How to Create Your Own Frosted Glass Sign

51,913

644

70

Published

Introduction: How to Create Your Own Frosted Glass Sign

Hello fellow makers,

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.)

2. Q-tips

3. 50% isopropyl alcohol

4. Self adhesive vinyl contact paper (commonly used as shelf liner)

5. Exacto knife with #2 blades

6. Spray mount

Etching materials

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)

2.applicator brush

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

Picking what you want your sign to say is the first thing you'll want to think about. It could be a witty saying or a word you find inspiring. You can draw it yourself or you can pick an image from online. With which ever you choose there are only 4 things to keep in mind.

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

Now that you've decided on what you want to put on your sign you have to decide how big you want your sign too be.

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

Now that you have your design finalized you can get to the meat and potatoes of this project. If you have not picked up all the materials on the list i would recommend getting them all before starting this step as you will be using most of them for this process.

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

Now that your glass is clean you can 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

Once your glass has its contact paper applied you can now place your design on it.

For this step you will need your

1. Design

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

Now that your design is in its final position you can now start cutting it out.

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

3. Qtips

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)

Now that you have the stencil of your design cutout you are finally ready to etch your glass.

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)

Now that you have the stencil of your design cutout you are finally ready to etch your glass.

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

Now that you have etched your glass you can remove the contact paper 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.

CONGRATULATIONS!

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

This is an extra section to help with any problems/questions you guys might have.

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.

Materials

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.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00K5RRPF6/ref=mp_s_a_1_8?qid=1454178866&sr=8-8&pi=AA200_QL70&keywords=contact+paper

Etching cream

I have not used this since i upgraded to a blast cabinet but i would recommend the brand ARMOUR ETCH.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B001BE3UM4/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?qid=1454178947&sr=8-3&pi=SY200_QL40&keywords=armour+etching+cream&dpPl=1&dpID=51PaTSeV3qL&ref=plSrch


Spray mount

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.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00006IFBF/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?qid=1454179029&sr=8-2&pi=SY200_QL40&keywords=3m+spray+mount


Blast cabinets

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.

http://www.harborfreight.com/abrasive-blast-cabine...

Blasting media

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.

http://m.harborfreight.com/50-lb-black-aluminum-oxide-70-grit-abrasive-media-61870.html

Hints/Tips

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.

Share

Recommendations

  • Casting Contest

    Casting Contest
  • Woodworking Contest

    Woodworking Contest
  • Oil Contest

    Oil Contest
user

We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.

Tips

Questions

70 Comments

There is a third way you can etch glass. Make a concentrated solution of sodium hydroxide, and paint it over your stencil. let it dry, then place it in the oven at 650 degrees for several minutes. The amount of etching depends on how thick your coating is and how long you leave it in the oven. I would also recommend placing the glass in the oven while it is cool and gradually increasing the temperature (same for cooling). You can use drain cleaner gel if you must, but the gel will burn off the non-sodium hydroxide part and you'll need to clean the glass after. Liquid anhydrous NaOH will eat solid glass when melted, so be careful. You can clean up after using vinegar, lemon juice, or ammonia.

3 replies

nice addition, id affectionately call that the mad scientist version haha outta curiosity why do you heat it up is heat the catalyst for the reaction?

Here is an extreme version of the reaction: https://youtu.be/nmktRTHL1NA

BTW, it takes very little hydroxide to work.

The sodium hydroxide isn't very reactive in its solid state and is has an extremely low surface of interaction with the glass. The solid will etch it, but it would take a dozen or more years to do it. A water solution will probably etch it too, but again the water inhibits and slows the reaction enormously. I suspect the creme is a hydroxide of some kind with some kind of catalyst to facilitate the reduction. The nice thing about it is that it will eat through a lot of different ceramics. As a general rule, never store metal hydroxides in glass.

I have an armoire that has frosted glass on the inside of the two side doors, and there are marks and scratches in the frosted glass where clothes have wiped against the doors, I guess. How do I re-frost or fix the areas that are scratched?

I have been a sand carver/glass etcher for over 25 years, may I add a couple of things. 1), simple trial, instead of getting into purchases eg: cream etc, do as suggested for the 1st stage..but after cutting out stencil on glass...try hair spray !! I learned many years ago while creating my own filters for 35m camera and Cokin filter holder, had glass cut to size of holder, fine sand paper to aris the sharp edges, then put a dime on center of glass, sprayed LIGHTLY with hair spray = soft spot filter, hair spray also washes off, if you are not happy. 2) when removing mask I submerse glass in warm - hot water in laundry tub, let sit for 10 - 15 min, and you can remove most all with plastic scraper or finger nails. For other removal I also use wd40 spray, spray all over, let sit a good few min. then scrape or peel. I still use hair spray on powder room mirror...as wife likes to change up designs every so often, why change out 18 x 24" mirror every so many months = $$$$$$$$

JMO harry shaboogy

5 replies

thanks for that tip with the hairspray :-) I don't use it so there is none in the house :-) so just because I am female don't mean I use it :-) but I will buy some just to try on the bathroom window I hate the fact the next door neighbour can see right into my bathroom :-( this way I can play around with some design ideas until I find one I am happy with :-) sweet :-) plus I won't have the cost of chemicals of sandblasting :-)

Thanks Dawsie just a heads up......
Because hair spray washes off, I do not recommend using in bathroom that has any moisture, IE; shower or tub. When you clean your mirror, you will wash away your design !!
Harry

thanks for that tip :-) you know I never even give that a thought :-) but it would be a great way to settle on a fixed design at least and then I can do the next step of chemical etching :-) I just found some I bought a few years ago and forgot that I had :-) so first the test design and then for real :-)

Thank you again for the heads up :-)

they have silicone based faux etch at lowes. it comes in a can like spray paint. Not technically the same thing, but it looks pretty dang close and it will withstand the water easy enough. works with stencils too.

very cool testing method :)

on the sulfuric acid note....can you use the acid in drain cleaners? I have used it for soap making. just be cautious.

1 reply

You are referring to lye also known as sodium hydroxide. It is a strong base, not an acid. You you can use it, but it is more dangerous, and may be messier if it has extra gunk in it (like gel).

That is so awesome! I was going to suggest adding LED strips, But then I saw that you're already planning to do that...

You definitely have my vote!

3 replies

here's a pic with the LED base. if your interested

temp_-1774894347.jpg

Wow! Is the sign seen twice (reflected-ish) only in the picture?

that reflection is amplified in the photo but that effect does show to the naked eye and gets more defined the the thicker the glass

Wow, this has been really informative, the instructable itself as well as the comments and responses.

One method I have used in the past was a dremel tool. a small burr on the end and goggles. it worked well for small projects, and you don't need contact paper, just take your design down well. I think that a gluestick would be useful for placing the paper design.

It will be not be a super even design unless you take your time and pay attention. but it is easy and the tools are on hand for me.

I have done sandblasting, and it is FUN... when I have a house it is on my wish list after the forge.

2 replies

The secret to using a dremel for a good controlled affect is to drip water to where the bit is working the glass. It serves two purposes. The first is that it controls the dust. The second is that it cools it to keep it from over heating the bit and the glass. Using this method, you can do some really cool nice looking shading, but it is time consuming.

great advice, I like it. This is the method my 12 year old son enjoys. we will start dripping water on it.. thanks