What is Etching Cream?

Carol Francois
Carol Francois
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Etching cream is an acidic liquid used to permanently highlight cuts made into a glass surface. This type of cream is typically made from hydrofluoric or sulfuric acid. Etching glass is a craft that combines powerful chemicals with a fairly simply process to modify the appearance of glass windows, doors and dishes.

The etching cream fills the space in the glass created by the cuts, so that the lines are visible. When selecting a project to use etching glass, think about the design, complexity, glass structural strength, and time required. This type of craft is very manual, providing creative opportunities for skilled artisans.

Before you create your design, determine the proposed surface. Designs should be focused in the middle of a window or glass pane for maximum impact. Make sure that the glass can be removed from the frame. Etching cream must be rinsed off the glass surface and the acid may bleach or damage the glass frame material.

Avoid the temptation to create a complex, intricate design. The image will have to be traced with a sharp blade into the glass surface. Simple, smooth lines in a classic design will be the easiest to complete successfully.

Check the thickness of the glass at the location where you plan to use etching cream. Make sure that there is sufficient space to apply the design template securely onto the glass surface. Avoid designs near the edge of cups or dishes, as the glass tend to be thinner along the edge.

Practice tracing your design using a pencil and paper at least three times to ensure that you can accurately duplicate it. Then practice using a craft knife against a cardboard background. Check the turns or elements of the design where you must lift your knife off the surface and then touch it down again. These elements are the most complex and mistakes often occur at the junction points.

To use etching cream, place the stencil or design against the glass surface. Secure it into place using tape. Tracing the design into the glass using your knife. Remove the stencil and clean the glass thoroughly. Be sure to open the window or add a fan so that the room is properly ventilated.

Apply the etching cream to the area where you have cut the design into the glass. Follow the directions on the bottle and wait until the appropriate time has elapsed. Rinse the etching cream off the glass and the clean the glass again.

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Discussion Comments


I would definitely recommend using an etching stencil, like cinder said -- etching glass by hand is really infuriatingly difficult until you get really, really good at it, and that can take a while.

Besides, there's nothing more frustrating than getting all jazzed about it and buying a big tub of glass etching cream, only to have it sit in your garage until it consolidates. Not that I've done that, of course...


Where exactly do you buy etching cream? Would you just go to an art store, or is it harder to find than that? I've been into a few of the art supply stores around my town, but none of them seem to have it.

So can anybody tell me where to buy etching cream, if not at an art store? I really don't know where else to look. Thanks!


How dangerous is glass etching cream? I was wondering if it would be safe to use a chemical etching glass cream for a project with my daughter -- she's about 8, but pretty good at art already.

She saw a vase the other day that had been made through copper etching, and wanted to try something like it, so I thought we might try to do it with glass.

Would this be an at all appropriate project for an 8 year old? The whole "acid etching cream" kind of scares me, to be frank.


You don't have to cut the design outline yourself by hand. They make stencils that work specifically with the etching cream. Outlining by hand will make the design easier to see of course, but it takes a LOT of practice before your work stops looking like a kids drawing. And no matter how much practice on cardboard etc, you do, the glass is so much harder to work on.

The etching cream stencils make the whole project more enjoyable, and they come in dozens of themes/designs.

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