Etched Glass

Etching glass involves the use of acids and this form of glass decoration is no longer widely used in the UK.  The term Etched Glass is today often incorrectly referred to, instead of Glass Engraving or Crystal Engraving, both of which commonly use abrasives, e.g. aluminium oxide in sandblasting.  Diamond tipped wheels and burrs are used for hand engraving and glass is often engraved on machines or using lasers.

Etched Glass, in the 1920’s, was a fairly popular way of inexpensively producing Glassware with a pattern.  The glass mould was (acid) etched with the design and glass produced from the mould automatically came out with the pattern already embossed.  This was an inexpensive solution to providing decorated Glassware for the masses.

In Victorian Britain, Etched Glass was very popular, in the form of public house windows.  A resist would be made, from waxes and various acids, using various strengths, to ‘mark’ the glass. When one acid had completed its task, it was washed off with water.


 Etched, or engraved curved glass photoframe.

Etched Glass  Today; abrasives are used instead of acid.

Further parts of the resist material were removed and a different acid or strength of acid would be used to make a different part of the design.The variations of acid and acid strengths, would provide different effects in the glass, making up the whole design.

Because Etched Glass requires acids, local councils either refuse to grant licences today, or the price for the licence to dispose of the acid is sky-high.  Lead Crystal, when it has been cut on a cutter’s wheel, is dipped in acid and arguably, becomes Etched Glass.  However, the term for this procedure is more correctly named ‘polishing’.  Instead, Etched Glass refers to making a pattern on glass, as indeed, ‘etched – anything’ involves making a pattern into the material referred to.

A common form of Etched Glass today is on almost all car windows.  Named the VIN number, it refers to the car’s Vehicle Identification Number.  A stencil of the VIN is made and an acid paste is wiped over the stencil.  The VIN is then etched into the glass.  Sometimes this is ineffective, because the windows and windscreen can be removed by thieves and replaced.