How to Make Custom Etched Glasses




Introduction: How to Make Custom Etched Glasses

About: I'm a 38 year old theatrical designer and educator. I have boundless curiosity, chimerical aesthetic, and Sisyphean perseverance. The results of my whimsical adventures can be found here and on my instagram.

The other day I learned how to use a sand blaster and you know how when you learn a new skill your mind explodes with possible uses.  That happens to me and sometimes I get so many random ideas bouncing around in my head I wake up in the middle of the night.  This is the project that woke me up at 3:00AM and would not let me go back to bed.

I was tired of having boring old glasses in my cupboard, on my table, and holding my juice.  If I know one thing it is that drinks taste better when consumed from awesome containers.  If you doubt this fact just look at the curly straw!  I rest my case.  Now on to how I went about customizing my glassware just in time for the holiday season.

Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed

What follows is the list of materials and tools I used to make these awesome glasses.

7.5 oz(221.80ml) Rocks Glass
Orcal 651 5 year sign vinyl***
Transfer Tape**
80 grit sand blasting medium**

Tools(I made it at the techshop which had all the tools on hand)
Cnc vinyl cutter*
Tape measure
dental pick
Teflon scissors(you can use normal scissors it can just get a bit sticky)
Sandblasting cabinet*
Trusty Project notepad
Cutting mat
Air compressor*
Shopper discount card* or similar semi stiff piece of plastic.  CD coasters work well too.
Thumb Drive*
Dish Towel(not provided by tech shop)*
Safety Glasses*

Inkscape (or other vector art program)*
FlexiSign 8.6.2*

*Not shown in the picture
**Materials provided by the Techshop
***Can be purchased in small amounts at the Techshop for a reasonable price.

Step 2: Acquire Glasses and Plan

There are many ways to acquire glasses.  Though we have been having a rash of broken glasses at my house lately.(Curse you tile counter!)  This smash spree has left my cupboard pretty devoid of glasses.  So I hopped on my bike and headed over to my local restaurant supply store.(Restaurants always have the toughest glassware.)  When I was there I settled on some "Rocks Glasses"  I wanted pint glasses but there was no way I was carrying a case of those in my bag on my bike ride home.  The cool thing about the glasses was they were inexpensive and made in the U.S.A. so there was less freight involved in getting them to me.

Now that I had the glasses it was time to plan out my doodles I was going to use to customize the glasses.  I used a measuring tape to get the width and height of my glasses.  They were 3"(7.26cm) wide and 3.5"(8.89cm) tall.  With this info I decided a good sized graphic would be about 2"(5.08cm) By 2"(5.08cm).  That size was completely arbitrary and could be made bigger or smaller to your preference.  Once I knew what size my graphic would be I set about modifying some of my existing vector artwork to fit the specs.  I used Inkscape an open-source vector art program but you could use any vector art program you want.  Once I had my graphic the way I wanted I saved it as a .PDF.  I did this because it is the format you need your file to be in to import it into the sign cutting software which is used to cut it out on the vinyl cutter.  With the files done I loaded up my messenger bag with the glasses, my thumb drive with my .PDF files and headed to the Tech Shop SF.

Step 3: Using the CNC Vinyl Cutter and Weeding

I loaded my vinyl material into the vinyl cutter and a few clicks latter it was singing the song only CNC machines can sing.  Taking a safety and basic usage class is required to use the vinyl cutter so I am not going to go into detail on how to use it.  (You could also take your image to a sign shop.  Since the file is already made and it could fit on a piece of scrap they have kicking around I bet they would give you a deal if you asked nicely.  Or you could say "CNC... Bah! I'll just cut my vinyl by hand.")  Once the sirens call of the vinyl cutter stops it is time to use the dental pick to pick out the pieces of sticker mask we don't want.  This process is called weeding in the vinyl sign business.  It is important to note since we are making a mask we only want to peel up the bits of vinyl where we want the glass to be frosted.

Step 4: Stickerizing

Now that I had the parts of my mask removed that I did not want to be in the final mask it was time to stickerize my mask.  To do this I first cut out my mask from the larger sheet of vinyl.  Then after that was done I took a piece of the transfer tape and smoothed it onto my cut out mask using my shoppers card.  I started from the center working out to get rid of any air bubbles that may have gotten trapped when I first laid down the transfer tape.  Once the air bubbles were out I cut off the excess transfer tape.  The stickerizing was complete.

Step 5: Applying the Stickerized Mask

Now that my vinyl mask was a sticker I peeled it free from the white backing and laid it sticky side up on the table.  With the mask on the table I placed my glass down on the mask where I wanted the image to end up being on the glass.  Once that was done I picked up the glass and using my shopper card I smoothed the sticker mask onto the glass working again from the center out making sure to remove any air bubbles.  Next I carefully removed the transfer tape leaving only my vinyl mask behind on the glass.  There was still a whole lot of glass exposed so I grabbed the scrap vinyl box at the tech shop and used scrap pieces of vinyl to mask off the rest of my glass.  I did not use transfer tape for the masking scraps as there were no detailed images to be moved.  When the masking was fully applied I repeated steps 2 through 5 11 more times as I had 12 glasses.  If you are just doing one glass it is time to head to the sand blaster.

Step 6: Sand Blasting!

With my box of glasses ready to go I walked downstairs donned, my safety glasses, and headed over to the sand blaster.  Once at the sand blaster I turned the timer on top to get the fans going and the lights on.  I set the time for 30 minutes which I hoped would be enough tome to finish sand blasting.  Once the sand blasting cabinet was fired up I  hooked up the air hose and adjusted the regulator so the air pressure was 70psi.  I opened the side of the cabinet, placed my glass in, and then closed the side back up.

As you can see from my second to last picture in this step it is a bit hard to take photos through the blasting cabinet window.  Also sand blasting the glasses was a two handed job and not having a photography assistant I don't have any pictures of the sand blasting while it was happening.  I will do my best to describe the process in the following paragraph and if you have any questions let me know.  I will answer them as best I can.

I held the base of the glass in my left hand with my image facing me.  Then pointing the sand blaster at the glass at a 30° to 45° angle to the face of the glass I depressed the foot leaver.  With the sand flowing I quickly and smoothly moved the gun up and down while moving from right to left to ensure an even frost.  This does not take long at all.  I was able to do all 12 glasses in 20 minutes.  You can blast all the way through the glasses if you linger to long.  If you need clarification on any part of this description don't hesitate to ask.

Step 7: Removing the Mask and Washing

With the sand blasting complete I was supper excited for how the glasses looked.  So excited I felt like a kid opening presents while peeling all the vinyl masking off.  Once the masking was removed I headed over to the sink and rinsed all of the dust off the glasses.  Then I towel dried them.  Finally I snapped a picture and packed the glasses away for my trip home.

Step 8: Use Your Awesome Glass

Once I was finally home I made up an Arnold Palmer(the best mocktail ever in my opinion) and garnished it with a wedge of key lime. 

The sand blasting method of etching produced images that were crisp and well defined in the glasses.  I am super happy with how the glasses turned out.

Hope you enjoyed this instructable as much as I enjoyed making these glasses.  If you have any questions feel free to ask.

If you would like your own glasses like the ones I made in this instructable please check out my Etsy store.

If you want to lean more about the Tech Shop you can swing by

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    10 years ago on Introduction

    I have a vinyl cutter that cuts designs I make on my computer with Adobe Illustrator. The vinyl is easily applied on most items. I have an air eraser (very much like an air brush) that etches with aluminum oxide. This lightly etches the glass; you can see the design but barely feel it. I also use a larger, more powerful pressure blaster using silicon oxide. This cuts into the glass quickly causing that 3-D affect. The secret is using a pressure system rather than a siphon system. The pressure system requires less pressure (20psi) from your compressor; the siphon system requires higher pressure (90psi).


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice Instructable! Take a look, also, at a material called "ButterCut". It is a thick, self-adhesive vinyl specifically made for masking out sandblasting. The caveat is that it takes a flat-bed XY Cutter to cut this thicker material, but it can be cut with the same detail as the thinner stuff. It is also easy to pattern out by hand with an eXacto knife after applying it directly to the substrate to be sandblasted.

    Wood patterners will cover an entire piece with ButterCut and cut out where the deepest parts of the pattern are first. Then they sandblast all the open areas. Next, they cut out the second deepest areas and sandblast all the open areas again. The process is repeated until a rather finely relieved pattern is created. When the last of the ButterCut is peeled away, that area is still smooth and flat for the prominent image area.


    10 years ago on Step 6

    How important is the knoby knob knob to this instructable? Could you use a dially dial dial?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The knoby knob knob is of the utmost importance. Attempting this project without a knoby knob knob is pure folly and would cause a rift to open sucking us all into a parallel universe where we would meet our evil goatee having counterparts. As we all know that never ends well. :)


    10 years ago on Step 8

    Interesting, and fun to read along, especially with the humor in the pictures. Good job.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I was just thinking of doing a project like this. Someone on here posted something about cutting wine bottles for lights with a dremmel tool. So I was going to try a little free hand etching on a bottle with a dremmel for a gift this holiday.
    Incidentally, I used to work at a glass shop some time ago with a guy that sandblasted etchings on a larger scale for businesses. I thought it was pretty cool.

    I discovered this when I worked in an auto body shop; we cleaned the rust off the cars with a sand blaster. One guy messed up the masking and wrecked a windshield.
    A fellow I know uses the same technique to etch polished marble, he buys sheets of marble already polished and masks it to a pattern then sand blasts the image in the marble.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    In Victorian English glass-works the etching was done with Hydroflouric Acid. As the process was nasty; smelly, and hazardous it was given to the Aprentices - and so it didn't stink out the whole workshop they were put in a little cupboard with a lead-lined sink.

    It was thought that if they had coughs or colds when they went in there they'd have cleared their tubes out wonderfully by the time they came out.

    Very cool. In my sixth grade art class (1986), we used the acid etch stuff Oakback mentioned above. We used clear contact paper and Xacto knives to cut our designs instead of fancypants computer vinyl cutters :P (Just kidding, I'm jealous that kind of technology wasn't common when I was a kid!) If anyone tries it with the contact paper and acid etch, the key is getting your glass super clean and using quality contact paper, as well as a fresh, sharp blade in your knife. Just follow the directions on the jar of etchant, easy as that. Interestingly enough, if you have access to hide glue, you can also etch glass with that! (Hide glue is animal based glue used in stringed musical instrument repair -yes, vegans, I know, I know... I've never tried it, preferring to save my glue for guitars and fiddles :)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    lucky u got to do fun things in art class, now its rare to be painting in art class!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    If you don't have access to sand blasting, there is glass-etching acid you can buy a craft stores. It's simple to use, but doesn't produce as defined of an imagine (sand blasting creates a bit of physical depth).