Design/Etch By Richard Smith
Questions and Answers Version 9
August 10th, 1998

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Please Note:

If you could check through my previous Q&A pages before you email me with a question it would save me some time! Many of the questions that I have gotten lately I have already answered in previous versions.

If you have an etching question, email me, and I will attempt to answer it here, if I can't, or have no experience in it, I will post it under questions below. My answers are based upon personal experiences. There are many variables to consider when sand etching, I do not guarantee results, and assume that you take appropriate safety precautions when working with glass and sand blasting or acid.

I prefer to use your name, and city, for your questions, but will not include your email address.

Quick links for Version 9: Answers | Questions | Responses | Hint | Useful Links

Answers #9 from me:

From S. St. Croix-Deering, in Ontario:

"I sandblast with a pressure pot and aluminum-oxide. If I attempted to do some work on a piece of plexiglass will this contaminate my aluminum-oxide? I have had people ask me if I would do some wooden signs for them and have told them no because I do not want my sand contaminated with anything other then glass. Am I mistaken? My sand is recycled of course and I even filter it through fine screen mesh, but will the plexiglass get into my sand therefore changing how my sand blasts?"

I don't worry about it, I assume that you aren't going to deep etch? (There by having a greater proportion of plexiglass - although I still don't know if it would change anything.) I etch glass, mirror, plexiglass and pleximirror with the same aggregate, and haven't noticed any problems. I expect that the plexiglass particles would just act like the glass particles that you already have in the AO - eventually they'll just turn to dust. I would agree with you about the wooden signs though, I expect that the wood would sort of act as a cushion between the glass and the aggregate. If I were you, I would change my aggregate (I know it's a big job) between glass and blasting any wood (you might try just silica sand for wood - it's a whole lot cheaper, and with larger aggregate size. Being that the wood is so much softer than glass, the sand will last longer than if you were blasting glass with it).

From L. Christensen:

"I am very interested in sand etching. I started "playing around" with it about 2 years ago. I have now bought a mini bench blaster, and built a booth of my own for larger projects. Anything that I have done, has been through trial and error.( I have learned alot that way) but am looking for any help I can get. If you can offer any hints or suggestions, I would be truly grateful."

I think that the majority of etchers are self taught. It is rather difficult to offer such general help as what you are asking for. Can you ask any specific questions that would help you if you knew the answers?
If you look through (maybe you have already) my 8 updates of my Q&A page, I have answered many different questions for others.

From G. Breault:

"I have always wanted to do some glass etching and it seems like you are pretty up there on the technology. I have see truck and car windows with certain designs etched into the glass and I wanted to do these sorts of things for family members and friends.
I had always thought of a glass etcher as a device that is like a pen attached to a compressor and it has a cutter device that is like a diamond cutter that etches into the glass (these are my thoughts, I have never actually seen one heh). And now I see everyone, including your page talking exclusively about 'sand etching'. How do you go about doing what I need to do and with what tools? It would just be something like etching initials or sailing symbols into my mothers side window on her car etc..."

A thought first: you might want to check with your motor vehicle department, and make sure that etching the car windows in your locale is legal - I know in some places it isn't as it impedes the view.
There are a couple of ways you can do this, a very simple way is to use an engraver with a carbide or diamond tip (these are just like a pen, and the tip is drawn or scraped across the glass by hand). You could also use an electric hand-held engraver - you probably know these as being used to engrave a SIN onto valuables etc., and have a small tip that vibrates - sort of like a very small jack hammer. Come to think of it, you are going to etch car windows, which are tempered - if you use this method, you should try it first on an old car window, and just make sure that it wouldn't break it.

From G. Lutz, in California:

"We need to find the best type of compressor setup. Can you give us some info to keep us from making the mistake of purchasing the wrong equipment?
Screw type or Tank mounted? If screw type, a holding tank?
How large of a compressor for two people to run on it 5 hours a day?
Is a 25 HP Screw type better than a 10 HP tank type? Your preference and why?"

I don't have any experience with a screw type compressor, so I can't really answer your first question very well. A 5 HP piston type (tank mounted) with a 60 gallon tank I have found more than adequate for the etching that I do. I use a 2 HP piston type with a 12 gallon tank for etching on site. The only problem with this one, is that it seldom shuts down when you are etching.
I would suggest that you should go about this in a different way, firstly decide the sand blast unit you are going to use, then get a compressor to fit it. The sand blast unit will have a measure of air usage called CFM (cubic foot measure) check this against the compressor, make sure that you have a little extra, and it should be fine.
By dehumidifier, I assume you mean an air line filter. This is an absolute MUST. Even if you live in a dry climate, I would still suggest that one should have an air line filter - it avoids much frustration. It should be placed on the air line from the compressor as close to the blasting gun end as possible (4-5 feet is fine). This will avoid your aggregate from getting damp, with water that is in the compressed air, and clogging - anyone who has had this happen (me included) will agree with me.

From Mary Coleen:

"I primarily sandblast glass pieces using a photoresist and a pressure pot with silica carbide. I've tried using the same process on acrylic without good results. I find the adhesive does not stick well on the acrylic, causing "blowouts" of detail areas during blasting. Also, the final etch is seldom as deep or consistent as that on glass, even when I think I've thoroughly covered all the open areas in the mask. What can you suggest to improve my results on acrylic?"

I too have had difficulty with photoresist on plexiglas (Photobrasive 3 mil is the product that I usually use). I found that if I glued the resist onto the acrylic and left it a few days before I peeled of the carrier sheet, it would stick better. I also left it a few more days to 'harden' on the plexiglas before I etched it. This, I found would stay on, without blowout.
As far as the etch itself is concerned, I have found that plexiglas is much harder to work with than glass. It takes longer to etch all the areas of the resist, and it takes MUCH longer to deep etch than glass, and I have never tried to deep etch plexiglas with a photoresist - personally, I don't think it would take it. Even using a hand cut resist, 0 size aggregate, and a high pressure, it still doesn't do what you can with glass. I think what is happening, is that the aggregate is bouncing off the acrylic, rather than hitting, and breaking off pieces of substrate as with glass.

From R. Tyson, Seattle, WA:

"I have been trying to find out about acid etching and was thrilled to find your beautifully crafted web page. I have located etching paste in some craft stores in the area, but was hoping that I could just use straight hydrofluoric acid in solution (with all the safety precautions, of course). Do you happen to know what concentration I should use and for how long? I want to frost most of the surface of mason jars. Thanks!

Let me preface this reply with two comments:

1. I have never used hydrofluoric acid for etching glass (although I looked into it early on, I was unable to find a source for it, and decided against it when I found out it was as dangerous as it is).
2. I would NOT suggest anyone use it - especially since sand etching can give the exact same effect, and in my opinion is much safer.

That said, if you are still going to try it, (assuming that you can find it somewhere) there are a couple of things that I would suggest:

Buy or get a loan of the book "The Techniques of Glass Engraving" By Jonathan Matcham & Peter Dreiser, 1982 The Larousse Art Craft Series, Larousse & Co. Inc. NY, New York (ISBN 0 88332 267 6). It has a chapter on etching using hydrofluoric acid, and the precautions that SHOULD be taken. It also covers dilution, and timing. I could give you the pertinent details here, but I think it would be better for you to read the entire chapter.
I did some searching on the web, and came up some other information that I did not know before (a bulletin board for jewelers):

Also the fumes from the acid are extremely poisonous - so if I haven't dissuaded you from using hydrofluoric, acid, PLEASE be very careful with it.

From Malucan:

"I love the art of Etching. I am trying to find information on 3 D etching but am having a hard time finding it. So far I have been doing standard sand blast. If you know where I can find more info please let me know."

I am assuming that with the term 3D etching, you are meaning deep etching? Or do you mean using more than one piece of glass for a built-up mural?
With the former, I too have not found that much information on it, most of what I have learned is through trial and error (mostly many trials).
If you are meaning a built up mural, every image is different. You have to start at the rear most area of your image, and place it on the last piece of glass. The image has to be divided into the number of pieces of glass that you want to make the mural of. You can also divide it so that say a building on one side of the street, is on a pane behind a building on the other side of the street. I would suggest that you should start on paper first, and work all your details out on that (for instance, if you use tracing paper, and draw image over image, it will give you an idea of the finished product before you start your resist work.

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Questions #9 for you:

If you have information, or can answer a question for these etchers, email me, and I will post it in Responses next version.

From T. Barr:

"I have a question I can't seem to find an answer to, wondering if you could help? I do oil painting on glass and would like to have a mirror background. are there any products I could get to make a mirror background? Thank you."

Unfortunately, I don't know of any products to mirror glass. From what I understand, it isn't something that can be done at home - though I could be wrong. A number of people have asked me this, and I don't know where to send them.
There are companies that will silver/re-silver, but they may not be able to silver over oil paint. Come to think of it, I wonder how the mirrors are manufactured that one sees around which have colour printed on the back of the glass, and then mirroring over it. Interesting, I'll have to see... Though probably the same company prints the glass, and mirrors it.
I'll let you know if I find anything, please do the same for me, thanks.

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Responses #9:

From C. Kersey :

"In the question addressed by "From skr in British Columbia: [in update 8] concerning cutting holes in tempered glass, I would like to add that something we do at our studios is blast the holes in the glass first, and then send the panels to be tempered. We have an extremely high success rate (ie., tempering the holified panel doesn't result in frit). This is mostly because of a joint effort on the part of how we blast the hole in the glass, and our wonderfully tempered and talented tempering friends."

From E. Murphy, in Kelowna BC:

"There was a fellow in town who was set up in the mall with a very quiet compressor and large books of reusable stencils of some sort or another. I did not speak with him, but just noticed that he seemed to have catalogs of all his artwork. Perhaps somewhere one can purchase this, thus a lot of stuff could be done without washing etc: and can be re-used also. This fellow was from Penticton BC."

From L. Christensen

"Thank-You for your help, I some how missed your Q&A page before. It answered alot of questions that I had... I found it to be VERY helpful."

From Mary Coleen:

"I had a feeling that was the answer [about the plexiglas - see above] but I was hoping there was a trick of some kind. I also found that the carrier could be easily removed [from the photoresist] if I placed the acrylic piece in the freezer for 10 or 20 minutes. I have checked out your site. If you have a mailing list, can you put me on it? Thanks."

What a neat idea, I'll have to try the freezer thing!

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Hint #9:

I have found that having a dark background behind the glass that you are trying to etch, makes it easier to see the thin areas, and where you should etch some more.

If you have a hint that you would like to pass on to others, you know what to here.

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Useful Links #9:

If you know of a link to a website or suppliers dealing with some aspect of glass etching, email me, and I will post it here next update. Some interesting links I have found since the last update:

Chris Kersey of Kersey Glassworks has informed me that he has a new section of his glass etching site. His Resource Center has tutorials, and a bulletin board for posting questions of hot and cold glass problem/comments.

Jayme Sanders has sent me a copy of his catalogue for TroFeo Krystal glass blanks. His address is: Texas Jade Glass Works, Inc. 6209 Fallbrook, Garland, Texas 75043 Tel (972) 203-5863 Or, via email at:

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