Instructables
Picture of Glass Etching Using Toner Transfer Templates
I recently began experimenting with glass etching cream. There's a lot of creative things you can do with it, but to create really cool designs you need to spend a LOT of time trimming your stencils. I wanted to find a quicker way to create complex designs and realized that the toner transfer technique used when creating your own circuit boards just  might work. What follows is a proof of concept for this technique:

 
 
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Step 1: Tools & Materials

Picture of Tools & Materials
Glass 
Glass Etching Cream (such as Armour Etch)
Disposable brush
Latex gloves
Leather gloves
Masking tape
Glossy printer paper
Scissors
Lacquer Thinner
Iron
Ironing board or cotton towel  (nothing synthetic or it could melt)
Laser Printer or Photocopier

Step 2: Print and trim your stencils

Picture of Print and trim your stencils
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Find some stencils and create negative image prints of them.
You will need to either print using a Laser printer, or you can print on an inkjet and then make photocopies.  You will not be able to transfer inkjet printed designs directly.  Make sure the printer is on its highest resolution and print using black toner only.
The white area should be the design you want etched.  Keep in mind that glass etching creams only work well with small areas, so don't go overboard. 
All of my pieces were only about 2.5" wide.
Trace the glass outline onto the paper, and then affix two ends with masking tape.  Note: Make sure the glass is VERY clean.  Any oil or dirt can cause problems with the toner and etching cream.
rabeatz3 years ago
Anyone have any ideas on how to do this with a curved object such as an ornament or glass?
kaptaink_cg (author)  rabeatz3 years ago
With something like that, you're probably better off printing it on a label (clear or otherwise), sticking it on the glass, then using a razor blade to remove the portions of your template that you want to etch. I don't think you'll be able to successfully do a toner transfer on an object that is curved too much. If it's closer to a cylinder it'll probably work, but spherical wont.
Yep kaptaink_cg .... you're right about the shapes !!!??? I have tried ' tear-drop' shaped wine goblets and the resists just will not conform to the glass unless you want to put a small image near the top where it is more cylindrical. Even glasses that are cylindrical appearing some times have imperfections that cannot be seen from a distance but can impede a good toner transfer, especially Dollar store brands but can be seen after transfer and felt and sometimes seen before hand. I use (I believe) the same tool as rabeatz. Mine is called the Creative VERSA-TOOL (from Walnut Hollow). It has a tip designed specifically for toner transfer. It has many other tips too but I have never used any, just bought it for toner transfer for both glass and metal etch resists. Regarding flat glass ... I have found that an iron always seems to crack my glass/mirror. After getting my toner transfer tool and using it, I formulated a theory as to why. It seems to me that when using an iron, it seems to transfer the toner via a ' baking ' process whereas the toner transfer tool uses more of a ' searing ' process. My analogy: If you throw a Beef roast and vegetables in the oven at 375 degrees and ' bake ' for a few hours ... the vegetables are cooked thoroughly all the way through ... just like the iron on the glass everything heated thoroughly all the way through ... paper, toner and glass !!! But this is not necessary !!! All you need to do is heat the paper, toner and the SURFACE of the glass mirror just like some chefs do by ' searing ' their vegetables in high-heated oil ... outside cooked and resilience (texture and colour and taste in the case of the vegetables, lol) inside. This is what the toner transfer tool does ... unless of course you hold it there waaaaay to long.
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Great work! Yes, the Versa Tool is what I've been using. Works great. Whenever I tried doing cut outs with a razor blade, I ended up with a Glass with a bunch of scratch marks in it.. Laser printer works great. as a substrate for the printer toner, I used glossy pages from a magazine. It works great but does sometimes get stuck on the glass.

What kind of paper are you using for your transfers?
Hey rabeatz. If I remember correctly, I was using a semi-gloss from an old Psychology text book. It had a high clay content which was apparent when washing off. Speaking of high clay content, if you are looking for a really decent, near-perfect toner transfer to glass every time project and of course you want to invest the money, check out Hammermill colour laser gloss (32lb.). It is better than inkjet photo paper and way cheaper, of course, it's for a laser !!! Because of it's high clay content and thickness, just let it soak and pull off. No scrubbing extra ' stuck-on ' residuals like the high gloss porno mags, lol! lately, I haven't the money nor willingness to invest in a whole ream so I decided to try something different as they did not have single sheets of Hammermill at my local copy center. I got this paper that is basically (I never got the name but will next time) like transparency sheets, except it is NOT transparent. I would like it to inkjet PREMIUM photo paper as it feels like plastic and indeed will leave plastic residue if your heat source is too hot. In fact, if you try to burn this paper, it will not burn!!!??? Because I have 3 Versa-tools (first 2 are old versions, no heat control), I can experiment. So I tried one of the old ones (apparently they max. out at 950 degrees) and it did leave slight plastic residue which was easily (and gently) removed with a soft toothbrush. But still, paper removed and left complete toner rather willingly. Then I tried my new Versa-Tool with lower heat settings, no residue, easy paper removal (don't rush, let soak) and complete toner transfer. Also ... I am not sure if you are aware but another excellent paper to use is the ' silicon ' based paper. The kind that sticker ' backing ' paper is made from. You can find this from AVERY laser labels (they have A4 sized). But be advised ... you have to adhere this to a regular piece of paper before feeding into laser or else it might get stuck. USE ONLY paper based tape (masking, painters tape) because vinyl or for sure plastic tape will melt and stick to you fuser and cause a multitude of pains. If you do not have access to Avery laser labels, try another brand name and if not that ... PARCHMENT PAPER. Just make sure it is high heat variety and again, tape to normal paper before feeding into laser. Now the beauty part about these ' silicon ' based papers is that ... there is NO SOAKING and you can get 100 % toner transfer every time because there is no ' transfer and trust ' technique because you can ' lift ' your paper to check your transfer each time as it readily releases from you substrate be it glass or metal or whatever !!! Hope this helps, rabeatz.
rabeatz rabeatz3 years ago
A followup - I was able to get your method to work using glossy paper and a 'transfer point' on a wood burning pen - basically a flat edge. I slowly rubbed it around in cirs and applied light pressure until i covered the entire graphic. This was on a pint glass - I have yet to try it on something as curved as an ornament. Waiting till my shipment arrives from my glassblowing class.
I'm just getting started with glass etching, something I've been meaning to look into for quite some time. I was already familiar with the printed circuit board method using the toner and was wondering if it would work on glass. My fear though was that the glass would crack due to the heat. I see now that it is in fact possible. I wonder though how high was your yield with respect to glass being lost do to cracking?

Oh and one other thing, for those ones that had the paper stuck to the glass, did you try soaking them then gently rubbing off the paper? This is how the PCB method needs to be done but I could see the toner coming off too since the glass is so smooth.

Anyway thanks for the instructable, I'm going to try this soon. I'm just using cheap dollar store photo frame glass anyway so if I lose a few due to cracking its not that expensive :)
davidkichi2 years ago
Great instructable! Btw, I think the glass stencils might show up better if you have it on a darker surface.
lumpee3 years ago
You could make some awesome mirrors with this method. Good work.
LawnBoy19914 years ago
 Does etching cream work on hard plastic like a macbook, or would it just melt it to hell?
how would you thoroughly wash off said macbook?
Glass etching works by applying a rather harsh acid to the glass (usually a fluoride component, like hydrogen fluoride). I don't think they would react well with your macbook, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was a special etching solution for plastics. You could ask in your local craftstore.
hinge4 years ago
Good instructable,but in step 3,you state that "glass conducts heat very well"-well,it doesn't.Take a metal plate of same thickness as the glass plate,apply a hot iron to both and you will see the difference immediately.But otherwise ,you deserve a star of recognition
kaptaink_cg (author)  hinge4 years ago
Obviously, glass does not conduct heat as well as metal. But that's not what I said. It DOES conduct heat better than a lot of other materials. Examples: Ever try changing a lightbulb after it's been on for an hour? Ever put your hand on the windshield of a car during an Arizona summer? If you still don't believe me, try out my project without using gloves and see how it goes.
ubercool4 years ago
i want to start etching some glass but im not 100% what kind of glossy printer paper is needed.  what kind did you use exactly? thanks!
sbregher4 years ago
Great job with instructions!  I'll be sure to check out your other Instructables!
zapro4 years ago
 To ease removal of the paper, soak it in water  for a minute before removing it!
penumbra_4 years ago
 Very cool. I look forward to trying this!
orksecurity4 years ago
To get better photos: Try lighting the glass from an angle, with a black background behind it. The etched areas should diffuse light and thus appear as light areas against the dark field. Lighting from an angle also avoids the reflection problem.
kaptaink_cg (author)  orksecurity4 years ago
Good suggestion.. I will try it within the next few days and post pics if it works.
jeff-o4 years ago
It's good to know that this works.  I'll remember it the next time I want to etch glass!
bulsatar4 years ago
When I was messing with etching cream, I would glue the stencil to the glass then rubber cement over the whole stencil.  Once dry, rub off the rubber cement in the area to etch and then apply the cream like normal (if there is glue in the area to etch it will not work so rubber cement to anchor the stencil works great).

This gives you extremely crisp edges and corners as the rubber cement stays in the groves and seals them off.  Then just wash the glass with soap and water and you are done  :)
chichimus4 years ago
If there are gaps in the transfer, you might try filling them in with a sharpie. I have done this with PCB etching and it works. Not sure with glass etch tho'. Try a test spot first
kaptaink_cg (author)  chichimus4 years ago
Great suggestion. I was wondering if a sharpie would work as well.