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Turn Your Photos into Beautiful Glass Etchings!

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Before printers spewed out photos on paper, photos were printed on glass!

Sure, that sounds like the kind of thing your Uncle Buck would make up, but we’re telling you, it’s totally true.

Just to prove it, here’s a tutorial on how to put your own photos on glass with etching!

It’s a different technique than 19th century photographers used and is as easy as old school iron-on transfers.

The results? They’ll put you on par with the most bad ass of our photo fore-fathers.

Etch Any Photo Onto Glass


Why it’s clearly cool:

Using this technique, you can personalize every glass surface you can think of.

Flat pieces of glass are easy to find and cheap to buy–think craft stores or old frames. If you’re in the mood to get fancy, you can etch on glass jars and the like.

All you need is your favorite photographs and just a little bit of elbow grease (or etching cream!).

What You’ll Need:

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  • Resist paper (we used PNP Blue, available in hobby shops and online)
  • Glass etching cream
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Scissors
  • A strip of cardboard or a popsicle stick
  • Masking tape
  • Clear nailpolish
  • A scouring pad
  • Glass
  • A laser printer or photocopier (inkjet won’t work on resist paper!)

Step 1 – Ditch The Colour

paper-sm Once you have your photo picked out, desaturate it to black & white. This will make it easier to work with and give you a better idea of how the final etch will turn out.

Step 2 – Stamp it Out!

paint-sm The stamp filter in Photoshop does an amazing job of preparing a photo for etching. Since small details won’t show up in the final etching, it’s best to remove them now to make it easier to etch.

You can find it under Filter > Sketch > Stamp. Play with the sliders until you get a high contrast between the whites and the blacks. We used a Light/Dark Balance setting of 4 with a Smoothness setting of 5.

Step 3 – Invert!

paint-smWhen you go to etch your glass, the white parts of the image are the parts that will etch, while the black parts will stay clear. In most cases, you’ll want to invert the image to make a negative for the etching process.

You can find the invert function under Image >Adjustments > Invert.

Step 4 – Print it & Cut it Out

paint-smPrint the image on resist paper like PNP Blue using a laser printer or a photocopy machine. The resist paper will only work with toner. Inkjet printers won’t work.

PNP Blue is a type of resist paper normally used for homebrew circuitboard printing. It makes it easy to transfer toner to other materials like metal or glass to protect those areas from chemical etching creams. You’ll be able to find it in hobby stores and online.

Cut out the image and get ready. Things are about to get hot.

Step 5 – Strike While the Iron is Hot

paint-smYour iron needs to be pretty hot, so turn it up over Acrylic – make sure you leave the steam off, though!

While the iron is heating up, position the resist paper on clean glass – any dust or gunk will make a messy looking etch.

Using steady pressure, iron on the paper. It will adhere to the glass while it’s hot. Work out all the bubbles, moving from the centre to the edge and then let the iron sit on the paper for a minute or two. This will transfer the toner from the paper to the glass.

Step 6 – Peel

paint-smOnce your glass has cooled – and it might take awhile, glass is really good at conducting heat! – carefully peel back the paper.

Step 7 – Touch it Up

paint-smEverywhere the toner transferred is going to be protected from the etching cream. If there were any bubbles or areas that didn’t turn black, protect it by taping it up with masking tape.

For smaller, more detailed areas, clear nailpolish works just wonderfully to protect the glass.

Step 8 – Lay it on Thick

paint-smPop on your rubber gloves and safety goggles! Then, in a well-ventilated area (ah, the great outdoors!), apply a thick later of etching cream over the glass.

Follow the directions on the package, but most creams will take between 6 to 7 minutes to work.

Step 9 – Rinse!

paint-smOnce the cream has been on for a good amount of time, slip the glass under the tap and rinse it squeaky clean!

Step 10 – Scrub!

paint-smOnce all the cream has been rinsed off, remove the masking tape and clean the toner off the glass with a fabric scouring pad. Stay away from the steel wool type of scouring pad as it will scratch the glass.

Step 11 – Admire It!

paint-sm Your finished piece is a work of art! To really make it shine, try to find a nice, brightly lit spot for your new artwork.

Think windows and in front of lightfixtures!

Mix it Up With More Ideas:

 

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  • Etch your photograph in layers: foreground, mid-ground and background. Etch each part on a separate piece of glass and stack them together for a cool 3D effect.
  • Make a window ornament with your fave photo. The sunlight will make it easy to see!
  • Make a sweet party chalice by etching a photo onto a mason jar.
  • Use the resist paper on what it was really meant for – metal! Just be sure to use etching cream made for metal. The steps are the same otherwise, but you might need a little more elbow grease for Step 10 (and maybe some steel wool).
  • Give your framed photos a ghostly halo by etching the print onto the glass and framing it. See our example above!
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