This guide will show how to create a large scale glass etching using a vinyl stencil and a chemical etching agent. For smaller scale projects, I would suggest using a laser cutter as it will usually be simpler and faster. You can also follow this guide if you want to sandblast to etch as the vinyl application will be the same but we will not go into details in regards to sandblasting.
This project will be etching our company logo, Provision Coffee (www.provisioncoffee.com), on a circular 4 ft diameter glass. I made it at Techshop Chandler (www.techshop.ws)
Step 1: Acquire Glass and Test Chemical Etching Cream
You will have to source the glass you want to etch. You can get the glass from a hardware store or a local glass manufacturer. The glass I am using is tempered but it doesn't need to be tempered it was just what I had available.
I bought Armour Etch (http://www.armourproducts.com/ecom-catshow/Armour_Etch.html) from a local craft store such as Hobby Lobby (www.hobbylobby.com). The cream will go a pretty long way and I needed just a little over 10 oz to do this project.
Clean the glass with rubbing alcohol as many common glass cleaners have a chemical that prevents streaks but will interfere with the glass etch reaction.
Apply enough of the cream in a small spot that will either be hidden or will definitely be etched later. DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS OR HAVE ANY SKIN CONTACT WITH THE CREAM. The cream will burn your skin so please take care when handling. Using latex gloves when applying the cream is highly recommended and I used a simple craft brush to apply the cream. You do not need to dilute the cream and will need to wait about 10 mins after the cream is applied.
Wipe away the cream with a paper towel and wash the spot with water. If there is a visible etch, then continue to step 2. Otherwise, you will need to acquire another type of glass. Apparently some glass manufacturers will include certain chemicals that will prevent the cream from etching so be aware not all glass will work and etch results will vary.
Step 2: Creating and Importing the Design
Now you will select what design to etch. We used our company logo to etch in a VECTOR format. The vinyl cutter will not be able to cut the design without a vector image so make sure it is a vector.
Our logo was scanned from a hand drawing so it took a while to prep the graphic for cutting. Depending on your design, you may need to do some adjustments so the vinyl cutter will properly read and cut the design.
When you import the file to the vinyl cutter, double check that it imports your file correctly and the cut lines are being properly recognized.
Step 3: Setting Up the Vinyl, Test Cutting, and Cutting the Design
I bought OraMASK 813 stencil film for this project and a roll big enough (48") to fit the entire design. I decided to use this type of vinyl since this vinyl is designed to be used as a mask, it has transparency, and a non-permanent adhesive. I would probably use an outdoor vinyl if you intend to sandblast as this particular vinyl might not withstand a sandblaster.
Once you install the vinyl roll, take care to match the alignment of the roll with the hash marks both in the front and back so when it starts to unroll the design it doesn't get shifted.
I used a 300 mm/s speed and 180 g pressure setting but these numbers will likely be different for your setup depending on the blade depth, blade sharpness, etc.You will need to test the design on a small scale cut to make sure the blade is cutting through the top layer but not cutting all the way through the backing. Once you find the right balance in settings, you will be ready to cut your design.
I decided to mirror cut our design since we were going to use this as a table and wanted to keep the design clean by using the opposite side as the actual surface of the table.
Step 4: Weeding the Stencil and Applying Transfer Paper
Once the design is cut you will need to weed the vinyl. Weeding is the process of removing the parts of the stencil that you want etched.
This step is probably the longest and most tedious part of the project. You will need to take care removing the right pieces and going over cuts that were incomplete with an exacto knife.
I used the small roller to push out any air bubbles and then applied the transfer paper to cover the entire stencil and then used the small roller again to make sure the transfer paper adhered to the stencil completely.
Step 5: Applying the Stencil to the Glass and Preparing for Etching
I measured my design on the glass and used a dry erase marker to create demarcation lines so it would be easier to line up the design after we peeled off the stencil from the backing.
You will likely need a few people when you attempt to apply the stencil to the glass to help line up the stencil to your previous marks.
When you start peeling, make sure it is picking up all the different parts. I'm not sure if there is an easier way to apply the stencil but we just eyeballed to match up the lines with the stencil perimeter; it wasn't perfect but it was good enough.
Afterwards I went over the stencil again to remove air bubbles and go over the edges with the Lil Chizler. You don't need to remove all the air bubbles but the edges will need to be tight to prevent bleeding.
Step 6: Brush and Apply Glass Etch Cream
Wearing gloves, I generously applied the cream to the exposed areas. I initially was going to do a section at a time but the etching cream is pretty lenient and you can leave the cream on for a long time so I decided to do the whole stencil at one time.
I initially also assumed that the longer you leave the cream on, the deeper the etch. However it looks like it only really reacts with the top layer as there wasn't much difference in depth despite the varying lengths of application time.
The cream is very odious so I would recommend doing this in a well ventilated area or outside.
Finally, be careful not to expose any of the cream to your skin as it will burn you.
Step 7: Wash Off Etching Cream and Removing Stencil
So this part was pretty fun and straight forward. I carefully leaned the glass against a wall and lightly washed off the etching cream with a hose. Once you rinse off all of the etching cream, simple remove the stencil and you're done!