Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Etching Glass

At left: our glass cocktail shaker with etched monogram. Right: Taylor's gift, and us as young woodland varmints.

This post is specifically about a gift for my brother, which he hasn't yet received. But, given that he'd never be caught dead reading this blog, I think it's safe to go ahead and post.

I am and always will be a Stevens, even though I'm also a Morris now. "Team Stevens" happened on day when I talked my brother into letting me go on a run with him, and then our dad asked if he could join us, and then we all forced our mother to come along. It just felt so silly and all-American, going out for a brisk jog with one's whole family. Obviously, Team Stevens was a thing that needed a logo, and once that logo was created, it needed to be on everything. I think I had patches made at some point.

When my brother turned 21, I wanted to put the logo on a beer mug for him, but I couldn't find a company that would custom-etch glass products in such short runs - as in, one. Then I discovered etching cream. It's cheap, it's easy, and it allows you to customize glassware at home. I bought it at Sam Flax, but you can also buy it at Amazon, where the product description reads: "NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CLEANING GLASSES!"

My brother broke his beer mug in his last move, and he asked that I make him a new one. The process is as simple as this:

1. Create your image. You can draw it or use whatever computer program you want - you just need to be able to print it out and trace it. I've used Word in the past, just to print a single 72-point M.

2. Trace your image onto a small piece of clear contact film. (It's really called contact paper. But it's not paper - so in this blog, it is henceforth known as contact film.) I found rolls of contact film in Target's home organization section, alongside decorative shelf-liner paper.

3. Peel off the backing paper, and stick the contact film to your glass. Smooth out any bubbles, and rub the film to make sure it adheres evenly.

4. Use an Exacto knife to carefully cut out your image. Try not to actually score the glass; only use as much pressure as you need to cut through the film. As much as possible, keep your cuts smooth and fluid, rather than short and choppy. Peel off the image itself, so you're left with a negative of the image.

5. Using a cheap paintbrush, brush on a thick coat of etching cream. Leave it on as long as the container's instructions indicate - mine called for five minutes. Rinse carefully with water, and pat dry lightly with a paper towel, ensuring that you don't pull up any of the contact film. (I find that you get a deeper, more even etch by applying the etching cream twice. You'll never be able to cut a stencil exactly the same way twice, so be very careful to leave the film on when you rinse the first time - if it's adhered evenly to the glass, the water shouldn't be a problem.)

6. Finally, apply your etching cream again, wait the prescribed time, and rinse off. This time, you can remove the contact paper and reward yourself with a beer.


  1. Man, I wish I had thought to talk to you in November about this. I wanted to do it for my homebrewing brother in law for Christmas.

  2. Heeeyyy I monogrammed one of Rachel's pyrex dishes like that, except I used the sandblaster here at work. Exact same masking process though.

  3. Oh, yeah - I remember that! That's a good idea, to use etching (or sandblasting, as the case may be if one has ridiculous resources) as a technique for labeling, not just decorating. I should do my pie plates. Did you do Rachel's whole name, or just her initials?

    I wonder how it would look if you brushed the cream on free-hand, calligraphy-style. Probably not sharp enough.

    1. I did her whole name (twice) in an excessively curvy font with really thin sections. If I was going to do it again, I'd pick something much easier to cut free-hand.

      Any sign shop can cut out designs on adhesive vinyl for really reasonable rates, straight from a digital file. If you wanted to do anything in any sort of quantity or intricacy it'd be the way to go.

  4. Wow!! This is one blog that I truly love. This seems so easy, I have been wanting to get into etching. Do you have to have any particular type of glass, or just make sure it is smooth? Thanks again, mamaj.