Today id like to share one of my favorite hobbies with everyone, glass etching. I am sure you have all seen designs etched in to glass at one point in your life. Whether it was on a large window or a small glass cup etched glass is everywhere and i'm here to tell you that you can do it too!
In this project i'll be teaching you how to make a frosted glass sign. I was taught this project by my old wood shop teacher when i was in 6th grade and it opened up the Pandora's box that is building stuff for me, i am sharing it in the hope that it will inspire you as it inspired me. This project is easy and fun to do and is the perfect place to begin if your interested in glass etching (or if your just interested in having a really cool sign to show off in your man/woman cave).
EXTRA: I will also cover how to make a light up LED base for your sign in a future instructable. The base may be a little more advanced as it requires some basic electrical/wiring know how and wood working skills. It is not necessary to make but it really brings the project up to a whole nutha level. But for now lets just worry about the basics.
To get started I've put together a list of all the materials you will need.
1. Glass (obvious i know, any thickness will do but i recommend 1/4 and above.)
3. 50% isopropyl alcohol
4. Self adhesive vinyl contact paper (commonly used as shelf liner)
5. Exacto knife with #2 blades
6. Spray mount
There are 2 different ways you can actually do the "etching" part of this project. Both will share steps
Option 1: using etching cream
Etching cream requires NO special tools to use. So it will be the best option if you do not plan on doing a lot of etching and do not already have a lot of the tools on the following list. It is more time consuming and won't etch as deeply as the other technique but your results will look the same.
To use etching cream you will need the following things
1.etching cream (can be found at most art stores)
Option 2: using an abrasive blaster gun
If you would like to do a lot of etching and don't mind investing in some tools this is the route for you. Your etching will be deeper and you will have more control over how frosted your letters will be.
To use an abrasive blaster gun you will need the following things
1. Large air compressor (25 gallon+)
2. abrasive gun
3. aluminum oxide abrasive media (walnut shells and glass beads are not hard enough to etch glass)
4. blast cabinet
For this project i used the abrasive blaster gun method but i will cover how to use both.
NOTE: if you are having trouble finding any of the above materials check the "Extra Notes" section on the last page of this instructable. There i will cover these materials more in depth and give links to sources i know of for them.
Step 1: Finding Your Design
1. Its length- try to keep it brief so that you can make the letters large enough for you to cut out later, more letters means more work.
2. Layout- How you are going to place it on your glass, centered, offset, diagonal. Do you want to add other things along side the text? Flowers? Borders? Characters? and how big of a piece of glass will you need to fit it.
3. Font- which font you choose will directly affect how difficult your sign will be the more complex/detailed the font the more difficult. Id recommend block letters for your first sign as it is easier to cut straight lines than to cut curves and points.
4. Black and White! 4th but possibly the most important thing to remember is you only have one color to work in. Shading is out. An easy way to think about this part is if you drew your design with a big black sharpie on a white piece of paper would it work?
For my project i picked the instructable's logo because its a good example of 2 font types and a line drawn character.
Once you've decided on your design your ready for step 2
Step 2: Sizing Your Design
If you have a place to put the sign in mind, go ahead and measure it to see what size will fit best. I do most of my work on 12" x 12" because its easy to handle and move (plus glass is charged by the sqft.) but for a beginner i would recommend 8 1/2" x 11" the size of standard letter paper. This will make printing your image/font easy as it will all fit on one piece of paper.
i use microsoft paint to stretch the image to my desired size but you can use any method your comfortable with. You can even draw your design on a piece of paper with a sharpie if you'd like.
Once your image is the proper size go ahead and print it out on to normal plain old paper and you'll be ready for the next step.
Step 3: Prepping Your Glass for Etching
Right now you'll need your:
1. Glass cut to size
2. rubbing alcohol
Step 1: Clean your work surface of all dust. You might want to lay a towel, scrap piece of carpet or canvas drop cloth down to set your piece of glass on.
Step 2: Clean the glass thoroughly with your rubbing alcohol and a paper towel. Make sure you remove any dust/adhesives on the side that you will be putting your design on. If your paper towel is leaving behind any particles try using old newspaper instead.
Step 4: Apply Your Contact Paper
For this step you will need
1. Contact paper (shelf liner)
2. Exacto knife or scissors
Step 1: Roll your contact paper out on the table and place your glass piece on top
Step 2: Place your glass piece on top and cut a piece of contact paper to size, leave 1"-2" extra on all sides. (example: if your glass piece is 12" x 12" your contact paper should be around 15" x 15")
Step 3: Lay your glass flat on the table, start peeling the wax paper off the back of your Contact paper and stick it to your glass, make sure you let 1" hang over the edges of your glass on all sides.
Step 4: Slowly stick your contact paper to your glass. Work your way across pushing on it with your hand and peeling the backing as you go. Try to avoid any air bubbles or creases/folds.
Step 5: If you have any air bubbles trapped under your contact paper poke them with the tip of your exacto blade and press them down.
Step 6: Flip your glass over and fold any excess contact paper over the edges of your glass.
Step 5: Transferring Your Design
For this step you will need your
2. Exacto knife
3. spray mount
Step 1: Cut away any excess paper from your design with your exacto knife. Do not do this on top of your glass workpiece as you will cut that pretty contact paper you just applied.
Step 2: Turn the pieces over and spray your spray mount on the back of your pieces. Follow the directions on the can for this.
Step 3: Apply your design to your glass workpiece (on the vinyl side) place it where you want your final layout to be. Spray mount is repositionable so you can remove and replace it till you get it exactly where you want it to be.
Step 6: Cutting Your Stencil
Note: this is a point of no return once you've starting cutting out your stencil you can not reposition your design.
For this step you will need your:
1. Exacto knife
2. Rubbing alcohol
Step 1: Use your exacto knife to start cutting out your letters. Make sure your blade is sharp as you need to cut through both your paper design and the vinyl underneath it. Cut out all your letters/design make sure you get all the corners completely cut out.
Step 2: Slowly peel up the paper and vinyl where you cut out letters exposing the glass underneath. Keep in mind that any area you peel up will be where you get the frosted effect. If you accidentally pull up a part that you do not want to be frosted slowly reapply the section and check to see if you missed any cuts. If there are any small pieces you are having trouble lifting off you can slip the edge of your exacto blade under and lift it up.
You can check that you have removed all the areas you want frosted by holding it up to a light.
Step 3: Clean any left over adhesive from your contact paper off the exposed parts of your glass with Qtips dipped in rubbing alcohol. Be careful not to lift off any contact paper with the Qtip but be thorough, any left over adhesive will block the etching media.
Step 7: Etching Your Design (etching Cream)
In this step i will cover the etching cream method for doing this. If you are using the abrasive gun method please skip to the next step.
Step 1: Put on gloves and protective eyewear. Etching cream is basically a weak acid and not something you want to be touching with your bare skin.
Step 2: Apply a thick layer of etching cream with your applicator brush too the areas of exposed glass. Thick enough so that you cannot see the design of the stencil through the Cream. Make sure you cover every part of your design equally.
Step 3: Let it sit, depending on the type of etching cream you purchased it will take different amounts of time to do its magic anywhere from 1 min to 30 mins. Check the instructions that came with your cream for the exact time.
Step 4: Wash the cream off with luke warm water. Make sure you remove all traces of the cream.
Step 8: Etching Your Design (abrasive Gun)
In this step i will cover the abrasive gun method for doing this. If you are using the etching cream method please see the previous step.
If you are not using a blast cabinet put on your gloves, respirator, and safety goggles.
Step 1: Place your glass in your blast cabinet, i made a stand to hold my workpiece upright (i will make a quick instructable on how to make this at a later time) Hook up the air hose from your compressor to your spray gun, set your psi between 80-90. If you have not already poured your aluminium oxide blast media into your blast cabinet do it now.
Step 2: Hold the glass workpiece firmly and begin spraying. When your spraying keep your gun parellel and pointed straight at your glass workpiece, if you spray at an angle you might rip up your vinyl stencil. Make sweeping passes left to right over the entire piece of glass. Do not focus on just the exposed glass parts as it will cause an uneven etching effect. (Think of this motion as if you are spray painting)
Step 3: After one full coat remove the workpiece from the cabinet and check to make sure your stencil is not lifting up in any areas and that you are lightly etching all the exposed glass areas.
Repeat this process 3-6 times until you feel the frosting is heavy enough. Every coat you do will make the frosted effect a little more white. I would not recommend going over 6 coats as you may start to get undercutting (when the etching works its way underneath your stencil).
Step 9: Remove Your Stencil
Note: This is a point of no return, before removing the stencil make sure your design is thoroughly etched.
Step 1: Peel off the vinyl, you can use your exacto knife again to peel away any small pieces.
Step 2: Clean the workpiece with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol one last time.
You have reached the end of the project and you now have your very own etched glass sign.
Thank you for taking the time to read/make my instructable on "Making your own etched glass sign". I hope you enjoyed this project as much as i enjoyed making this instructable. This is my very first instructable so i hope i covered everything well, but if you have any questions please leave a comment with your question or check the last page of this instructable for hints/notes from me.
I hope this project inspired you, just as it inspired me as a young kid. Hopefully you will continue glass etching and i look forward to seeing all the etching projects you guys will try.
I will be entering this instructable in the "Full Spectrum Laser" contest and any votes would be very appreciated. With a laser printer i would be able to do some more complex glass etching projects and as this is one of my favorite past times it would make me very happy to expand into a whole new world of glass etching.
I do plan on making future instructables to take this project to the next level. If you made this project look out for my future instructables on making a Light up sign base for your project, Adding paint effects to your piece, and one teaching some more advanced etching techniques.
Step 10: Extra Notes
In this section i will cover the materials in more depth, and some extra tips i have to make sure you project comes out perfect every time.
Glass- I am somewhat an expert on this material as i work as a glazier (glass installer). There are a lot of different types of glass most will work for this project. Tempered glass will NOT work for this project you'll know if your glass is tempered or not by looking for a "bug" or "cobb" on one of the corners of the piece of glass. This "bug" will be a company logo with some writing that will say if it is safety glass or not. If your piece of glass does not have a "bug" there is a 99% chance that it is annealed and that you can use it for this project.
For this project i would recommend glass that is a 1/4 thick or more. I used 3/8 thick glass.
If you are having trouble finding thick glass go to your local glass shop (install/repair windows) they should be able to cut you a piece off scrap. They may even give you the small pieces as small pieces are pretty much useless scrap to them. If they do cut you a piece make sure they seam the sharp edges off.
If you'd like nicer looking edges for your glass sign, ask them to order a piece that has a flat polish or pencil polish. The piece i used has flat polished edges.
Vinyl Contact paper.
This can be found at most hardware stores. It will be with the other shelf liners, keep in mind that you do not want the foam type or the thick/plastic type. Vinyl contact paper is about 4 mil thin. It will probably be the cheapest option of shelf liner. Make sure you get the self adhesive type as they have both adhesive and non adhesive versions.
My source for this materials is actually the 99cent store. They have had it in stock for years in my area and it can be found in kitchen utensils isle.
I have not used this since i upgraded to a blast cabinet but i would recommend the brand ARMOUR ETCH.
Spray mount is perfect for any stencil work you do. It is different then spray adhesive in a couple ways, it is repositionable and it will not wrinkle your paper as easily.
It can be found in most art stores.
If you plan on doing this a lot i really recommend buying one of these. You can pick one up from harbor freight tools for around $200. This will come with a blast gun and a light on the inside to improve visibility.
I use aluminum oxide. 40lbs will last you a long long time. Do not use actual sand in your blast cabinet as its particles are very hazardous to your health.
I have a few extra tips to help with different parts of this instrucable.
Cutting out your stencil
Tip try to lift your blade off the workpiece as little as possible while cutting out your design. This will give you smoother lines and transitions.
Use a metal straight edge to cut out any perfectly straight lines you have.
If you remove an entire section that you didnt want to you can cut a small piece of contact paper out and patch the area.
Try to avoid doing lines close together.