Etching Glass

Last Thanksgiving, Boy and I celebrated at the home of my brother’s in-laws.  Each side of the dinner table had a few glass bottles filled with water.  On every bottle was etched a word – Gratitude, Peace, Inspire, Love.  After dinner, we each got to take one home.  Since then, the bottle has been sitting on my desk at work, serving as both my go to drinking vessel and a reminder to practice gratitude throughout the year.

And while my bottle says “Gratitude”, it has indeed inspired me as well.  It inspired me to learn how to etch glass at home.  Now, not everyone has access to a sandblaster but if you have a craft store near by, you’ll likely be able to find everything you need to turn out a variety of etched glass projects.


  • Glass bottles, cups, plates, jars, etc. that you want to etch
  • Contact vinyl (I prefer it in white)
  • Contact paper
  • Transfer paper
  • Etching cream (I use Armour Etch)
  • Paint brush
  • Masking tape
  • Pen or sharp pencil
  • X-acto knife
  • Printed designs
  • Gloves and protective glasses (better safe than sorry)
  • Craft mat or lots of newspaper

Getting Your Etch On

Now, if you’re lucky enough to have a die cut machine, you can skip steps one through three.

Step 1

Find the glass thing you want to etch and the design you’d like to use.  Typically, I create or find a silhouette image I want to use and print it out sized to my glass.

Gather your design, vinyl, and transfer paper to get started

Step 2
Layer your design on top of the transfer paper (transfer side down), on top of your vinyl.  With a sharp pencil or pen, trace around the outside of your design.  This will create an outline of your design on the vinyl.

Transfer your design to the vinyl to make a “negative” for your stencil

Step 3

Once your design is on the vinyl, carefully cut out the design with your X-acto knife (with your craft mat or newspaper below it so you don’t cut up your table).

After you make your cuts, you have to make a decision.  Do you want the etched glass to be the negative of your stencil?  Or the positive?  Generally, I go with negative etching so that the design is the etched portion of the glass, rather than the background.

For a negative design, remove the cut outs carefully from the vinyl and discard.  (So for example, in our photos, the mustache and the word “‘stache” would get pulled out leaving everything else around it.)  For a positive design, do the opposite!  Pull off the background, leaving only your positive design stuck to the paper backing.  And if you’re feeling really tricky, you can actually use both pieces if you want a “his and hers” / “positive and negative” / “yin and yang” thing.  Regardless, just remember that anywhere the vinyl is NOT and the etching cream is will in fact get etched.

Step 4

So now here you are with the design stuck to the paper backing.  How do you get it off the paper and onto the glass?  This is where the contact paper comes in.  Peel off the contact paper and stick it right on top of the design, pressing your stencil between the contact paper and the backing.  The contact paper is sticky enough that you can peel the backing off the vinyl, exposing the sticky side of the vinyl.

Vinyl and contact paper – sticky side up

Stick your whole design plus the contact paper onto your glass.  Firmly press it down so that the vinyl really gets on there.  Don’t worry too much about any air bubbles.  As long as the edges of your design are tight and no etching cream can seep underneath, you’ll be good to go.

Now peel off the contact paper with a gentle hand so you don’t accidentally remove or stretch your vinyl.  Use masking tape to cover the glass beyond your vinyl to give yourself a buffer.  I recommend being very generous here.  If you get any drips of etching cream outside of your design, you’ll end up with funky etched drips.  It’s happened to me before and it’s definitely frustrating.

Stencil – check. Masking tape – check.

Step 5

Put on your gloves and safety glasses.  Slather on your etching cream with a paint brush, working quickly and carefully.  You want a thick enough layer so that you can’t see your design underneath the cream anymore.

A generous dollop of etching cream

Make sure to read the instructions on your etching cream to know how long you should leave it on.  Armour Etch says 5 minutes.  Truth be told, I tend to leave my cream on for up to 20 minutes but I like to break the rules.  Use discretion and good judgement when setting your timer.

Step 6

While you’re waiting for your glass to etch, keep an eye out for dripping cream.  Drips are more common if you’re etching a round surface.  When I etch, I tend to rotate my glass to ensure gravity doesn’t get the best of me (although sometimes gravity does win).  In addition to keeping a close eye, wash your paint brush with warm water, being careful not to get etching cream on your skin.

When your timer goes off, rinse the cream off quickly.  I use a gloved finger to help remove the cream from top to bottom.

Once all the cream is off, wash your glass with dish soap and then revel in your etched glory.

Finished Glass Etching Projects



2 thoughts on “Etching Glass

  1. I’ve been trying to find a glass bottle w/swingtop mostly covered with white etching designs to make a gift using xmas lights inside but I can’t find white etching on most of the bottle to hide the wires.

    • I’d recommend buying glass swing top bottles and finding etching cream at your local art supply shop (or here’s the one I use on Amazon). If you coat your bottle with etching cream, let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, rinse it off and then repeat this process until the bottle is as etched as you need, hopefully you’ll have the exact thing you need for your project.

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