Introduction: Hand Glass Engraving

For mass production were speed is a necessity to create volume and consistency is key, we can still find satisfaction in the personal touch were variation makes every piece unique.

Hand glass engraving can be considered falling into this category were every, stroke or dot will have small variations that can be used to accentuate key features of the engraving.

The tools can be either manual or electric (rotary or percussive), with interchangeable tips all with various pros and cons.

With electric versions, weight, vibration, sound and heat can reduce the comfort level.

However, my preference is for the manual tool lighter and slimmer and more akin to a pen with rough diamond tip which allows for different cutting edges in the same tool unlike a more uniform carbide tip were different cuts rely on tip changes.

Simply rotating the rough diamond tip or changing its angle results in a variety of different cuts which can be applied on the fly once you become familiar with the tool.

Depending on the method employed the process can be almost silent (scratches), to a steady tapping (indentations), much less intrusive than an electric engraver from my perspective.

Examples: Edge lit


Safety glasses


Manual Glass Engraving tool

Glass or Acrylic Sheet.

A subject to engrave.

Adjustable low heat light source (LED or fluorescent), and magnifier either separate or combined.

Step 1: Preparation

During the engraving process small glass shards may be liberated therefore eye protection and gloves are required

Working on flat glass (2 to 5mm thick), is my preference with the most convenient stock being a standard picture/photo framed or frameless complete with glass as it gives you everything you need to display the finished picture.

As an alternative to glass; acrylic sheet can be substituted its softer and easier to work and does not produce sharp shards. However, care needs to be taken to ensure unwanted abrasion is not introduced by handling or the cleaning process.

There are several ways to present the subject of interest to be engraved.

1:Wax pen to draw the subject on the glass surface.

2: Picture of the subject placed under the glass.

3: Freestyle as in the example.

Regardless of the method employed you need to be able to see the areas that have or are yet to be engraved.

This is accomplished making use of total internal reflection.

If a light source is applied to the end of the glass it will exit at the ends.

However, if the surface of the glass is damaged in any way the light will escape at that point.

Therefore, with subdued ambient tight a low heat light source is applied at the end of the glass close to the area being worked on and will illuminate each mark during the engraving process.

A low heat source light is used to prevent the glass from becoming too hot and cracking.

Step 2: Engraving

Manual engraving tool consists of steel, brass and wood like a pencil but with no need to sharpen.

Shading within the engraving is accomplished by the density, size and depth of the surface marks.

These marks can be created by:

1: Tapping the glass to create indentations in the surface.

Areas will have a greater emphasis with more indentation and lower emphasis with fewer indentations.

2: Scratching the surface with long or short strokes.

Areas will have a greater emphasis with more scratches and lower emphasis with fewer scratches.

3: Combinations of 1 & 2

The absence of engraving creating dark areas.

Therefore the final image will be monochromatic although colouration can be applied with suitable lighting.

Step 3: Highlighting

There are number of ways to accomplish highlighting::

1: A light source making use of total internal reflection.

This is only effective if a light source is available and the area has been engraved.

2: Non illumination emphasis. With infill

Entails applying a white opaque coating to the etched surface then removing the excess. The engraved areas will retain the coating.

The coating in this case is Correction fluid, this applies easily in liquid form which sets rapidly and the excess is easily removed with a wide flat plastic scraper (metal scrapers can introduce unwanted scratches).

Although, paint or chalk (applied directly or in a solvent suspension), can be applied.

3: Non illumination emphasis. Without infill

This method entails applying a high density engraving to the surface such that the area of interest is completely filled in.

These methods may be applied individually or combined depending upon the subject and the required effect.

Set against a black background enabling daytime viewing and the addition of a light source enables low ambient light viewing.

The examples show the application of "Correction fluid". and after its removal and the different engraving methods.

Step 4: Finishing

At the end of this you will have a hand engraved glass picture and having applied suitable highlighting either as part of the engraving process or as a post process.

If its post processing then once it's stabilised give it a polish with a suitable glass clearer, making certain that this does not remove your post process highlighting.

Then you can display it; framed, unframed, unlit or lit from the back or edge with a suitable light source.


Front lit and multicolour back lit with edge lighting.

2-5mm glass with different framing methods.

After that its time to admire you're handiwork, the many hours of patience will be well worth it.

Glass Speed Challenge

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Glass Speed Challenge