Introduction: Easy Glass Engraving With the Cricut

Picture of Easy Glass Engraving With the Cricut

Create your own engraved beer mug! (or give a great personalized present)

We'll be taking a dollar store beer mug and turning it into something much nicer - just in time to celebrate the New Year!

Although I'll be using a Cricut vinyl cutter to make a stencil for your name, you can do this without a Cricut by various other tracing methods, and cutting the vinyl with an exacto knife.  (So the choice is - use the right equipment, and it's an easy project; or do it the cheap way and it'll exercise your artistic talents a lot more!)  If you don't have a Cricut, either this Instructable or this one will show you how to skip that step.  And of course a lucky few with a laser engraver could use that instead.

Now let's get started...

Step 1: Here's What You'll Need

Picture of Here's What You'll Need

Cricut or other vinyl cutter (and computer) - or x-acto knife and superlative skill!
Vinyl (eg Contact Paper(tm))
Scissors and/or paper trimmer
Armour Etch(tm) glass etching cream, and small paintbrush
Beer mug (smooth sided)
SAFETY GOGGLES and nitrile gloves
Outdoor work area and garden hose

The safety googles are essential. The etchant we'll be using is based on hydroflouric acid and will seriously mess you up if you get it in your eyes. You might also consider nitrile gloves. This is NOT A PROJECT FOR CHILDREN. Keep the etchant well out of reach.

Pick a beer mug with smooth sides. We'll be sticking your name on the side in vinyl so you can imagine how difficult that would be with a dimpled mug. My local dollar store does great mugs - which you can afford to trash if you mess them up. (Although I'm pleased to say my first attempt came out just great)

Remember that stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby often do a "one item at 40% off" coupon, so use it to buy the Armour Etch!

Finally, for what we're doing, run-of-the-mill contact paper is just as good as the expensive custom-sized flat sheets sold by Cricut.

Step 2: Create a Stencil

Picture of Create a Stencil

We're going to cut your name out of vinyl and stick the leftover vinyl hole on the mug, which will expose the glass to be etched.  So power up your Cricut... if you're experienced with it you can cut your name directly from the Cricut's keyboard.  I prefer to choose my own font, so I used the 'Make The Cut' software to select a font, and typed my wife's name ANNE in Ariel, 90 point Bold Italic.

Cut a piece of vinyl (with the backing still in place) that will fit on your mat.  Position the text roughly in the middle of your paper.  (I.e. not too close to the edge)  My mat had lost its stickiness so I sprayed the back of the vinyl with 3M Artists' Mount instead.

(By the way, this is actually the second etched mug I've done - the first was hacked out in about 30 minutes as a last-minute Christmas present for a friend at work; this one took more like an hour due to taking lots of photographs as I went along!  When my wife saw the first one she asked me to make her one too - they're that great!)

Step 3: Apply the Stencil

Picture of Apply the Stencil

Put the stencil on very carefully, and smooth it down.  You do not want any creases in the vinyl, at least not anywhere near the edges of the letters.

Once you've applied the stencil, put spare cuts of vinyl all around the edges so that the mug is well protected - just in case some etchant drips on to the mug or elsewhere.

The only tricky part here is when you have a letter that has a hole in it, such as 'O' or 'A': you'll need to carefully position the small vinyl cutout that represents the hole, into the gap in the vinyl where it belongs.

It might be worth cleaning the glass where the letters are with a clean lens cloth before we go on to etch it.

Step 4: Etch!

Picture of Etch!

Now, put on your safety goggles and nitrile gloves, and take the mug and your etchant outside to work on.  This substance is sticky and doesn't drip much, but you don't want to take the risk of a pet knocking it over onto your carpet - make sure there are no pets around and have someone else look after any children for the next ten minutes while the etchant is exposed.

Paint the Armor Etch on fairly thick and even, especially round the edges of the letters.  The bottle says to wait for 5 minutes but I found that 7 minutes or so gave a better etch.

Put the cap back on the etchant as soon as you're done with it, and hose the paintbrush down as soon as you've finished painting the stencil. (You're doing this outdoors, right?)

Step 5: Hose Off All the Etchant

Picture of Hose Off All the Etchant

When the etching is done some minutes later (I let mine sit for 7 minutes), hose down the vinyl-covered mug to wash off all the etchant. 

Remove the vinyl and immediately dispose of it safely. Hose down the mug again.

(Leave picking off the letter holes till last, once the mug is well washed down)

Personally I also give the finished mug a spin in the dishwasher after I've finished hosing it down.

Step 6: Done!

Picture of Done!

Dry off the mug, and it's ready for drinking out of!  Happy New Year!


MesmerLab (author)2017-01-05

You can use a piece of the inexpensive contact paper and stick it to your shirt. That will lower the tacky on it and it will work like transfer paper.

John T MacF Mood (author)2016-03-28

There is a solution for having to position the inner blank areas on the letters. Cricut and other manufacturers have a transfer paper, I's sticky, but not as sticky as the vinyl you are positioning. It's called transfer film or similar, and it works great so you don't have to fiddle with the intricate etches, like a sailing ship or a logo that has many different sections. "Weeding" (removing the negative spaces) is the toughest part, then lay down the transfer stuff, usually it's clear with a grid pattern for lining up things.

Than you can positionit, and lay it down smoothly. I like a roller or squeegee to make sure the pattern is down good on the etch edges.

John T MacF Mood (author)2016-03-28

There is a solution for having to position the inner blank areas on the letters. Cricut and other manufacturers have a transfer paper, I's sticky, but not as sticky as the vinyl you are positioning. It's called transfer film or similar, and it works great so you don't have to fiddle with the intricate etches, like a sailing ship or a logo that has many different sections. "Weeding" (removing the negative spaces) is the toughest part, then lay down the transfer stuff, usually it's clear with a grid pattern for lining up things.

Than you can positionit, and lay it down smoothly. I like a roller or squeegee to make sure the pattern is down good on the etch edges.

John T MacF Mood (author)2016-03-16

I realize this is an older Instructable, but I would like to compliment you on it just the same. I like the work and have been looking for a glass etchant for some time.

I am in the somewhat enviable position of having a Laser and a CriCut, and the knowledge that laser cutting vinyl can be dangerous. One of the products of combustion of vinyl is CHLORINE GAS. It can kill you, and ruin almost any cutting machine with metals in it. This is not widely known, but firefighters have to use extra protection with house fires that involve vinyl siding and PVC tubing..

Chlorine gas can kill you and ruin your equipment at the same time.

marlo2 (author)2015-04-21

Great DIY! I use the glass etching kit from Comes with everything you need so it is easy.

seabeepirate (author)2011-03-01

Hey I just wanted to share a pic from my own project. I used Armour Etch, A dollar store mug just like yours and Avery self adhesive laminating sheets(for the stencil). Thanks for the instructable, I've been having a lot of fun making custom mugs!

gtoal (author)seabeepirate2011-03-01

Nice work! Do you have any trick for handling the non-contiguous parts of the design (the suits and values) or was it just careful manual positioning?

I've since seen that the crafting folks use a mildly tacky 'transfer paper' to keep all parts of their designs in alignment, but I haven't tried that yet myself - not too clear on the details...


pmowers (author)gtoal2011-05-28

I had not thought of using contact paper, it seems that it is a lot cheaper, and may mold to the shapes better- Thanks for the tip.

Regarding the transfer paper, you might be able to get a couple of pieces from a local sign maker- as scrap or partial roll.

The transfer paper is very similar to a very wide masking tape, the adhesive is not nearly as strong as the vinyl adhesive. you basically cut out your design on vinyl, remove the portions that you want to etch, this is referred to as "weeding", then smooth a piece of transfer tape over the image. When you gently peel off the transfer tape, the vinyl will come off with it, holding all of the little pieces in place.

You then just position the transfer where you want it, rub it down with either a stiff squeegee or a tongue depressor to adhere the vinyl, then gently peel off the transfer tape, leaving the stencil on the glass, ready to etch.

cj8675 (author)pmowers2011-11-18

i run a sign shop and can mail scrap to u.

gtoal (author)cj86752011-11-18

That's kind of you to offer, but I've moved on to a new project that doesn't need transfer tape (or vinyl for that matter) - will post about it here when it's a bit more advanced. (This new project uses a much bigger and more powerful cutter and is doing something genuinely original...)

cj8675 (author)gtoal2011-11-19

i have a 40 inch graphtec vinyl plotter

gtoal (author)cj86752015-02-03

I just noticed that I never followed up to tell everyone about the project I mentioned several years ago... it was a way to creating art on Scratchboard using a vinyl cutter:

seabeepirate (author)gtoal2011-03-01

The suits and values were actually the easy part, it was the shapes of the cards that I actually had trouble with. I understand what you're asking though. I actually made a stencil that I taped over my laminating sheets, then I was able to stick the laminating sheets onto the mug with the stencil on the outside where I could still work with it. I cut out the shapes of the cards and then peeled away the design.

It wasn't a perfect method though because as I cut out one card the others would become loose. If you look carefully you can see that my lines aren't all very straight. Because I was manually holding the stencil in place as the edges got loose sometimes the stencil would slide a little bit. I was able to trim up the crooked lines for the most part after I pulled the stencil away, but it still wasn't perfect.

For smaller designs I suppose I could have used printable labels, but those don't help much on a larger project. I'm still trying to figure out a way, if you think of something be sure to post it, and I'll do the same :)

Battlespeed (author)2014-04-07

It's worth noting a few things:

First, if you don't have a vinyl cutter there are other ways to create stencils yourself. For instance - UV activated stencil sheets: A bit of art from your computer (or elsewhere), some sunshine (or artificial UV source) - and voila! It's well worth it for almost any crafter/artisan to become familiar with all the various ways there are to make stencils!

Second, you can have a custom stencil made from your artwork. Companies exist that do this, but you could have it done on Fiverr quite easily and cheaply.

Third, do you need a custom stencil? The range of pre-made or "stock" stencils that can be purchased inexpensively is more amazing than you would believe unless you had spent some time researching what's available..

55fanatic (author)2012-01-19

Thank you so much for sharing!! The pics & descriptions are very easy to follow!!! :)

wmkcross (author)2011-12-27

Make The Cut' software is apparently no longer compatible with Cricut machines according to the Make The Cut' software web site

gtoal (author)wmkcross2011-12-27

Yep, that was the point I was making in the post below. Although if you did have an earlier copy of the software from before the lawsuit, and saved the loadable cricut driver module, I believe it can stil be made to work. Read the blogs for the details, I'm not going to repost them here.

The MakeTheCut software actually ships with the new KNK machines - that company is a lot more sympathetic to third-party developers.

gtoal (author)2011-12-26

With the New Year coming around and new readers finding this 'ible for the first time, I'ld like to add some news that has transpired in the last year. The Cricut company clamped down on the two independent software companies who created software to drive the Cricut as an X/Y plotter. With that software off the market, new Cricut users can only cut shapes from the Cricut library of cartridges. This has caused a lot of ill feeling in the arts & crafts world that the Cricut dominated, and peope have reported boycotting their products and switching to other vendors. I myself have dumped my Cricut in my garden shed and am now using a machine from a company called KNK, which not only is a better machine (larger cutting area, more pressure for deep cuts, and a universal attachment holder so you can use all sorts of third-party tools, pens, etc), but the company is also open to third-party software authors writing their own software tools and drivers.

Find them via Google. I'm not embedding a link because I want to be clear that this is a genuine endorsement and not someone looking for a referral fee.

Einarjon (author)2011-05-26

Just a thought:
How would it work to leave some gaps in the letters that have a hole (1 mm "spacers") to keep the cutouts in place and then cut them off with an x-acto knife before applying the etchant?

gtoal (author)Einarjon2011-05-26

That's not a bad idea, I'll try that the next time, thanks!

labratmikey (author)2011-01-29

Theres a software called Sure Cuts A Lot 2 and it completely eliminates the need for any other cartridges. You only need the one it came with. So because of that, I jacked my girlfriends new

artsman23 (author)2011-01-20

Hey, great tutorial. I thought about giving the cricut a try but then decent to just get a larger vinyl cutter. You can see it in the new video I made on here:

Please check it out and leave me a comment. Thanks -Eric

recrisp (author)2011-01-12

Good instructable! :) I just wanted to point out that with a Cricut, a machine designed to also take your money in a LOT of ways, you can help remedy that too... On YouTube you can watch this video that shows how to avoid the high prices of the font cartridges, (I don't have a Cricut, but I do have a CraftRobo Pro, which does all of the above, I just happened across this one day)
I hope the link works out, if not, just type in 'cricut cartridge', it'll be on the first page.

gtoal (author)recrisp2011-01-12

Thanks - I use "Make The Cut" software myself for that exact purpose and don't have anything other than the Basic cartridge - which is an interesting one too, because it doesn't actually have any data in it - the data is in the Cricut itself and the basic cartridge is just a looped around piece of wire between two pins, used to detect if it is inserted. I didn't bother mentioning that anywhere because most people who buy a Cricut get the basic cartridge included along with it, although the hack using a piece of wire would be useful to know if you bought one used!

We ought to get a group started here in instructables for people with these vinyl cutters (of whichever brand, not just the Cricut)! Anyone know how to do that?

Steuben Glass (author)2011-01-10

Thank you for the awesome walk-through.
I didn't think there was a way to accomplish etching w/out having access to some far more expensive equipment.

gtoal (author)2011-01-05

I just now noticed that this instructable: uses Armour Etch and vinyl in a similar manner, applied manually. It's worth reading for the comments re safety and Armour Etch. In particular one correspondent recommends "Etch All" as a more effective and safer alternative. Looks like there's a free trial available too (at the time of writing): - I'll be sending off for a trial myself.

gtoal (author)gtoal2011-01-05

Here are the safety sheets for both Armour Etch and Etch All. Neither one is very forthcoming and there's not enough here to conclude that one is to be preferred over the other for safety reasons.

jnifrwebb (author)2011-01-04

Great idea, I got a cricut for Christmas and have been looking for things to do with it. And I have everything I need already!

adrian09 (author)2011-01-04

is it still poisonous after washing?

gtoal (author)adrian092011-01-04

If you wash it off the glass completely, the glass is safe to use; but you have to be careful with the discarded washing water containing the run-off chemicals, which is still potentially dangerous - that's why I use a garden hose and *lots* of water, and do it outside. I wouldn't be comfortable doing this in the kitchen sink or other indoor plumbing.

Like one of the other posters, I err on the side of paranoia about this stuff because my chemistry teacher put the fear of God into me about what HF would do if you spilled it on yourself, and I am not comfortable passing on any lesser level of warning to others as I would hate to be responsible for someone else messing their life up by having an unnecessary accident.

I don't know how the ladies that do crafts who use this stuff handle it, but I treat it as working with a dangerous industrial chemical. Being very dilute and it a gum-like base does mitigate a lot of the risk but doesn't remove it entirely - the compound does still need to be treated with respect,

Research it for yourself and find out what the recommended handling techniques are, and frankly if you have any doubt, don't do this one. Unless you're confident you can handle it safely, and do so with care, it's not worth the risk.

Ronyon (author)2011-01-03

Love this, I will try it on the backs of plates, everyone in the family will get one with their name...If yours isn't clean, you don't eat!

gtoal (author)Ronyon2011-01-03

Do me a favor and research whether this kind of etchant is safe on the kind of plates you plan to use. I'm worried it may soak into ceramics rather than wash off cleanly. Personally I wouldn't risk it. Maybe trying the same stencilling method with paint would be a safer bet? Lots of stuff on the net for painting plates with enamel paints...

richarno (author)2011-01-03

Nice trick!

DuhDuhDave (author)2011-01-02

This is great work. The cricut looks like a great product to me, and I have always been sorry it was so cartridge based. And this is brilliant.

HF is nasty stuff. It is pricey, but you might consider keeping a tube of calcium gluconate gel around. Fluoride ion can go right for the Ca in your bones, and deposit it in your bloodstream as crystals. Painful, and often fatal. I don't think small quantities like this are likely to kill you, but who needs to worry- the gluconate gel calcium binds the fluoride. When I worked in an analytical lab digesting rocks (!) with HF, we had a tube handy. I was sufficiently paranoid that I never had a mishap, but I was glad it was there.

Blardo (author)2011-01-02

My roommates and I did this with drawer contact paper instead of vinyl. I think you chose better.

sonicdrive (author)2011-01-02

good work dude very nice

yokozuna (author)2011-01-01

Excellent instructable, you should also enter this into the Holiday Gifts contest.

gtoal (author)2010-12-31

The first time I did this I used nitrile gloves to protect my hands in case of etchant drips. I really should not have skipped them on the second attempt when I was feeling more confident. So Goggles *and* Gloves, folks.

lemonie (author)gtoal2011-01-01

Yes very sensible.


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