What Is the Difference Between Etched Glass and Frosting?

Updated February 21, 2017

Etched glass refers to glass with a surface that has an etched design or pattern, accomplished by scraping off a layer of the glass's surface, or by applying an abrasive or acidic substance. Typically, artists apply etching to glass after it is cast or blown. Frosted refers to the appearance of the surface after etching, which is no longer transparent, but frosty in appearance. Artisans use etching to make signs from glass pane windows, customise bar glasses by adding surname initials, and applying designs to glass mirrors.


Non-frosted glass is transparent. Frosted glass is not transparent and has a white appearance. Frosting refers to the process of changing the surface of glass to achieve a frosted appearance, often used interchangeably with the term "etching." Common uses for frosted glass include bathroom windows and shower enclosures, where the goal is to obscure the view yet let in light.

Etching Cream

For hobbyists, etching cream purchased at craft stores allows them to etch glass at home. When applied to a glass surface, the acidic etching cream removes a layer of the glass, giving it a frosted look. Artists manipulate the effects of etching cream by strategically applying to glass, typically using stencils. For example, when affixing a flower stencil to a sheet of glass and painting in the cutout area with etching cream, the end result produces a frosted-looking flower on the sheet of glass.


Sandblasting is one method used to etch glass. This involves blasting the glass surface with sand. As the sand hits the transparent surface, it scratches the glass, giving it a frosted appearance. By manipulating the sandblasting, applying more pressure to some areas and keeping the sand from other areas, the artist can chisel the surface of the glass, creating a 3-D design. The frosted areas of the finished product are those areas that are no longer transparent.

Etched Decal

Some vendors sell etching decals, which gives glass the look of frosted etched glass without applying an acid or abrasive and removing a layer of the glass. The etched decal, made of adhesive vinyl, has transparent and frosted areas. An etching decal is an option for a shop owner wishing to transform a window into a sign without permanently altering the window.

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About the Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.