Many of us have seen etched glass without knowing what it was or how it came to be. Personalized glasses have become increasingly common for drinking glasses and decorative vases.
If you’ve seen this glassware with frosted designs on the side and wondered how you could do it yourself, a good place to start is glass etching cream.
So, what is glass etching cream and what are the best ones to use? Glass etching cream is composed of chemicals that eat away the top layer of glass, creating a matte, frosted look. It’s typically used with a vinyl stencil. The best glass etching creams have a good consistency, are compatible with your glass surface, and work quickly.
In this article, we’ll go over the details of glass etching: how it works, the different methods you can use, the supplies you’ll need, and more. We’ll also provide the best glass etching creams available on the market today.
What Is Glass Etching?
Glass etching is an art form that involves applying a substance to glass in order to remove a thin layer, usually in a specific pattern or design. The substance can be acidic, such as the etching cream we’ll discuss, or abrasive like the sandblasting method.
Glass etching first became popular as a way to frost window glass so you can’t see in while still allowing natural light through. This is used often in settings where privacy and confidentiality are important, such as a bathroom or therapist’s office.
Today, glass etching is used for a variety of projects. Windows, wine and beer glasses, and decorative vases are some of the more common projects seen today. We’ll discuss these more in depth later on.
There are two primary methods to glass etching: sandblasting and etching cream. Each of them has their advantages and disadvantages that we’ll review below, but our focus for this article will be glass etching cream.
Why? Because the etching cream method is easier, cheaper, and more accessible to those looking to try glass etching on a few small projects without taking it on as a full business.
How Does Glass Etching Cream Work?
Glass etching cream is composed of chemicals that, mixed together, eat away at the surface of the glass.
According to Armour Etch, one of the leading brands of glass etching cream, these chemicals are sulfuric acid, sodium bifluoride, barium sulfate, and ammonium hydrogen difluoride.
These chemicals work together to remove a top layer of glass, leaving behind the frosted, partially translucent look that either provides privacy or shows off a unique design.
The glass is still structurally sound, so you don’t have to worry about glass etching weakening the integrity of the glass. The etching cream only applies to the surface.
Using etching cream is even easier on the glass, since using a sandblaster can penetrate much deeper than just a layer of cream.
The longer you shoot the sandblaster at the glass, the deeper it goes, so if you’re not careful you can etch the glass too deep with that method and break or crack it.
Glass etching cream is applied over a vinyl stencil with a brush, left to sit for around 7-10 minutes, then rinsed off. Once rinsed, your design will be done, and your glass art is complete!
Etching Cream Method Vs Sandblast Method
To do any sort of glass etching, you’ll either need to use the etching cream method or sandblast method. First, we’ll review the etching cream method – our favorite and the focus of this article.
The etching cream method is great because it’s simple, quick, and easy for anyone to pick up and do. It’s also cheaper to get started if you’re not sure this is an art you’ll want to do long-term.
The only real downside to the etching cream method is that you won’t go deep enough to add any color or dimension. But if you’re simply looking to add a monogram or cute phrase on the side of a wine glass, you don’t need that anyway!
Here are some easy steps to using the glass etching cream method:
- Put on latex or vinyl gloves, then clean the glass thoroughly with alcohol, water, or glass cleaner. It’s vital that you get the glass as clean as possible, and wear gloves while working, so you can remove any oils, dust, hair, and debris that may be on the glass.
- Dry the glass thoroughly. After cleaning, you’ll want to ensure it’s totally dry. Try using a lint-free cloth to avoid getting more fibers from a paper towel or regular washcloth on the glass while drying.
- If using a self-adhesive vinyl stencil, apply it to your desired area on the glass. If you’re using a regular paper stencil, tape it tightly around all four sides where you want the design to be.
- Place tape (masking or painters tapes work well) along the areas of the glass where the etching cream may go when you rinse. This is important, because if the etching cream runs over other parts of the glass in the rinsing process, it can lead to undesirable patches of partially etched glass.
- Apply your etching cream to the design area of your stencil using a brush. Dab it on to apply the cream – this will help you avoid obvious brush strokes in your etched glass. Once the cream has all been dabbed on, you can brush it smooth.
- Allow the cream to sit for around 7-10 minutes. Most etching cream product labels say it only needs 1-3 minutes, but this is often not enough time to get a distinct design. Take care not to leave it on for too long, or the cream will begin to leak through the stencil and ruin the sharp edges around your work.
- Rinse your glass. Try to keep the running water only over the parts of the glass you’ve taped to protect against any etching cream run-off. You can remove the stencil during the rinse step once most of the cream has washed away. Then rinse thoroughly once the stencil and tape have been removed.
- Dry off your glass, and you should now see your etched design! If using your glassware for eating or drinking, we recommend running it through a cycle in the dishwasher prior to use.
A good tip when using glass etching cream is to save what you can. Once you apply the cream and brush it on to get good coverage, try scraping off the excess and putting it back in the container. This will help your product last longer!
The sandblasting method, on the other hand, involves using a sandblaster to blast the design into the glass.
By blasting the glass with sand, it scratches the glass to eat away at the surface in a similar way that the chemicals do when using etching cream. In both methods, you’re eroding the top, shiny layer of glass and exposing the matte surface underneath.
Sandblasting can create more dynamic designs with the potential for adding color, but most people doing glass etching as a hobby won’t need those extra options.
The problem with using the sandblasting method is that you’ll have to purchase a sandblaster and all the components required to use it. This is certainly not cheap and seems like a huge investment for just making a few personalized wine glasses.
Sandblasting also requires a lot more safety equipment and considerations, whereas with the etching cream you’ll only need gloves, a simple face mask, and a set of goggles.
Supplies For Glass Etching
Now that you know how glass etching cream works, you may be excited to get started on a glass etching project of your own. Below are all the supplies you’ll need to do your own glass etching art!
- Glassware of choice (wine glass, beer glass, vase, etc.)
- Glass cleaner or a spray bottle of alcohol
- Lint-free cloth
- Glass etching cream
- Smoothing tool / hard edge scraper
- Paintbrush (use one with bristles, not foam, as foam brushes give splotchy, uneven results)
- Disposable gloves (latex, vinyl, rubber, etc.)
It’s also recommended to wear a face mask and goggles when using the cream to protect against any chemicals that may get on your face or in your eyes.
You’ll also want to choose your work area wisely. Lay down some newspaper or a drop cloth to protect whatever surface you work on, choose an area that’s well-ventilated, and plan for the sink you’ll be using.
If you plan to rinse the glassware in a sink where you also work with food, like the kitchen sink, make sure to clean the sink after you’re done with all glass etching projects for the day.
Another tool that can be helpful is a Cricut machine. These laser cutters are made to cut out any design you choose. You can choose from their own library of shapes and designs or create your own.
You can also cut the design directly onto a self-adhesive vinyl for easy application. If you plan to do other hobbies that involve custom designs, a Cricut is a great investment!
For an example of how easy using a Cricut makes glass etching, check out this video from Weekend Craftaholic. She shows you how easy it can be to use glass etching cream with a Cricut vinyl stencil in under 5 minutes!
Glass Etching Projects
As we mentioned earlier, some of the most popular glass etching projects today are wine and beer glasses, decorative vases, and windows. People also use glass etching on decorative plates or serving platters. Wine and beer glasses have surged in popularity for glass etching because of their dishwasher-safe quality.
If you want to add a monogram or cute saying to the side of a wine glass, using a vinyl decal means you’ll have to hand-wash the glass only in an attempt to keep the decal securely sealed to the glass.
With glass etching, you don’t have to worry about carefully handwashing or a decal peeling off. The design is permanently etched into the glass and won’t rub or wash away, so it’s safe to run in the dishwasher.
As more people desire custom decorations for weddings and special occasions, glass etching becomes more popular on vases. Some people will have their wedding date, couple initials, or other custom information etched into the glass of the vases that hold their floral centerpieces on their reception tables.
Another popular project for glass etching is an etched candle holder. Many people etch custom designs into candle holders for each season – like pumpkins for the fall or snowflakes for the winter.
Glass etching can generally be done on any plain glass surface. Most etching creams will not work on Pyrex because the glass on Pyrex products has been treated, so keep this in mind when choosing your project.
Glass Etching Cream – Buyer’s Guide
So you know the method, you know the projects you can start with, and you know the supplies you need. But how do you choose the best glass etching cream?
Below are the top three qualities to look for in your glass etching cream. When reading reviews and choosing your product, be sure to keep these in mind.
1. Good Consistency
Some lesser quality glass etching cream products have either a runny or clotted consistency. Both of these are an issue when applying the cream to glass.
If your glass etching cream is too runny, it will run off the stencil and onto other parts of the glass that you don’t want etched. It will also seep underneath the stencil, ruining the outline of your design.
Runny cream also doesn’t etch as deeply because it doesn’t stay in place to eat away at the specific area of glass. On the other hand, some etching creams come with globs and clots. This has the opposite problem since it isn’t quite liquid enough.
If your etching cream is too clotted, it won’t apply smoothly to the glass. This can also result in uneven etching and lost definition of the lines in your design.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for an etching cream that has the perfect consistency. It should be liquid enough to apply easily, but not so liquid that it runs off the glass.
2. Made For Your Surface
It goes without saying that glass etching cream is made for glass. But some people will try to use their glass etching cream on treated or colored glass without success.
This is why it’s important to read the label and make sure your etching cream will work for your specific glass type. Some etching creams will also work on glass items you might not think of, like mirrors.
In general, no etching cream will work effectively on Pyrex products. Some people have had limited success, but it’s not recommended.
Certain brands of etching cream can also work on ceramic and marble, but not all of them. If you plan to try etching on ceramic, make sure your cream is designed to work on that surface.
Some brands can even work on metal or stainless steel, but this is also a surface you want to double check with before choosing your cream.
A good rule of thumb is to decide on your project before purchasing the etching cream. Read the labels and make sure that the product you choose is right for your surface.
Glass etching cream is designed to work quickly. Most instructions will say you only need to leave it on for 1-3 minutes.
Usually, you get better results if you leave it for 7-10 minutes, but the idea is still to get it done in a very small window of time.
If you’re looking at a glass etching cream product that says it will take longer than 15-20 minutes, it’s likely not the type of product you’re looking for.
One of the best things about the etching cream method for glass etching is how easily and quickly it works. If your etching cream doesn’t work quickly, it isn’t right for you.
The 3 Best Glass Etching Cream Products
Using the criteria above, we’ve selected the top 3 best glass etching cream products on the market right now. You can find these online or in your local craft store.
1. Armour Etch Etching Cream
If you look at some online tutorials like this one, you’ll see that Armour Etch is the prevailing product to use for glass etching cream.
There’s a reason for that! Armour Etch is by far the best product on the market. Their etching cream has a great consistency, works on glass, and works quickly.
Armour Etch is the easiest etching cream to find available in stores and online because of its popularity.
You can buy a jar in a variety of sizes, so even if you’re just starting out and don’t want to invest in the bigger size, you can still get a smaller jar just to try.
You can also find it bundled with brushes so you don’t have to buy the brushes separately. Armour Etch will provide consistently good results for all your glass etching projects.
2. Etchall Etching Cream
Another option for glass etching cream is Etchall. This brand is another well-known and popular brand among those who use glass etching cream.
Just like Armour Etch, Etchall has a good consistency and works quickly on most glassware products.
The great thing about Etchall, and why it might be better depending on your project, is that it also works on ceramic, porcelain, marble, and slate.
With the added surfaces that Etchall works with, it opens the doors to more etching projects without buying different kinds of etching cream or trying different methods.
Etchall does tend to be a little more of an investment than Armour Etch, but it works on more surfaces so it’s generally worth it, depending on what you want to do.
3. Silhouette Etching Cream
The last solid option is Silhouette Etching Cream. This brand isn’t as well-known but can still work if you’re looking for another option.
Found sold separately or in a glass etching starter kit, this brand is good for those who are just looking to try out glass etching and see if it’s a hobby they want to invest more time and money into.
Generally, Silhouette can be hit or miss on quality. This is due in large part to shipping and manufacturer supply. Some customers have complained that their bottle came damaged, or the cream inside came clumpy or too liquid.
When it comes in good shape, though, this etching cream works great. We recommend starting out with the starter kit linked above as this can give you a good indication on whether or not this is something you’ll want to dive further into.
Glass etching is a fun, easy hobby that most people can start with little to no practice and a small investment. If you’re someone who learns more by watching than reading, we’ve added this helpful video below.
Sweet Red Poppy gives a great in-depth tutorial on how to etch glass using glass etching cream. She also dives into the common issues that some people run into when it comes to starting off with glass etching and provides easy solutions.
At the end of the day, all you really need to do is gather your supplies and get started. Glass etching cream is popular because it’s so easy and quick to do.
If you want to get started, we recommend getting your supplies and setting aside a couple hours and cheap glassware to try out your new hobby.
Just remember, the best glass etching creams have a good consistency, work well on most glassware, and work quickly. With these qualities in mind, you can’t go wrong.