Glass Etching Tips

Today I’m sharing some project tips for our Glass Etching Party. Etching glass is fun and a great party project, but it can be a bit tricky. I learned a lot when testing our Glass Etching Party Plan through lots of trial and error. I made some big mistakes that provided a good learning opportunity. Fortunately, those mistakes let me to some good success as well. Here’s what I learned and some tips and tricks to help your glass etching project and party be successful. 

Beware of the Variables

There are many variables that can affect how success your glass etching project turns out. These variable include, but are not limited to: 

  • The type of glass you use.
  • How flat or curved the etching surface is.
  • The types of stencils you use.
  • How much etching cream you use.
  • How long you leave the etching cream on.

Managing these variable as best as possible will help your projects be more successful. Here’s some tips and tricks on how to do this. 

Glass Thickness Counts.

Not all glass will etch the same. Thinner glasses like wine glasses tend to be easier to etch. Thicker glasses like jars or pilsner glasses are a bit tougher to etch, with the etching showing up lighter. It’s important to keep this in mind when deciding how much you want your etched image to show. If you want the image to be more visible, consider choosing a thinner glass. You want to use a healthy amount of etching cream to create a more visible image. But it doesn’t always work to use more. Your best chance for success is to choose the right thickness of glass for the outcome you want and again, add a generous amount of etching cream making sure the design surface is covered with a thick layer of cream. 

Design size and glass curvature matters.

The size and curvature of your glass makes a big difference in how your project will turn out. Smaller, simpler designs and stencils work better with curved glasses as you have a smaller surface to work with. Larger stencils on curved surfaces are tricky because you may not be able to smoothly apply the whole stencil. This could distort the design. This is why I opt to use smaller stencils on wine classes or other curved drinkware glasses and save the larger stencils for larger, flatter pieces. 

You can use both small and large stencils on flatter surfaces, such as pilsner glasses, mugs, or plates. Both simple and intricate designs with lots of pieces are fine for flat surfaces. 

Skip the adhesive stencil plastics if you are making your own stencils.

I tried adhesive stencils plastic several times and honestly, it was a hot mess. At first, I hand-cut my stencil and applied it directly to the glass. My design was a simple star, which was I chose so I didn’t have many fine details to transfer while making the first sample. This didn’t matter as the stencil plastic was too thin and difficult to place on the glass. I even tore a corner of the stencil and had to try to piece it back together. The plastic would not stick enough to make a tight seal around the design image so I was afraid that the etching cream would leak under the stencil, ruining the design. I eventually took the whole stencil off and threw it in the trash. 

For the next attempt, I tried using transfer tape with the stencil plastic again, did not succeed. The plastic tore when removing transfer tape and preferred to stick to the tape instead of the glass. I threw the second stencil in the trash. 

Third time was the charm. I tried removable vinyl and transfer tape and it worked great! The vinyl was thick enough not to tear when removing the transfer tape and created a strong stencil that would seal around the edges so the etching cream could not seep under the edges. I used my Cricut Maker to create the stencil and used transfer tape to move the image from the cutting mat to the glass. I found the vinyl and transfer tape work exceptionally well if you are using a die cutting machine to make your own stencils. You can also use vinyl and transfer tape if you are drawing your own design. I didn’t try this, but the vinyl seems thick and stable enough to hand-cut.  Transfer tape is essential when using a vinyl stencil as it will allow you to transfer all the delicate pieces of your design and keep them in place while adding the stencil to the glass. You can find removable vinyl and transfer tape in the die cutting machine section at your craft store. 

Please note, not all transfer tape is made equally. Look for standard grip transfer tape. I initially used strong grip transfer tape and had a hard time getting the tape off the vinyl stencil when applying it to the glass. Standard grip tape works better. You can also stick the tape to fabric or clothing first before applying to the stencil to reduce some of the stickiness. 

How to Use Transfer Tape to Add Your Stencil

Cut your stencil with large margins on the outside of the design. This will give you plenty of room to slather on the etching cream on your design and not outside where you don’t want any etching. I found that using a 1” border around the design was helpful. 

Fold down two corners of your transfer tape before adding it to the vinyl stencils. This will help you pull the tape off quickly. 

If designing your stencils on a die cutting machine, cut a paper template of your design first to test the size and scale. Paper is much cheaper than vinyl, so I find it helpful to finetune the size of my design with a paper template first before making the final cut in vinyl. 

Project and Safety Tips

Only use your stencil once during etching. I tried rinsing off a second coat of etching cream to get a deeper edge on a thick glass and the cream bled under the stencil, distorting the final design. I should have only added one coat to the design. 

Plan on letting the etching cream set longer than what the bottle recommends. I let the etching cream set 15-20 minutes compared to the recommended time for a better etched image. 

Use lots of etching cream. Slather it on. Dab it on. Add several coats as evenly as you can. Just make it thick and cover as best as you can. 

Use a bristle brush to apply the cream, not a foam brush. The bristle brush will allow you to dab or “stipple” the cream on for a thick application. 

Always, always, use rubber gloves and consider protective eye wear. Safety is a big priority when doing this project since you are working with an acid-based cream. 

A toothbrush or foam brush is handy to wipe off the etching cream during rinsing. Both of these have excellent textures to help get off any etching cream that is remaining. 

An old towel is handy to work on. During one of the test run, I broke a glass because it slipped out of my hand (hey, damage happens!). The next time I tested things, I worked on top of an old towel, which cushioned things, kept my work surface clean, and was available to dry the glass after rinsing. 

One of the best sources for glassware is the dollar store. I stocked up at my local store on some fun glassware for this project. I also reused a salsa jar to first test the etching cream. When you are at the dollar store, don’t forget to look for small bristle brushes for this project. 

Buy extra glassware. Glass etching doesn’t always work the first try, so plan on an extra glass or two per person for your party

I prefer to host this party project in a home setting or small group in a studio with running water. With the safety precautions needed using the cream, I like to be in a setting where you can monitor participants, making sure they are being safe while using the cream. 

I only do this project with older, responsible teens and adults. You’ll want guests who are old enough to understand and are willing to do what’s needed to safely make the project. 

I hope these tips help you have fun and make some great etched glass pieces! Hopefully, what I’ve learned will help you be successful with your glass etching projects. Want to make this project with friends? Check out the Etching Glass Party Plan. This plan includes a project instruction sheet and a plan and my best tips on how you can host your own glass etching party. You can find out more information here. Let me know, too, how your project comes out, too. 

Happy Creating!