Glass Etching Using Toner Transfer Templates





Introduction: Glass Etching Using Toner Transfer Templates

About: We spend our youth trying desperately to fit in, and then the rest of our adult life doing whatever we can to stand out in the crowd.
I recently began experimenting with glass etching cream. There's a lot of creative things you can do with it, but to create really cool designs you need to spend a LOT of time trimming your stencils. I wanted to find a quicker way to create complex designs and realized that the toner transfer technique used when creating your own circuit boards just  might work. What follows is a proof of concept for this technique:


Step 1: Tools & Materials

Glass Etching Cream (such as Armour Etch)
Disposable brush
Latex gloves
Leather gloves
Masking tape
Glossy printer paper
Lacquer Thinner
Ironing board or cotton towel  (nothing synthetic or it could melt)
Laser Printer or Photocopier

Step 2: Print and Trim Your Stencils

Find some stencils and create negative image prints of them.
You will need to either print using a Laser printer, or you can print on an inkjet and then make photocopies.  You will not be able to transfer inkjet printed designs directly.  Make sure the printer is on its highest resolution and print using black toner only.
The white area should be the design you want etched.  Keep in mind that glass etching creams only work well with small areas, so don't go overboard. 
All of my pieces were only about 2.5" wide.
Trace the glass outline onto the paper, and then affix two ends with masking tape.  Note: Make sure the glass is VERY clean.  Any oil or dirt can cause problems with the toner and etching cream.

Step 3: Toner Transfer

Use the leather gloves for this step!  Glass conducts heat incredibly well!

Be sure there is no water in your iron and set it to the highest setting.  Once your iron is incredibly hot begin applying it to the back of the paper.  Try to cover all areas of the stencil with equal pressure and heat.  This step is tricky. Not enough and the toner wont transfer.  Too much and the paper may bind to the glass.  Glossy paper transfers the easiest, but also has a higher tendency to stick to the glass.  Keep in mind that quick changes in temperature will cause glass to crack.  Let these slowly cool at room temperature. Resist the urge to run them under the sink!

Step 4: Remove the Stencils

Once the glass has coolled, carefully pull the paper from the glass.  Most of the toner should remain on the glass.  Unfortunately the paper on the Ninja-Nun stencil got too hot and I was unable to remove it without damaging the toner.  If this happens, you can clean the glass with Lacquer thinner and try it again.

Step 5: Apply Etching Cream

Use the latex gloves for this step!  Etching Cream is VERY nasty stuff.  Even a small amount can be absorbed into your skin and cause death! Be sure to read the warnings on the back of the bottle carefully before use!

Brush on the cream, avoiding areas you don't want etched. I usually swirl the cream a bit on the glass to make sure I get an even etching.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

Step 6: Clean the Glass

The etching cream can now be rinsed off with just water.  Some of the toner will now probably flake off as well.   Once you have rinsed and dried the glass, use a paper towel and Lacquer thinner to wipe off the remaining toner.  Finally clean the pieces with glass cleaner and enjoy your work of art!

The etching shows up quite well in person, but it was very hard to get a good photo of them.

If you enjoyed this instructable please rate it, and be sure to check out my other instructables!



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    29 Discussions

    Next time you take photos put them on a black background. The etching will show up much better.

    Back when I was young and stupid, I bought a half-gallon of hydrofluoric acid, some dishwashing gloves, and wax. I would coat a plate of glass in wax, carve the design into the wax then drop it into the HF bath. It worked but now that I look back I understand why the windows in the kitchen started to blur - and now, 40 years later, am having some 'interesting' breathing issues (sigh). I now use the paste but sort of miss the days of clueless stupidity - we also set up a bronze foundry using propeller bronze and could not understand why it was so difficult to detail after the casting, another heavy sigh!

    Hi and thanks for the instructable!
    I'm having real problems with the toner transfer (both on glass and on metal)
    I used a laserprinter and glossy paper but i just can't get anything to stick!
    Not the toner not the paper.
    My iron is on the highest setting but even if i leave it on for 20 minutes nothing will stick.
    What am i doing wrong?

    Hi and thanks for the instructable!
    I'm having real problems with the toner transfer (both on glass and on metal)
    I used a laserprinter and glossy paper but i just can't get anything to stick!
    Not the toner not the paper.
    My iron is on the highest setting but even if i leave it on for 20 minutes nothing will stick.
    What am i doing wrong?

    I was curious if your method could be combined with this method to create a glass gilding effect. Maybe this would even work with gold leaf instead of foil.

    With something like that, you're probably better off printing it on a label (clear or otherwise), sticking it on the glass, then using a razor blade to remove the portions of your template that you want to etch. I don't think you'll be able to successfully do a toner transfer on an object that is curved too much. If it's closer to a cylinder it'll probably work, but spherical wont.

    Yep kaptaink_cg .... you're right about the shapes !!!??? I have tried ' tear-drop' shaped wine goblets and the resists just will not conform to the glass unless you want to put a small image near the top where it is more cylindrical. Even glasses that are cylindrical appearing some times have imperfections that cannot be seen from a distance but can impede a good toner transfer, especially Dollar store brands but can be seen after transfer and felt and sometimes seen before hand. I use (I believe) the same tool as rabeatz. Mine is called the Creative VERSA-TOOL (from Walnut Hollow). It has a tip designed specifically for toner transfer. It has many other tips too but I have never used any, just bought it for toner transfer for both glass and metal etch resists. Regarding flat glass ... I have found that an iron always seems to crack my glass/mirror. After getting my toner transfer tool and using it, I formulated a theory as to why. It seems to me that when using an iron, it seems to transfer the toner via a ' baking ' process whereas the toner transfer tool uses more of a ' searing ' process. My analogy: If you throw a Beef roast and vegetables in the oven at 375 degrees and ' bake ' for a few hours ... the vegetables are cooked thoroughly all the way through ... just like the iron on the glass everything heated thoroughly all the way through ... paper, toner and glass !!! But this is not necessary !!! All you need to do is heat the paper, toner and the SURFACE of the glass mirror just like some chefs do by ' searing ' their vegetables in high-heated oil ... outside cooked and resilience (texture and colour and taste in the case of the vegetables, lol) inside. This is what the toner transfer tool does ... unless of course you hold it there waaaaay to long.

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    Great work! Yes, the Versa Tool is what I've been using. Works great. Whenever I tried doing cut outs with a razor blade, I ended up with a Glass with a bunch of scratch marks in it.. Laser printer works great. as a substrate for the printer toner, I used glossy pages from a magazine. It works great but does sometimes get stuck on the glass.

    What kind of paper are you using for your transfers?

    Hey rabeatz. If I remember correctly, I was using a semi-gloss from an old Psychology text book. It had a high clay content which was apparent when washing off. Speaking of high clay content, if you are looking for a really decent, near-perfect toner transfer to glass every time project and of course you want to invest the money, check out Hammermill colour laser gloss (32lb.). It is better than inkjet photo paper and way cheaper, of course, it's for a laser !!! Because of it's high clay content and thickness, just let it soak and pull off. No scrubbing extra ' stuck-on ' residuals like the high gloss porno mags, lol! lately, I haven't the money nor willingness to invest in a whole ream so I decided to try something different as they did not have single sheets of Hammermill at my local copy center. I got this paper that is basically (I never got the name but will next time) like transparency sheets, except it is NOT transparent. I would like it to inkjet PREMIUM photo paper as it feels like plastic and indeed will leave plastic residue if your heat source is too hot. In fact, if you try to burn this paper, it will not burn!!!??? Because I have 3 Versa-tools (first 2 are old versions, no heat control), I can experiment. So I tried one of the old ones (apparently they max. out at 950 degrees) and it did leave slight plastic residue which was easily (and gently) removed with a soft toothbrush. But still, paper removed and left complete toner rather willingly. Then I tried my new Versa-Tool with lower heat settings, no residue, easy paper removal (don't rush, let soak) and complete toner transfer. Also ... I am not sure if you are aware but another excellent paper to use is the ' silicon ' based paper. The kind that sticker ' backing ' paper is made from. You can find this from AVERY laser labels (they have A4 sized). But be advised ... you have to adhere this to a regular piece of paper before feeding into laser or else it might get stuck. USE ONLY paper based tape (masking, painters tape) because vinyl or for sure plastic tape will melt and stick to you fuser and cause a multitude of pains. If you do not have access to Avery laser labels, try another brand name and if not that ... PARCHMENT PAPER. Just make sure it is high heat variety and again, tape to normal paper before feeding into laser. Now the beauty part about these ' silicon ' based papers is that ... there is NO SOAKING and you can get 100 % toner transfer every time because there is no ' transfer and trust ' technique because you can ' lift ' your paper to check your transfer each time as it readily releases from you substrate be it glass or metal or whatever !!! Hope this helps, rabeatz.

    A followup - I was able to get your method to work using glossy paper and a 'transfer point' on a wood burning pen - basically a flat edge. I slowly rubbed it around in cirs and applied light pressure until i covered the entire graphic. This was on a pint glass - I have yet to try it on something as curved as an ornament. Waiting till my shipment arrives from my glassblowing class.

    I'm just getting started with glass etching, something I've been meaning to look into for quite some time. I was already familiar with the printed circuit board method using the toner and was wondering if it would work on glass. My fear though was that the glass would crack due to the heat. I see now that it is in fact possible. I wonder though how high was your yield with respect to glass being lost do to cracking?

    Oh and one other thing, for those ones that had the paper stuck to the glass, did you try soaking them then gently rubbing off the paper? This is how the PCB method needs to be done but I could see the toner coming off too since the glass is so smooth.

    Anyway thanks for the instructable, I'm going to try this soon. I'm just using cheap dollar store photo frame glass anyway so if I lose a few due to cracking its not that expensive :)

    Great instructable! Btw, I think the glass stencils might show up better if you have it on a darker surface.

    You could make some awesome mirrors with this method. Good work.

    Glass etching works by applying a rather harsh acid to the glass (usually a fluoride component, like hydrogen fluoride). I don't think they would react well with your macbook, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was a special etching solution for plastics. You could ask in your local craftstore.

    Good instructable,but in step 3,you state that "glass conducts heat very well"-well,it doesn't.Take a metal plate of same thickness as the glass plate,apply a hot iron to both and you will see the difference immediately.But otherwise ,you deserve a star of recognition

    1 reply

    Obviously, glass does not conduct heat as well as metal. But that's not what I said. It DOES conduct heat better than a lot of other materials. Examples: Ever try changing a lightbulb after it's been on for an hour? Ever put your hand on the windshield of a car during an Arizona summer? If you still don't believe me, try out my project without using gloves and see how it goes.

    i want to start etching some glass but im not 100% what kind of glossy printer paper is needed.  what kind did you use exactly? thanks!