What are the Different Types of Glass for Stained Glass?

Christine Hudson
Christine Hudson
Stained glass.
Stained glass.

The most common types of glass for stained glass are transparent, opalescent and opaque. Each type is used to create a different look or effect. It is common for a piece to only contain different colors and textures of one type of glass to create the image.

Transparent glass for stained glass can be clear or colored and can have a smooth or textured surface. It is also often referred to as cathedral glass because it is the most common type of glass used in the stained glass mosaics and windows of large cathedrals. It is made so that light will shine through and people can actually look through the glass. There are many types of textures available for varying effects.

A stained glass window.
A stained glass window.

Translucent glass is semi-opaque, usually with a mix or swirl of colors for interest. The way the colors are combined in the glass creates a swirl, cloud, or streak pattern, which can be used to simulate sky, water and more. This type of glass is also referred to as wispy glass. Generally, it is very hard to see through the glass, but light shines through freely to illuminate the design.

Opalescent glass is very similar to translucent glass in that the colors can be swirled together. It is also possible, though, to get opalescent glass for stained glass, which is one solid color. It is primarily associated with American stained glass art and is not transparent or see-through at all. Light shines through this glass, but in a diffused way to give the design a soft glow.

Opaque glass is generally available in solid colors. This glass is not transparent at all, and almost no light can shine through it. It is sometimes used in stained glass designs to create negative space, but is generally more popular in mosaics on backboards or even laid in cement or plaster.

Choosing the right types of glass for stained glass depends largely on artistic taste and the type of look the artist wants for his or her piece. If the desire is for bright and dramatic designs, transparent or cathedral glass generally works well. Translucent and opalescent glass create a softer, more diffused glow for a piece and comes in the largest variety of color combinations. Opaque glass is generally not suitable for any design which is made for light to pass through, but can create very vibrant mosaics. It’s often said that the best way to learn which types of glass you like most is simply to try them out.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - It's not too difficult to teach yourself this kind of hobby as long as you're careful about it. If you're just using hand-held glass snips then you really only have to wear goggles and gloves and put newspaper down to be safe, which makes it about the same level of danger as most garage DIY activities.

Even the soldering isn't that big of a deal and you can get the equipment for it at any hardware store. Stained glass supplies are a little bit more difficult to find, because they are hard to get over the internet without the glass breaking during delivery, but it's not impossible either.


@Mor - I don't know if I would recommend that anyone try this hobby without taking some formal classes first. It's way too easy to snap the glass the wrong way and end up with splinters everywhere.

I took a class a few years ago with my mother as a birthday gift for her and it was actually pretty easy once you understood what was possible and what wasn't. We each made stained glass suncatchers that look very impressive, but were made in a couple of hours.

I do remember that the colored glass sheets were expensive, but since it was a class we could pool our resources and everyone got to use an array of colors.

If we had each tried to buy all the colors we used in our own creations separately, then we would have ended up spending more than the class itself cost to attend.


If you are just starting out with stained glass, remember to buy a few practice sheets of plain glass in order to make all your mistakes on it. There's no real difference in terms of thickness or anything like that between plain glass and stained glass, but there is a huge difference in price, so you don't want to have to buy replacements for the colored sheets.

If I remember correctly, the more intricate and unusual the colors and patterns, the more expensive it was to buy even small sheets of stained glass. I suspect this is why you will often see stained glass patterns where most of it is plain or frosted glass, with only a few accents in color. It looks good and it's much cheaper.

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    • Stained glass.
      Stained glass.
    • A stained glass window.
      A stained glass window.