How to Etch Glass: A Beginner's Guide for 2021

glass pint etching

The Art of Glass Etching

Glass etching is a creative way to connect the mind, eyes, and hands to create one-of-a-kind, intricate, and eye-catching designs. Out of all applications in the engraver community, glass has been a favorite of many. This method allows users to personalize their creations with elegant and striking marks for items including wine glasses, frames, plaques, ornaments, and other glass etching ideas. Unlike vinyl applications, glass etched designs are resistant to fading or peeling and are safe for dishwasher and microwave use. 

There are several methods used for the art of glass etching. Manual methods include using glass etching cream or a rotary tool that allow beginners to experiment in working with glass as a medium. However, using a CO2 laser engraver has become a popular and fun method that a crafter at any level can use. Along with producing fast results, laser engravers are efficient and cost-effective. They eliminate the need for harsh chemicals or high temperatures and are safe and easy to operate. If you’ve ever been or are now interested in learning how to etch glass like a professional, but not sure where to start, read on and learn how to decide which machine will work best to easily transfer designs and ideas to life.

Glass Etching with a Laser Engraver 

Laser engravers were introduced in the early 1960’s and the more focused CO2 laser beams for laser cutting were introduced in 1967. Today, laser engraving has become a global phenomenon, becoming a quicker and more efficient option for CNC machinists, woodcutters, and metal workers. The machine has also allowed these users to explore new avenues such as glass etching. Using a laser engraver is a preferred method for producing names, messages, logos, and images. 

The laser engraver utilizes a carbon dioxide mixture that produces a long-wave infrared light, resulting in heating the glass until it chips off at a depth of no more than 0.001 inches. The laser beam emitted is low-powered and only slightly heats up the glass. The beam heats up the silicon (sand, the main component) and any other metals in the glass. The microscopic chips of etching occur when water and heat that are trapped in the glass expand once heat is placed on the desired area. Since the beam is at a lower intensity than most lasers, the glass will not break, resulting in an elegant, frosted appearance. For more guidance on the glass application, visit our Application Guide.

Some major advantages for using a laser engraver include:

  • Accuracy: the laser beam engraves the smallest and most delicate of designs and makes the same exact design repeatedly if needed.
  • High efficiency: a laser beam is faster and more streamlined. Some laser engravers come with dual laser heads for increased productivity or for large volume projects.
  • Faster redundancy: CO2 laser engravers are ideal because they cut thicker materials, have faster piercing performance, and can cut straight lines faster.
  • Consistency: since designs are saved as files, they are reproduced repeatedly while still maintaining the same size, height, and dimension.
  • Less environmental waste: laser engravers don’t require harmful chemicals that could get washed down drains or evaporated in the air. Any dust particles emitted are immediately vaporized by the laser beam.
  • Safety: laser engravers are operated at a distance instead of within proximity. Safety features include an emergency stop button, built-in ventilation, and a sepia tinted observation window to protect eyes from direct contact from the laser beam.
  • Versatile with other materials: including wood, leather, acrylic, and metal.

The wattage for a CO2 laser engraver ranges from 30W to over 200W, which results in various strengths and speeds. You can explore our collection of CO2 Laser Engravers here to find the ideal size and speed for your needs, whether for at-home crafting, a small business, or larger project needs. After selecting your laser engraver, we suggest adding software systems such as Lightburn, CorelDraw, and EZCad.

Why Choose OMTech?

OMTech offers laser engravers that appeal to all levels of users, from the at-home, do-it-yourself crafters to seasoned professionals with large-scale projects in mind. OMTech laser engravers are easy to use, affordable, powerful, and efficient. They are quality assured with FDA, CE and Quality certifications, and offer U.S. based technical support.

Depending on the model, we offer features such as:

  • Red Dot Guidance: the red dot pointer on the laser head indicates etching points.
  • Ruida Digital Controller: an intuitive control panel that allows adjustment of laser head positions and viewing documents on digital display.
  • Air Assist: a small air compressor that removes debris, heat, and combustible gasses from the engraving surface.
  • Transparent Viewing Window: allows the user to observe the complete engraving process.

Not sure which machine is right for you? Here are two suggestions:

1. 40W CO2 Desktop Laser Engraver

Portable and with an 8x12 working area. Ideal for artists, crafters, and hobbyists seeking smaller scale projects. Engraves at a depth of 0-0.12 inches, has a double-duty work surface, offers an estimated lifetime of 1000-1300 operation hours.

2. 50-100W CO2 Laser Engraver

Best for professional level crafters, small businesses, and large scale, heavy-duty projects. Advanced features vary per model and include a viewing window, dual laser heads, water pump sensor monitors, and a digitally displayed laser power.

Final Thoughts and Tips

  • Place the laser engraver in a well-ventilated area, since they may emit smoke and dust. A fume extraction system is recommended, either purchased or handmade.
  • When purchasing a laser engraver, don’t forget to also purchase a rotary or cylindrical attachment. A rotary attachment allows for precision etching on conical items with a consistent curve, such as wine bottles, vases, or shot glasses. Make sure the attachment is adjustable to accommodate a variety of glass shapes and sizes.
  • Laser engravers are best for every-day, less expensive glassware, such as etched glass bottles, pint glasses, and more. Crystal or other types of high-end glass have a higher lead content, and therefore, tend to retain too much heat. Using crystal or high-end glassware may result in cracking, breakage, or alteration of the final image.
  • Since too much heat from the laser may result in chipping, cracking, or a blurred image, apply a thin layer of dish soap or a piece of damp newspaper to the area that will be lasered. This will dissipate heat and prevent overheating. After lasering, rinse off any remaining residue.
  • Finding inspiration for laser engraver project ideas is as easy as ever. Visit our Gallery or elsewhere online to get your creative juices flowing in no time!
  • Power suggestions for etching glass: As a starting point, we at OMTech suggest using 100Watt, 40 Power, 300 mm/seconds engraving speed, and a 0.07 Scan Gap DPI).