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Chemical Etching
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Chemical Etching

Instead of sandblasting the glass, there is a chemical process that will produce similar results to sandblast surface etching. Advantages of this process are that it is easy and simple and doesn’t require the equipment for abrasive etching. A beginner can produce etched glassware and small flat pieces of glass and mirror with no experience. Disadvantages of the process are that the etch produced by the chemical is not as strong or as bright and white as the blasted finish. It is also not as consistent as the blasted finish, with possible streaking and splotching of the finish.
Example of one type of etching creme and dipping solution.

Of course, the etching chemical (generally called etching creme at hobby shops) cannot cut into the glass, so you can’t carve the glass like you can with blasting. This means either single stage or multi-stage carving. You can’t do the shading technique with etching creme, either. So using chemical etching is much more limited than blasting, but it can get you started doing small surface etchings right now, at a very low expense. Sometimes, beginners and hobbyests start with etching creme, then move on to blasting.

In addition to the thick creme compound, there is now available a very thin etching liquid intended for fosting round objects. Things like perfume bottles and other bottles can be put into this liquid for frosting. This liquid can also be used over a blasted finish to make the blasted finish “fingerprint proof”, since handling blast etched glass can discolor it with fingerprints in some situations.

To use the etching creme, simply prepare a design the same way you would for abrasive blasting, then apply the creme according to the manufacturer’s instructions, clean it off after the prescribed amount of time and you are finished. Total amount of time required for the etching itself is from 2 to 10 minutes. To review the instructions for preparing a design for blast etching, see the page “How do you etch glass?”.

There are a few different chemical compounds available, under different brand names. If you want to do chemical etching, be sure to check out the more expensive compounds. The extra cost is more than made up for by the fact that they are re-usable, drastically reducing the cost per use of the compound. Something else to look for is a compound that is environmentally friendly, which may cost more, but is well worth it if you are concerned about the environment. Check for these etching compounds at your local stained glass shop or hobby shop.

*Note: Do not confuse using etching creme with traditional acid etching, which is done with hydrofluoric acid. This is an extremely dangerous acid and should NEVER be used by anyone who has not had extensive training. We have been personally acquainted with 3 people who have come in contact with only a drop or two of this acid and who have almost lost fingers or hands as a result. In addition, it is classified as a hazardous material and must be disposed of in a waste site for hazardous materials, a very expensive proposition.