What is Chemical Glass Etching Cream?

Written by karen sweeny-justice
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What is Chemical Glass Etching Cream?
You can create many designs with glass etching cream. (laser etched virgo in the glass image by Igor from Fotolia.com)

Traditional glass etching is done with sandblasters that blow thousands of abrasive particles at a piece of glass. This method works for large pieces and duplicate jobs, and is used by commercial glass etching companies for intricate designs and frosted glass surfaces. For do-it-yourself crafters with smaller projects, glass etching cream is ideal. It works well on flat glass surfaces, as well as on dimensional glass such as round or square vases.

Etching Cream Defined

Etching cream is diluted hydrofluoric acid that lightly etches the underlying surface of glass. It creates a matt, etched finish on clear or coloured glass, mirrors, ceramics, porcelain or slate surfaces. Etching cream leaves a white, opaque, permanent etched design and can be used in conjunction with stencils or resists. A resist is a substance that prevents, or resists, the working of the acid in specific areas of a design.

Liquid Version

Generically, etching cream also refers to a fluid acid that is a reusable liquid for dipping glass. Most manufacturers that produce the cream also make a liquid version. Depending upon the size and shape of the project, liquid acid may be the best product to use. It is recommended for larger, uneven shapes like round vases. Using the liquid method requires a large plastic tub or container that is both deep enough and large enough to cover the surface to be etched.

Safety Cautions

Use care when working with sheets of glass. Have them professionally cut or purchase precut glass. Work in a well-ventilated area, and protect your clothing and work surfaces from direct contact with the acid. Should any acid get on your skin, rinse immediately with water. Young children should not participate the actual etching process, but can help with the design.

Adhesive-Backed Resists

Stencilled designs for glass etching can be made with self-adhesive vinyl or contact paper, or with commercially produced stencil films. The acid works on the uncovered areas, so the stencil, or resist, must be firmly anchored on the glass surface. Using a bone folder, rub the stencil to remove any pockets of air that may be trapped underneath; these pockets allow the cream to move into areas where etching is not wanted. Apply cream over the stencil with a brush or dip the entire surface in liquid etching acid.

Embossing Powder Resist

Rubber stamp embossing powder can be used as a resist in conjunction with a project's design. Stamp your image or images on the glass with pigment ink. Apply embossing powder; remove stray powder stuck to areas to be etched. Then heat the glass, melting the powder. Allow the glass to cool completely before applying etching cream or dipping in acid solution.

Finishing a Project

Allow time for the acid to work. Fifteen minutes is normal for a piece of glass, but some surfaces etch faster than others and may be done in three to five minutes. Follow the instructions that came with the product you used. With adhesive stencils, pull the stencil off before rinsing the surface under tepid running water. With an embossed design, the embossing powder will come off with excess etching cream during rinsing. Pour remaining reusable liquid etching acid back into its bottle.

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