasive material at different densities.
Professional Glass Consultants explains it this way:
“The principle of shading is that 100% clear glass usually appears dark while full surface etching appears 100% white. So you can create shades of gray by etching the surface to a density less than 100%, and you control the shade by controlling the density.”
Colored glass is made by adding various metal compounds to the glass while it’s still in molten form.
The color becomes part of the glass and will neither fade nor disappear if the surface is rubbed, chipped, or removed.
This explains why it is possible to etch colored glass without destroying the integrity of the glass’ color.
The etched portion will still appear frosted and white, and the unetched portion will remain unchanged to provide beautiful, sharp contrast.
Let’s get started.
What You’ll Need
Before you attempt etching a new set of wine glasses or other valuable items, it’s a good idea to practice a bit first.
So, gather a few glass jars that would have otherwise wound up in the recycling bin and have the main item you wish to etch on standby.
In addition, you’ll need:
- Etching cream – I use Armour Etch, which is considered to be the best of the best.
- Rubbing alcohol.
- Microfiber cloth.
- Old towel.
- Stencil – Armour has an extensive collection (even seasonal designs) of reusable etching stencils.
- Brush or craft stick.
How to Do It
Before you begin, you’ll want to thoroughly clean the surface of the glass with rubbing alcohol and wipe it dry with a microfiber cloth.
Place the glass on the towel to prevent it from moving while you are working.
- Put on your gloves to keep the glass clean and to protect your hands from the acidic cream.
- Position the stencil exactly where you’d like your design to be. Press down firmly, working from the center out to the sides to remove any wrinkles or air bubbles.
- If using a stencil that is not self-sticking, tape it on top of a piece of contact paper, and cut out the design through both sheets. Remove the stencil and the back of the contact paper, and press it into place on the glass.
- Cover all exposed outer portions of the glass with masking tape to prevent them from being damaged when you rinse off the cream.
- Using either a small paint brush or a craft stick, apply etching cream to the cut-out portions on the stencil. Ignore the package instructions, and leave the cream on for approximately 10 minutes.
- Rinse off the cream with clean water, and peel off the stencil carefully.
- Remove the masking tape, and wash the entire glass thoroughly.
- Dry with a clean towel, and enjoy your newly etched glass!
Tip #1: It’s better to pat or dab on the cream rather than brushing it on to prevent visible brush strokes.
Tip #2: If the etching does not stand out as much as you would like, you may reapply the etching cream and let it sit for an additional 5 – 10 minutes before rinsing again.
Tip #3: If rinsing the cream down the drain concerns you, rinse over a bowl to catch the dirty water, and add a few teaspoons of baking soda to help neutralize the waste water before dumping it outside.
Alternative Method for Etching Colored Glass
Okay, technically, this method is for engraving glass, and I admit that this will not be suitable for everyone.
However, if you have some prior experience engraving on wood, metal, or other materials and have a very steady hand (and legible penmanship), this method might be fun to try.
So, what exactly is this alternative method? Well, it involves lightly carving your design into your colored glass using an ordinary rotary tool.
For now, I’ll quickly share two of my personal favorites that are perfect for etching (engraving) glass, both clear and colored.
The pen-like Easy Etcher fits in your hand just like any writing utensil does, so it feels natural and is comfortable to hold.
The engraving tip is fairly small, so this tool is best for designs that only utilize thin lines, such as letters or numbers.
This battery-operated tool comes with 10 stencils and a replacement diamond tip bit.
Keep in mind though that freehand designs will only be as good as your handwriting. If your writing tends to be a bit on the sloppy side, use a stencil for best results.
The Dremel 3000 1/25 with flex shaft is a standard rotary tool that comes with a neat attachment, a flex shaft, just perfect for use when engraving.
It allows you to work with the same amount of power in a slimmer, lightweight, easier-to-hold tool for maximum precision.
To etch onto colored glass, you’ll want to clean the glass and affix the stencil in place just as you would if using etching cream.
Set your speed control to the fourth or fifth setting (about 15,000 rpms or so) to start with. You can always increase the power if the lower setting is insufficient.
Begin etching along the outer edges of your design, working from one end of a line to the other. There’s no need to press hard – let the tool do the work for you.
Once the outline is finished, go back and fill in larger areas.
This method does require practice, so I’d advise working on a few scrap pieces of glass first before moving on to more valuable items.