Introduction: Freehand Glass Etching

Picture of Freehand Glass Etching

I am making personalized shot glasses for each of my friends this year (or coffee cups for those who don't partake). This is a bit different from standard etching in that it does not use a stencil: for small curved glasses like these, stencils don't quite stick.

I also included basic instructions for custom stenciling, just in case...

So, while the manufacturer recommends glass etching products for stencils it's possible to use it like paint. The wine glasses I did last year were hugely popular, so I hope these are a success too.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

Picture of Gather Materials and Tools

You will need:
1 jar of Armour Etch (from most craft stores, possibly from a hardware store?)
1 (or more) glasses or any object made out of glass
1 paintbrush

And since etching cream is really nasty and caustic:
1 pair of gloves
eye protection

If you want to stencil your design you'll want some vinyl contact paper. Make sure it's sticky enough, but even then you may have trouble getting it to cling to a rounded surface. You can also use plastic stickers to create a 'negative' image, e.g., a frosted glass with non-frosted polka dots.

This is a project for adults, in fact, you have to have an ID to even BUY this stuff.
Your product might be different from mine, so read all of the directions that come with it!

Step 2: Wash and Begin

Picture of Wash and Begin

Clean and dry all of your glassware thoroughly.

Use the brush to draw your design, or the first stage of your design.
With larger designs, you will need to stagger the painting so that all of the areas are etched evenly.


If you are using a stencil, apply it at this point...
Or apply a solid sheet of vinyl and use a fine blade to cut out your design. Smooth out any bubbles, as they will leave gaps in your design.
Fill in the open areas with cream, and brush it back and forth evenly.

Step 3: Wait Wait Wait....

Picture of Wait Wait Wait....

After the first stage of etching cream has been applied, set it aside for about 7 minutes. Paint your next glass, or check your email, just don't let the glass etching cream get all over!

After 7 minutes, come back and wash and dry your glass.

Step 4: Paint in As Many Stages As You Need

Picture of Paint in As Many Stages As You Need

Finish as many parts of your design in as many stages as you need. I used 2 stages, one for the flower, and one for the branches.

Glass etching is fast, and fairly inexpensive!


kathynv (author)2016-12-29

Beautiful! I cannot paint to save my life, but I can probably manage a stencil. I'll have to get some cheap glasses to practice on.Thanks for the lovely idea!

aleutwoman (author)2015-03-13

H.I.S. Glassworks has Vari-Etch - larger quantities. Better than the other products.

hortonwynnt (author)2014-10-19

It is NOT cheap ! n I want to do a LOT of glass windows, so it'll cost a lot ! Me and you can start a company, have them make it in China, and get rich ! Anyway, I wonder if muriatic acid would do anything?

izzylattke (author)hortonwynnt2014-12-21

Muriatic acid won't do anything. That's why it's kept in glass bottles :)

d.hunt (author)2009-01-28

Having just used Armour Etch cream less than 1/2 hour ago I wish I had read the comments regarding safety prior to using. Having worked in the plating industry about 27 years ago I worked with big barrels of HF acid and received no special safety instructions...I guess that's because everyone else who worked doing what I did was undocumented...but that's another topic. What bothers me now is that I got a little of the HF in my mouth when I was spitting on a rag to wipe acid off an area of the glass where I didn't want it. I wiped it out right away, but all the talk of dissolving bones and death has me a bit concerned at the moment. If I'm still alive tomorrow I'll repost to let you know how it went. That area of my mouth IS burning a bit at present.... But I am writing to say I use shelf paper for my stencils and I found a local printer who will "print" stencils for me. I just send over my designs (in vector, not raster format), she prints them on the shelf paper I provide, and voila! Really cheap stencils of my own really cool designs. I didn't have the patience for the exacto knife method. I don't share the opinion that the Armour Cream is inexpensive. Eleven dollars for 3 ounces doesn't fit the criteria for me. I found this web page when I was searching to see if Hydrochloric Acid would etch glass, because I do have a bottle of HCL laying around....but alas it sounds like it wont....and secondly to figure out how to make my own acid etch cream...which alas again, it doesn't seem like anyone has any suggestions on. Well, if the HF I came in contact with does it's trick, maybe all of my curiousity will be moot.

porcupinemamma (author)d.hunt2013-12-15

Ah, yes, one should always have a bottle of a bottle of Hydrochloric Acid with in one's reach! Perhaps you could store it next to the chocolate chips. You guys crack me up. You are all so clever. I so admire all of you!

wilderness (author)d.hunt2009-12-22

hello d.,
you said you were gonna repost to let us know you're ok, but i can't see your name anywhere - are you ok?


d.hunt (author)wilderness2009-12-24

Hi Wilderness, et. al.

A year has passed and I think I'm dissolving bones that I can discern.  I probably just lost track of my uname and password and was too lazy to reset it.....

In any case, the project I was working on - etching the glass on some bathroom windows I had made - turned out beautifully.  The windows are pretty large and people who are more experienced using the acid etching process probably would have done smaller sections at a time, I'm ok with seeing some of the brushstrokes - it adds to the handmade ambiance.

Let's see if I can find a few photos of the finished windows installed....

legless (author)d.hunt2010-06-07

You probably find that because your mouth is lined with mucous membrane and the contact time was very short, that you did no damage. It's why your stomach is lined with the stuff to protect it from the HCl in there. Admittedly the HF is pretty nasty stuff.

Robyntheslug (author)d.hunt2009-12-25

Glad you're OK!  You're right, those windows look awesome.  Great Job!

wilderness (author)d.hunt2009-12-25

glad to hear it!

thanks for the photos - the window looks look very smart



AznPanda (author)d.hunt2009-02-04

Hope that will help :D
Happy Almost Valentines day everyone!!

Robyntheslug (author)d.hunt2009-01-29

When I bought it it was really cheap. because of vandalism they have raised prices and kept it under lock and key.

Call your dr. or local advice nurse re. the chemical burn. Your workplace should have a number to call if the exposure occurred there. Otherwise your insurance co. should have an advice line. Here is some in depth info.

Can't really emphasize safety enough, hope you're OK!

porcupinemamma (author)2013-12-15

What a great gift your friends are going to receive. Your Instructable is really put together so well. Thanks for sharing your idea :0)

thecraftymrs (author)2013-10-29

So cool!!

hjjusa (author)2012-02-03

Just a note, Armour Etch also etches polished agate slabs, no pics because I sold the slab.

akirk1 (author)2011-07-05

So you don't have to have the "special stencils" for amor etch to work right?? I have 2 lanterns that have the outline of dragon flies that I washed to get the dust off and the paint came off, that I thought was etched in :( So I am trying to use armor etch to fix them.

UncleEggRoll (author)2010-06-20

Nice job. Will this technique work on laptop cases? I'm trying to etch a laptop but can't find any products for it. thanks for your help.

askjerry (author)UncleEggRoll2011-05-20

Laser engraving works well for that... with the laser you can precisely control the location and depth of the etch... and this will vary with different materials. There is an example on my web page... I did ED409 on my laptop one day.


It's unlikely, and this technique requires lots of water, so it's probably not the best idea for electronics. Though I'm not sure if you mean a removable case (like a hard case). You can work up a design and have it laser etched by your local engraver instead. (Look for people who do trophy engraving and the like). It'll probably cost you less than the engraving cream at this point.

Pader (author)2010-06-06

Nice instructable. It occurs to me that you could probably paint a design on the glass with hot wax for areas that you DONT want to etch and have the remainder of the glass opaque.

w0x0f (author)Pader2010-06-14

You can also use a "faux" stained glass paint. Liquid Rainbow and Gallery Glass are two brand names, but I've bought more generic types at the dollar store. The paints are transparent and remain flexible when dry. They're designed to peel off and be re-used as vinyl "stickers" that simulate stained glass.

Taresa (author)2009-12-20

Thanks for this instructable!  Could you please expand on what "staggering" a large design entails?

johnny3h (author)Taresa2010-06-06

Since our leader has not responded to your question, I'll try. The etching compound [usually a thin paste or thick liquid\ "eats" the surface of the glass it is applied to. The "depth" of the etch is proportional to the amount of time it remains in contact. On a very large project, the etching compound will be in contact with the glass at the starting point much longer than that at the end. It is difficult to "time" the removal on a long project, so it's much easier to divide the area to be etched into "sections," and just apply compound to one section at a time, wait the prescribed time [the instructions on the bottle usually tell you how long for what depth(s)], and then wash the compound off, thus "stopping" the etching action. Then do the next section, and when finished, the next. IF planned and executied well, the various sections will be etched to about the same depth and will appear to "match".

kaptaink_cg (author)2009-12-27

Saw your Instructable and made these as Xmas gifts!
(4 stars!)

artsman23 (author)kaptaink_cg2010-01-27

kapta_cg,  those are really cool. How did you make your stencils?

Heres some etched glass I made by sandblasting at my page

KellyCraig (author)artsman232010-06-06

My preferred method of glass etch the sandblast method. I use white silica sand, which may be purchased in the fifty or so pound bags at big box stores.

Just for reference, I limit air pressure to around forty-five pounds, which allows me to use common contact paper (I use cream colored, since it shows pencil, carbon paper and ink lines well). Sandblasting makes it easy to obtain shading effects. Simply cut the pressure down (I drop to about twenty-five pounds) and lift the part of the resistance/mask covering the part to be shaded.

Using the sandblast method, you can see how your etch is progressing and I don’t have to concern yourself with fingerprints effecting the acid penetration, or acid wicking under the resistance/mask.

For reference, I’ve attached a few samples of simple etches I've done using sandblast. The unicorn is on a twenty by forty inch mirror. The cowboy is a very detailed etch (down to the checks in his flannel shirt) done on the back window of a customer’s 4x4).

Obvious disadvantages of sand blast are equipment cost and containment of the sand. Silica is a real concern, due its harmful effects on the lungs. All that aside, I do resort to acid paste for small, quick projects and, like others, get satisfactory results.

Here are a couple more options for acids from a company I am very pleased with:

Fwedwick (author)2007-01-08

THe acid used is HF, Hydrofluoric acid. It's very caustic, although considered a weak acid (it only partially dissociates in water) so probably isnt the best thing to dump down the drain. you could probably mix it with baking soda until all the fizz is gone, and then dump, cos the baking soda neutralizes the acid.

Robyntheslug (author)Fwedwick2007-01-08

It's also extremely dangerous to come into contact with. Though the commercial creams are fairly weak, the acid penetrates your skin and can actually dissolve your bones! Causing loss of limbs or digits (yikes!) Can not stress safety enough for this one. Gloves, long sleeves and eye protection.

niti (author)Robyntheslug2007-01-11

hi, myself niti from india. i love glass work. kindly let meknow the alternative (acid) for ecthing cream as it is not available in india i suppose. thanx

azit (author)niti2010-03-04

etching cream is available in india.

Robyntheslug (author)niti2007-01-11

Well, the only one I can think of is the sandblasting method which is much more costly. (you can search online for more info). You may not be able to get the specific product, but it is probably much easier to get plain old Hydrofluoric acid in India. But having never been I can't offer help on specific products.

Big Bwana (author)Robyntheslug2008-06-16

Diamond bits for a dremel work very nice, and they last a long time if done under running water (( use the flexible extension cable for a dremel, don't use the dremel it self under water ... And tungsten carbide bit also work but they are not as nice

sicsick6 (author)niti2008-05-28

niti, try to buy it online... look it up in ebay if you want... you get all sorts of things there... i come across this sort of problem all the time livin in maldives

decarboxy (author)Robyntheslug2007-02-07

it gets better. HF damages your bones as the Fluorine replaces the Calcium. When this happens, H+ is liberated into your blood stream, lowering your blood pH. Normal blood pH is 7.4, and if it changes any more than about 0.05 in either direction you'll end up in serious trouble or dead. Granted commercial etchant cream is extremely dilute, but HF is something to treat with extreme respect.

Caspar (author)decarboxy2009-12-29

Yes, HF is very dangerous. But not for the reasons you cite. It combines with calcium in bones to make calcium fluoride (insoluble) and causes brittleness and bones wont heal if broken. pH is irrelevant. The acid splashes do not sting and may be missed.  HF is classed as a weak acid, much weaker than HCl. Treatment involves injecting silicone oil around the site to mop up the HF and stop it's spread.  When using it I have a bucket of water with sodium bicarbonate (100 g in 9 liters) to neutralize any splashes.  None so far.

HF can be made by mixing CaF or NaF and conc. H2SO4. Best done in situ.

smokehill (author)Fwedwick2007-10-01

Unless weak hydrofluoric (further watered down by the rinsing process) might be a hazard to PVC or ABS pipes, I wouldn't worry about the minor acidity in the municipal waste system. Balancing the pH is part of the wastewater treatment process, and there are literally tons of other things affecting the pH of the final process. Actually, the treatment plants don't even worry about the acidity -- they'll reject truckloads of waste from septic tanks or portable toilets if the pH is too HIGH (alkaline), but most of them don't care at all about a low pH level in that stuff. Not sure why that is, but I owned a portable toilet company and had to monitor the pH of what my drivers dumped to make sure it wasn't rejected. From a practical standpoint, I have PVC & ABS drains in my kitchen sink, and I've done a lot of glass-stencil etching, and rinsing, and so far (maybe 80 or 90 times) the plumbing seems to be OK. Since you rinse under flowing water, the acid material probably never really hits the plastic to any degree.

stinsonk (author)smokehill2007-11-24

It is good practice for any acid or base to neutralise it before enything goes down the drain. For this, just get some pH paper and some KOH pellets and make sure that it hits 7 before dunping (it's a good way to brush off the ol stoichiometry lessons from chem class). One of the dangers of HF(aq) is that it can possibly, under the right circumstances, seperate from the water creating a very toxic and potentially lethal gass (HF(g)) and therefore should not be used lightly.

smcleroy (author)stinsonk2009-06-18

Please don't ever throw solid KOH pellets into an acidic solution - you could have an explosion.

T3h_Muffinator (author)stinsonk2007-12-01

Yeah, it's probably a good idea to try and neutralize the acid before flushing it down the drain, but it won't dissolve any plastics. Hydrofluoric acid doesn't dissolve plastic because.... I'm not sure why, but I worked with it over the summer and it certainly doesn't dissolve plastics.

magickaldan (author)2009-12-25

Two other poplar ways to etch glass are with a dremel and with a sandblaster.

Javin007 (author)2009-12-22

Perhaps this could be done by changing the timing or diluting, but could you etch different "shades" into the glass?

guy90 (author)2009-12-21

I'd love to try this, and put my friends names on their shot glasses- thank you for the upload and sharing this skill :)

ssford99 (author)2009-12-20

May I ask where you got your shot glasses? I broke one in a set (it was a gift) and have no idea where to get a replacement! Yours is the same shape, I am looking for. Any assistance is greatly appreciated!!! Beautiful project by the way!!

: )

mg0930mg (author)ssford992009-12-20

I've personally seen some like this at the dollar store.

ssford99 (author)mg0930mg2009-12-20

I will check there next! Thanks!

mg0930mg (author)ssford992009-12-21

Your welcome.

Robyntheslug (author)ssford992009-12-20

I did in fact get this set of shot glasses at a small dollar store in Santa Cruz. 

ssford99 (author)Robyntheslug2009-12-21

Thank you!  : )

janthos (author)2009-03-04

Hi Everyone-
I am a trained warm glass artist. There is a GREAT alternative to Armour Etch. It's called Etch All. There is a dip & a cream. The best part? It's reusable! Yep, you scrape it back into the bottle after it has set for 15 minutes. It also etches better than Armour Etch. (I used Armour Etch for a number of years, but now I'm all about the Etch All)
A bottle can last Months, and my friend says she's has hers for a couple of years. You don't have to wear gloves, and it doesn't affect your lungs like Armour Etch.
Hope that helps some of you

About This Instructable




Bio: A caterer and adventurer looking for things to do! I like to crochet, cook, build stuff with wood, garden, do art projects etc. I also ... More »
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