Design/Etch By Richard Smith Questions & Answers

The purpose for this section of my site: To answer some of your questions and to collect some answers from you in return.
Get your views on my methods - whether you agree or not :-)
Let others know about your good (or bad) experiences from equipment, suppliers, materials.
To offer helpful hints and useful links to web resources about etching and glass.
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! I still get questions that 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 etching or acid.

I may edit questions/responses for space. - I do appreciate hearing back from you whether my comments and suggestions are helpful or not.

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Answers #13 from me:

While I do try and email people that have specific questions on etching, I really don’t have the time to answer questions like many I am getting lately:

“I'm interested in learning how to do mirror etching, could you help me.”
“Please tell me how to start etching glass, and what equipment I need.”

I have plans to write a couple of instruction booklets sometime in the next year or so, just go through my Q&A updates to find answers to questions like these - Thanks.

From S. Schuler:

"Could you tell me more about etching on tempered glass. How deep, what kind of abrasive, because I am used to deep carving. Also would the customer be happy with this, in your experience. I have never blasted a piece of glass then had it tempered, what are we talking about as far as cost. My project is a peacock with very intricate design. I know we live in different parts of the world but what would you charge with installation. Thanks again, “

If you are etching a tempered piece of glass, you can only etch the surface - the finer the etch (the grit size you use) the better, the deeper the etch goes, the weaker the piece becomes, to the point that it will become weaker than untempered glass. Glass is greatly stressed by the tempering process - one glass supplier told me that the molecules are pulling against each other, and the outside of the glass is what is keeping it together, hence when it does break, the reason for falling into those little 'crystals'.
I usually use Silica sand 00 or 000, because a door will be to large to fit in my booth (to save the more expense aggregate). If you are going to deep etch the piece, the only way to go is to have it tempered afterwards. I don't know what the cost would be on it, as the tempering places around here won't do it after it is etched because they don't want to take responsibility for possibly breaking it. But I have heard of tempering companies that will temper after the piece is etched. I would contact some local architectural glass suppliers and find out from them if they know of any that would temper afterwards.
To answer your question on pricing, I find it difficult to put a price to somebody else's work. How I figure a cost, is to look at the image, figure how long it will take me to complete, then multiply the hours times what I charge per hour (I usually figure on $20 per hour - but I know some etchers charge up to-$60 per hour). Add my materials cost, and installation, and arrive at the price. I don't (though many people/places do) figure on an extra xx% for profit.

From G. McDonald in Ontario:

"I'm not familiar with clear plexiglass it similar to safety mirror? What thickness is it available in...what do you recommend? Is it available anywhere(glass shops)?“

Plexiglas mirror is Plexiglas that has a mirror backing on it. It is available in 7 different thickness’ from 1/16" to 1/4". The thickness that you will use will be determined by what you are going to use it for. Personally I wouldn't go thinner than 1/8", and I would only use that for small panels - 2'x2' and under, as it is quite flexible - the same as Plexiglas. Most glass shops can order in plexiglass mirror, but your better bet is to get it from Laird Plastics (they have offices across Canada & US).

From T. Hammond:

"Could you please provide any info, esp. links, on sources of sand blasting supplies, including the sandblasting equipment itself?
Although I reviewed your list of links, I did not see any which seemed that they'd address the sandblasting equipment itself.“

I know of 3 links to blasting equipment - though I'm sure there are plenty.

I was sent this one:
I use the San-Blast line sold by Truman's, Inc in Canfield Ohio (they have some technical information on their website, and a complete line of siphon/pressure guns in their catalogue)
And Armor Etch has blasting systems.
Rayzist and PhotoBrasive also sell complete blasting booths if that is what you are looking for.

“Were I to locate a gun locally, will the tips sold by most vendors be generic enough to fit on most 3rd party guns? E.g., is there any uniformity in threading sizes which might permit purchase of a gun locally, and then fitting it with smaller tips to provide for lower volume, high-pressure spraying?”

Most guns have their own tips the two different brands that I use, each tip cannot be interchanged. The San-Blast siphon gun has a set screw that holds in the tip. Their pressure system uses a tip held on by a nut.
If you can get a gun that will use ceramic tips (nozzles) the ceramic (while about twice the price of steel) will last 5-6 times longer, so actually it is cheaper... And if you want to really have them last, get a carbide nozzle.

From Steve in England:

"I wish to start making my own stencils, who do you recommend?“

I have had good results with both PhotoBrasive Image Pro resist and Aicello Photo Mask APM Film "Here in the UK there are agents for Rayzist stencils, have you used them and are there any others.“

Rayzist, is very similar to PhotoBrasive's product - about the same price too. The other company that I know of: APM out of Japan - I have used their films, and am very impressed with it (the big difference is that a sponge can be used to wash out the resist rather than just a spray unit - really neat if you just have a few to do, and like me don't have the spray unit set up all the time). Personally I found that the glue that APM uses is very difficult to use (it is supposed to be re-positionable, but it is very difficult to get a thin layer, and hence is harder to etch off) but I did find that the Photobrasive glue will work well with the APM resist.
"The equipment for making them using Rayzist is approx £1100 here in the UK. That includes a UV box and Timer, wash-booth and dryer. This seems very expensive for what it is. Apart from making my own, (which I suppose is also possible) are there any other ways of getting the equipment?“

Yeeks!! That's expensive!! Allot of glass to etch just to cover the expense. I guess it depends how much you are going to use the resist. Yes it is very possible to make your own - I did it - the exposure light here sells for about $350 plus shipping - I made it for about $80. A washout booth, I just hang some plastic around a large sink, and spray away - make sure that you use a piece of mirror to clip the resist to when you are washing it out, it makes it much easier to see when it's done. Dryer - is a hair dryer, works well.
The above method gives you a chance to try it out with out spending a mint, and then finding that photostencil's not really the way you want to go.

From Connie:

"I've just started out doing glass etching with a siphon sandblaster and I would like to know what is the best resist to use for carved etchings. And do you know where I might get some good pattern books for glass etching for both single stage and three stage sandblasting. Thank you so much for your help. :-)“

I would suggest using one of the rubber or vinyl resists available. Personally I prefer the vinyl (easier to work with) but the rubber one will take much more blasting. For stage blasting, you can use just ordinary shelf vinyl (contact paper it is called - use 2 layers if you need) - it helps to draw out the pattern first, with a couple of different colours to represent the different stages of blasting. I don't know of any good books that have patterns for single stage and three stage etchings in them. I did get a book 15 years ago, but never used any of the patterns in it - I felt they were all so immature looking that I didn't want to waste my time on them... I would suggest that you make your own - they will be much more satisfying, and also uniquely yours.

From P. Zawislak in Saskatchewan:

"I am looking for ideas to create a design for a large piece of glass to go into our home between and an archway. It has to be subtle and opaque to block the view of a bathroom behind the archway. Where do I find design ideas?“

Just about any design can be converted into an etched image. To make it opaque, there are two different things that you could do.
1. Etch both sides of the panels: have your image etched on the face, and just solidly etch the rear surface of the panel, so that it can't be seen through. You will be able to see shapes if there is a window behind the panel.
2. Do a two stage etching, so that your image is etched first - deeper and coarser - remove the remaining resist, and etch the rest of the panels just so that it is opaque.
What I suggest to people looking for design ideas, is to go to their local library - if you like flowers, look through some different books, and get some ideas, and concepts from the photos. Then take "artistic license" and make your design - it doesn't have to look exactly like the photo, just the general idea.

From Karen in Minnesota:

"I used Armour Etch Cream to etch onto my glass. It seemed to run a bit so now I have a few smudges. Is there any way to remove the etched glass at all? Thank You.“

Unfortunately, once the glass is etched with the acid cream, there is no way of removing the etch.
Another thing you could try is to re-cover the etch with vinyl, cut out areas where the smudges are, re-etch, and incorporate the smudges into the design - though this might be impossible depending upon the design etched.

From Wally at AOL:

"Is there any paper that you can stick on glass and it will look like is etched?“

There is a vinyl available that replicates the look of etched glass - most vinyl lettering companies, or glass stores will have it available - check your yellow pages for a local company.

From J. Weers:

"I was wondering if you could tell me how to go about etching some designs on my pickup truck windows. I work in the autobody field , so I have an air compressor and a sandblaster. So I was hoping you might know what kind of sand, the amount of air pressure and where I could find stencils. I'd appreciate any information you can provide me.“

A couple of suggestions to start with:
1. Check with your local department of transportation, and just make sure that it is legal in your jurisdiction to do the etching - I know that some places are quite sticky as to what can and can't be done on vehicle windows.
2. Get an old window from a car, and try your hand at etching it before you actually start on your truck's windows.
3. You should just do a surface etch on the glass - don't go too deep, as it'll weaken or break the window.
Is your sand blaster a siphon or a pressure system? If it is a siphon, you should be able to use 40 - 70 PSI with no difficulty. If it is a pressure system, you should try it on a lower range - both these are dependent upon the stencil that you use - if you get a pre-cut stencil, follow their directions (pre-cut are available from many glass craft stores). Another way for you to get stencils, is to have a vinyl signage company cut them out for you, then you stick them on the glass, and etch - though as you probably know, you should cover any glass that you don't want etched (even with paper), as any overspray will etch uncovered areas. I have used the vinyl that is cut for signage with 80 PSI from a siphon blaster with no break down of the stencil (40 PSI from a pressure system). As far as sand is concerned, I would suggest using a grit size of between 100-200, with 120 probably being a good size - Magnesium Oxide works well, and is almost 1/4 the price of aluminium oxide. You could also use sand, or whatever you use for the bodywork - just as above try it on a piece of glass first, and make sure it's what you want it to look like.

From P. Sistrunk:

"Please tell myself the best way to cut acrylic glass in pieces of 10 by 12 sections, with out breaking the glass. Thanks."

The best way is to use a many toothed carbide tipped saw blade, on a table saw, or radial arm saw. Next best is a plywood saw blade, and finally it can also be done with a hand saw - again, the finer the tooth the better the cut. It should be cut before the protective covering is removed from the Plexiglas, and the cuts can be cleaned up by using a sharp hand plane, or a file. You have to be careful in cutting the pieces, that both sides of the cut are supported - otherwise when too much weight goes onto the piece that you are cutting off, it will snap the final bit.

From Andrew:

"Can you tell me where I can buy good black and white clip art for sand blasting, It takes me forever to clean up color art work on my computer. I am looking for animals all types ocean animals also.
Thanks for your time, great site......................."

Try contacting Arthur Montpetit He is a glass etcher in Ontario Canada that was putting together a CD of etching images for sale - I haven’t seen them, so can’t say what they look like.

From R. Al-Akash, in Amman, Jordan:

"I'm looking for a special kind of mirror, mirrors that can change body shapes, Short, Tall, thin or fat.
I want to use those mirrors in an amusement park (mirror room) for entertainment."

I don't know of any special mirrors that are sold for this purpose, but there may be. I suggested to another person that was looking for something like this to try and use 1/8" plexiglass mirror, and bend it - a concave bend will make the image short/thin and a convex bend will make the image tall/fat. Laird Plastics is a nation wide supplier in the US, but don't know if they have any overseas offices.
Hope that will help you some. You might even want to try and email Laird Plastics, and see if they have any other solutions.

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Questions #13 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 M. Crawford in Ireland:

"Thanks for putting the time into your web site, but do you know of any other etch creams besides armour etch and etchall ? Thanks”

Unfortunately, I don't know of any others - sorry...

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Responses #13:

From G. Suggs in Cullman, Alabama:

There is a company in Florida, ART ON GLASS is the name of it, just type that name on your search engine, they have sandblasting equipment, resist, vinyl cutters with computer programs starting at around 2500.00 dollars (US), vinyl cutters alone are much cheaper, stencils, books and video tapes, the phone number for this company is 1-800-583-0071

From Debbie in Australia:

"I operate a small business in Stained Glass, Leadlights & Mirror Resilvering. I notice that a number of people are interested in resilvering their old mirrors. I would suggest to them to leave it to the professionals.
Besides being very costly (chemicals) for the do it yourself at home, there are very high risks involved (explosions) if you don’t know what you are doing. There are too many complications with resilvering & I guess that’s why they're aren’t many of us around."

From D Cross:

"The glue used for glue chipping is called "Rabbit Skin Glue". It is available from any 'proper' art supply store. To use it for glue chipping glass follow these steps:

* Use a vinyl masking film that has been cut and weeded by hand or computer plotter, apply your design cut in reverse to the rear of the piece of glass or mirror that you wish to chip.
* Give the piece a light sandblast to remove the 'gloss' off the glass.
* Apply two thin pieces of plastic about 5mm square down the edge of two sides. These are the 'rails'.
* You need to melt the glue the same way you melt chocolate. Tip the glue into an old pot or tin and sit that tin in another pot full of water. Heat the water until the glue melts, and gets to around 70 degrees Celsius. You can measure this with a turkey thermometer..
* When the glue is melted CAREFULLY and QUICKLY pour it onto the glass on top of the resist. Get a scrap piece of plastic or timber and drag it down the rails you applied earlier. This gives you an even coverage of glue over the glass.
* Set aside and wait for the glue to 'gel'. It will dry similar to latex. When this happens get an exacto knife and carefully cut around the edge of the vinyl resist. Remove the glue that is sitting on top of the resist so that you only leave glue sitting on top of the sandblasted glass.
* The dried glue in 'latex' form can be remelted and reused.
* Sit the glass outside in full sun and wait for 12 hours or so!
* When the glue dries it contracts, and will randomly rip out scallops of glass in a feather pattern. Be careful, they are sharp. The length of time this takes depends on how hot it is.
* Another method it is get a garbage bag full of those little beads that you get inside your new shoes to absorb moisture. If you can get a whole bag full, you can seal the glass inside and the beads will absorb all of the moisture speeding up the process.

Well I hope that answers all your questions. Happy chipping."

From D Duquet - on scratches:

“Before you try something drastic or consider trashing your project. consider this technique.
Clean the scratch with Acetone or Isopropyl Alcohol before treating the scratch. Whatever you use give it time to evaporate.
Fill the scratch with clear fingernail polish, acrylic enamel type, and shave off the excess with a razor blade.
I have used this procedure on scratches up to a 1/4" long by 1/32" deep with good results.
Clean the treated glass with Windex only. The fingernail polish may dissolve using other cleaners.
For shallow scratches use Krylon clear acrylic spray. Spray the Krylon into a small container and use a fine tip paintbrush to fill the scratch(es) and remove excess with a razor blade. This technique will work on long shallow scratches. Clean the treated surface with Windex, or other cleaner that will not dissolve the acrylic.”

From D Duquet - For Sunil in Dubai, UAE:

“To remove finger stains, spray the effected surface with Acetone and wipe with an absorbent cotton cloth. I use baby diaper, the old fashion kind. Protect everyone from overspray when using Acetone.”

From Donna - in New Jersey:

“I read that a couple people are looking for a product that will "seal" sandblast etching. I've experimented with several things and by happy accident I discovered that tile grout sealer works well. It has a skim milk consistency. You would put some on a clean rag (preferably a dead t-shirt) and rub a thin coat on the etched areas. It's a silica based product and adheres well and doesn't "clear" out the frosting like the lacquers do. Since it's made to last for at least 5 years in a shower, it holds up well. Glass cleaner does not affect it once it's dry.
Also, for scratch removal- cerium oxide (jeweler's rouge) and a felt tip dremel bit work OK, but this creates a distortion in the glass that may be worse than the scratch. I agree with you that it's better to avoid them.”
From J. Evans - in Johannesburg. Rep of South Africa:

Please do not think me "picky" but I would just like to point out a very small error in your pages. Your description of "Plexiglas" describes "Lexan" as an unbreakable form of "Plexiglas". This is incorrect. "Plexiglas" is an acrylic (Polymethylmethacrylate) sheet and "Lexan" is a polycarbonate sheet and they are very different. ("Lexan" is just General Electric's registered trade name for their polycarbonate sheet - as is "Marguard")
I trust that you will take this small correction in the manner in which it is meant - assistance - not criticism.
Congratulations on a very informative site.

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Hint #13:

The blasting booth that I made, has Plexiglas windows on the front - easy to replace once they get etched... To make them last much longer, I place a piece of thin plastic sheeting on the inside of the window, this will absorb most of the etch from the abrasive, instead of etching the window.

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 #13:

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 suppliers for glass etching:

From G. McDonald in Ontario:

"I have a selection of Marvel rubber etching stencils for sale. Anyone interested in getting some or all of them, please email me - thanks."

From E. Rohde in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin:

Egress Etch makes large (and small) stencils for almost any application. We have many designs and do custom stencil work as well. Our stencils are different in that you choose the image you like and we enlarge or reduce the stencil to suit the dimensions of your project. Our business is to provide "ready to etch" stencils to the glass trade, independent artists and art glass shops.
We are a retail distributor of Etchall Etching Crème and have a special Egress Etch signature product called "Stencil Slide" which allows for easy placement of large stencils prior to apply etching chemicals or sand blasting.
We use a state of the art vinyl cutter that can cut up to 48 inches wide in lengths up to 10 feet. Even wider etchings can be made by "booking stencils" side to side. The equipment we use to cut stencils provides for extremely clean lines and great detail.
Our catalog is free to anyone who e-mails their address to us. We have a new catalog coming out soon and invite anyone interested in the beautiful art of etching glass to email us for a catalog. Thank you.

From Albert Lewis, at Art in Architecture Press:

Exciting news: Albinus Elskus' "The Art of Painting on Glass," which has long been recognized as the best book on glass painting ever published, is being reprinted! It'll be available in mid-March.
Take a look at

From AAASuper:

A supply store for anyone sandblast etching, acid etch, or sand carving glass. Products are supplies, equipment, stencils, designs, patterns, on disk, instructional books and video tapes, vinyl cutter, sign making plotter, software, blaster, resist, etc

'Til next time, then, Good luck, and Happy etching!

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