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What is an “etched glass.”

The simple answer to this question is “a decorative technique which is used primarily to create patterns and designs onto glass”, But it is so much more than this.

The great glass website dates this process back to Murano in 1549 when Vincenzo D’Angelo introduced diamond-point engraving, but it was in Sweden in 1771 that Acid etching was discovered by a Swedish chemist and in 1857; Benjamin Richardson patented the artistic surface etching of glass using acid for decorative purposes.

Gaining popularity in the mid-1850s in the UK, etched glass was used extensively and viewed as a luxury material, and we can still find examples of this type of glass in hotels such as Claridges today.

How are the patterns created?

Originally, animal fats were used to mask the clear areas of the glass; hydrochloric acid was then poured onto the surface and allowed to eat away at the areas of uncovered glass, leaving a clear design. This was a skilled job; artists would sketch the design and transfer it to the glass. Today, there is a thriving glass reproduction industry that uses the original craftsmen’s skills to re-create original glass pieces. The glass panel below was from a hotel in the Isle of Wight. The owners were keen to restore the property to its original Victorian splendour, and a large panel of broken glass arrived.

The first step is to piece together the glass like a jigsaw; the design was then traced and transferred to a low-tack vinyl. The glass is then sandblasted, a modern alternative to etched glass, and the final piece can be seen below.

reproduction etched glass panel from a hotel
The finished glass panel

How is modern-day glass etched?

Reproducing original Victorian glass is only one small area of etched glass production today. The process has become popular for many architects as a building material for residential homes and large commercial applications.

Rather than using hydrochloric acid, with health and safety implications, today etching of glass is done by sandblasting.

Sandblasted glass is created by blasting fine particles of abrasive onto the face of the glass at high pressure, this removes the face of the glass and leaves a surface, similar to etched glass. Using a low-tack vinyl allows the glass to be masked and patterns on the glass left clear. The technique can be further enhanced by lowering the pressure at which the particles hit the glass, this gives a variety of shades and creative and artistic effects can be produced using this technique.

etched glass design using shade to create lady on glass

What is etched glass used for today?

There are numerous applications for sandblasted and etched glass and below is a short list which shows some of the ways this glass can be utilised :

What designs are available for sandblasted and etched glass?

The most cost-effective way to buy etched glass is to use a standard design which has been hand-drawn and then vectorised using a CAD programme. This vector process can be re-scaled or designed to fit any glass panel.

These designs, created by one of the UK’s leading glass designers Clive Sparkes can be added to most types of glass, they can be incorporated into a double glazed unit offering both acoustic and thermal insulation, fire glass offering up to 60 minutes fire integrity can also be etched with one of the designs.

A privacy style is also available; in this application, the glass is fully obscure and is perfect for bathrooms, en-suites or any areas overlooking an adjoining property where planning requires a good level of obscurity. The glass is etched all over to one side, and the design is etched onto the other side.

Is etched glass an art form?

Many artists use glass as a medium for their work, and the etching process allows for creativity and individuality. This example of a glass sculpture was created by Clive for a local charity. it is a full-size copy of a Ducati 996 motorcycle ridden by Carl Fogerty.

How can I specify etched glass?

Etched glass doesn’t have to be an expensive addition to your home or place of work. Many of the designs created have been done with budgets in mind, and by using one of the pre-prepared designs, you can create an individual bespoke look without breaking the bank.

Go Glass has been established for over 45 years and is one of the leading glass design companies in the UK today; clients include The Shard and Stanstead Airport and their work has been exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show and European glass trade shows, including Glasstec in Dusseldorf.

Based in central Cambridge, Go Glass boasts a dedicated glass design showroom and production centre. Customers are encouraged to visit both to see the skilled craftsmen at work.

Contact Go Glass at 127 Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, CB1 7BS. Tel 01223 211041, email info@goglass.co.uk