I get a lot of question about my etching process. “Does it come off? How do you carve so deep? Can the goo from the craft store do that? How long does it take you to draw the designs?”
I’m going to attempt to deliver some answers and likely more than you ever knew that there even was to know about the glass etching process in this post series. For starters, lets go with the difference between chemical and abrasive etching. While there are more than two ways to etch glass, every method falls into one of these two categories.
Chemical etching, also known as acid etching, is when an application of acid is used to lightly corrode the uppermost surface of the glass. Pretty simple.
What you’ll see the most are etching creams and baths. Featuring a small amount of hydrofluoric acid as the active ingredient, they are easily found in any hobby store. My go-to acid etching product is Armour-Etch and, like many in the hobby, was my “gateway” etch.
You can do so many cute projects with this right at the kitchen table without any equipment or special gear. It’s inexpensive and easy: you just apply it thickly (as if you were frosting a cake) with a palette knife or popsicle stick, leave for twenty minutes or more, and then scrape off the excess and wash your piece. Ta da! What many don’t realize is that the creams are also reusable! Want projects? I’ve got a Board for that.
The etching baths, popularly known as Dip n Etch, are most widely used by glass bead artists to add a light frosted effect to their creations. Beads and other small objects are ideal because the liquid is packaged in small amounts, and the objects being etched must be suspended in full immersion for several minutes to get the desired effect.
Safety Stuff: Light gloves are recommended but not required, and a dust mask is good to have on hand if you have any respiratory sensitivities. It can get burny in your eyes and nose if you hang around it too long, so get a little air flow going if you can.
There are some very strong industrial acids that are in use, but these are difficult to handle and not recommended for anyone not an experienced professional. Seriously kids–don’t mess with that stuff. It’s what I imagine was in the vat that the Joker fell into.
The drawback to this type of etching is that the results are very light and can often turn out uneven and blotchy depending on your application. (Tip: Through experimentation, I’ve found that doing two applications can help smooth things out and fix some blotchiness–just make sure you resist can stand up to a light rinse in between coats.) In addition, the flat, single-dimensional results mean you are limited to letters and stencil-type designs that have separations between the pieces of the design. Otherwise you just get a big white blob.
My verdict: chemical etching has its place and is a fantastic way to get started, although it may leaving you craving more. Speaking of that “more”—if you like big, loud machines and want to take etching a step further then tune in next time for Lesson 2: Abrasive Etching!