Sandblasting Designs in Glass

Finished Sandblasted Glass Mug
Finished Sandblasted Glass Mug | Source

Sandblasting process

I've always been fascinated by etched glass. I can't help to touch the image every time I see it. I've always wanted to etch or sandblast glass and give a dull clear mug a new life with an intricate pattern carved in the face of the glass.

I started sandblasting glass using images cut with a vinyl cutter. The vinyl film is resilient enough to withstand the sandblasting but the vinyl cutter could not make the intricate details I wanted. Small fonts or thin lines would be sandblasted away. The vinyl cutter couldn't make thin lines and sharp points on an image. All the lettering needed to have a bold font. I decided to look for alternatives to the vinyl cutter process for etching glass. Something that could give a finer detailed image.

There is new advances in UV films that allow very small details to be photographically exposed with ultraviolet lights. The un-needed portion of the image could then be washed away with water and the image could be sandblasted into glass. I found the SR3000 film which is 3 mills thick and can be bought from Rayzist.

This blue colored film has a ultraviolet sensitive coating that when exposed to UV light for 20 seconds (depending on the wattage of the bulb) will harden and stay attached to the adhesive backed base film. The section of the film that was blocked by the negative and not exposed to the UV light will wash off when water is applied. This leaves a photographic image of thin film which is used as a mask for etching or sandblasting.

Let's walk through the ten step process:

First let's see the final product so we can understand what the end results will look like.

10 Steps to Adding Your Own Design to Glass

1. Choose Your Artwork
2. Edit Your Artwork
3. Print Onto Clear Film
4. Expose the Film
5. Washout the Razist Film
6. Place Film Onto Glass
7. Remove the Clear Protector Sheet
8. Mask the Glass
9. Sandblast the Image
10. Clean the Glass

1. Choose Your Artwork

The first step to sandblasting glass using a UV mask film is to choose your artwork wisely. UV film like Rayzist's SR300 allows for very fine detail but it also has it's limitations. It would be very difficult to sandblast an image of lace or someones hair. Too fine of detail will wash out during the sandblasting resulting in a blob where the very fine details should be. If you look closely on my example photos you can see where the fine lines of the font didn't get etched enough. The font I was using was super fine and I had to change to a bold font with wider lines on the next mug.

Be cautious on your first image and choose text and images using moderate details and lines. Later, once you see the results of your first try then you can get a better feel for what is possible. It's important to start small and just get a simple image sandblasted to learn the process steps. If you try to experiment too early you will get discouraged with all the junk mugs you've created. Let your first mug be something to be proud of. Let your tenth mug be the one you throw away or use it to scoop dog food out of the bag. I've found many uses for badly etched mugs over the years.

2. Edit Your Artwork

Once you have a design, image, logo, or text you should now edit so it will fit within the space of one side of the mug. Measure the mug and decide where you want the image to be etched. Use a pencil or marker and draw the outline onto the mugs surface. This will give you an estimation of where the image should be positioned and the dimensions you want to print it.

Use a graphics program like CORELdraw, Freehand or even MSpaint to edit the size and shape of the image to fit the area on the mug. I use a graphics package that came with my vinyl cutter.

Edit the artwork
Edit the artwork | Source

3. Print Onto Clear Film

When you have your image edited then it's time to print the image just like you would on a blank sheet of paper. In fact, I like to print onto a blank paper page just to check to see the size is correct. Once I verify all is good with the printout then I can print it onto a clear film.

I bought overhead projector film from an office supply store to print my artwork onto. This allows my inkjet printer to give a strong contrasting black and clear picture. The black portion of the artwork should be printed as dark as possible. Adjust your printer settings to only print black and white with no color.

Start with a design printed onto clear film
Start with a design printed onto clear film | Source

4. Expose the Film

Place the blue film down first with shiny side facing away from the UV bulb. Then lay the artwork with the ink side facing towards the blue film. This part gets a little confusing but the worse thing that can happen is that your image will be exposed backwards.

  • Blue film - dull side touching artwork
  • Art work - Lay the ink side of the artwork on top of dull side of blue film
  • UV light

Prepare your UV exposure light by having a stop watch nearby and be ready to control the exposure of the film to only twenty seconds. Close the lid of the UV lamp or cover the UV lamp with the black blanket if you are using the Letralite UV unit (as seen in the photo and video) and expose for only 20 seconds.

If you tape the blue UV sensitive film to the artwork, make sure the tape isn't on the UV bulb side of the blue film. The tape will block the UV light on the blue film and that portion will wash out later leaving a whole that will allow that glass to be etched. I've found that the tape is unnecessary because everything stays in place with the black fabric stretched around the UV bulb. Don't use masking tape, it was a bad ideal but it's in my photos below.

Place clear film on top of the blue SR3000
Place clear film on top of the blue SR3000 | Source
Expose using UV light for 20 seconds
Expose using UV light for 20 seconds | Source

5. Washout the Razist Film

Remove the exposed Razist SR3000 film from the UV lamp and place the shiny side down on a smooth clean surface that can be used during the washout process. Rayzist provides a sprayer and magnetic white board holder in their Rayzist Photo-resist Washout Bundle.

Reduce the continued exposure of the film by keeping it covered or shield from continued UV exposure from an open window. However you can see in my photos that I did my washout in the middle of the day with lots of sunlight and I didn't have any exposure troubles. I guess it doesn't hurt if you try your best to keep the extra UV exposure to the minimum.

Use hot water with a high pressure fine-mist sprayer. Start by spraying the high pressure hot water onto the blue film with the wash wand about two inch away from the film while keeping the wand moving all over the film for about two minutes. As the blue starts to wash away from the details of the artwork you can move in closer to the finer lines with the wand. Pull back away when the fine details are washed out. After a couple minutes you will see the image is completely washed away and the white background is clearly visible through the blue film.

Prepare SR3000 film to washed out
Prepare SR3000 film to washed out | Source
Spray water to wash away unexposed film revealing the design
Spray water to wash away unexposed film revealing the design | Source

Here is complete demonstration video of the SR3000 process

6. Place Film Onto Glass

After the washout process is complete dab the blue film with a dry paper towel to remove any excess moisture. Let the blue film sit and air out to remove the moisture in the film. You don't want it too dry or too wet when you apply it to the glass. A very small amount of moisture adds the tacky feel to the adhesive.

You can now apply the blue film to your glass mug. Feel free to re-position the film until you feel it's in the right position. Once you have the blue film in the correct position use a squeegee to remove all the air bubbles from under the blue film. There is a clear film attached to front of the SR3000 film that allows you to squeegee directly onto the blue film without damaging the image. Once you have the image in the right position and mostly bubble free you can now remove the protection sheet.

Place SR3000 onto glass mug using alignment marks
Place SR3000 onto glass mug using alignment marks | Source

7. Remove the Clear Protector Sheet

The Rayzist SR3000 has a clear protection film on the front of the blue film that protects the fragile blue film from tearing apart during the installation process. It's very easy to apply the SR3000 and then remove it while this clear film is attached. You will also need to remove any air bubbles from under the blue film by using a credit card or squeegee to push out the bubbles so the air bubbles don't prevent the glass from being sandblasted properly. Air bubbles under the blue film can explode under the sandblasting causing an unwanted portion of glass to be sandblasted.

Once all air bubbles are removed, you can take a small piece of tape and pull up one corner of the clear protector sheet and separate it from the blue film, leaving only the blue film attached to the glass. Rayzist recommends popping any bubbles with a wire brush that are found after you remove the clear protection sheet.

Peel of the clear protector sheet
Peel of the clear protector sheet

8. Mask the Glass

Use packing, masking or vinyl tape to mask off any glass that you don't want to be sandblasted. Leave only your artwork exposed to be sandblasted. Cover all areas of the front side of the glass that could be hit by the sandblaster. Any exposed glass will be hit by the flying sand and etching of the glass will occur where you don't want it. Take the time to cover every area you don't want to be etched because it will be harder to see and avoid those spots once you are sandblasting in the booth.

You don't need to cover the backside or inside of the mug, only the areas exposed to the sandblasting air.

Mask all the areas of the glass which won't be sandblasted
Mask all the areas of the glass which won't be sandblasted

9. Sandblast the Image

It doesn't take a lot of specialized equipment to sandblast. I've used several sandblasters in the past from a simple handheld gravity fed and now I've built a pressure pot system that takes the air pressured by the compressor and forces sand out the bottom of the pot into the gun.

My booth is made from a plastic storage container that I cut holes into and put a piece of clear plastic on top. Sandblasting booths don't need to be bulletproof. You only need to protect yourself from the airborne dust that is produced when sandblasting. The sand just bounces off the plastic. Once my $5 container wears out, I'll buy another.

I don't have any complaints with my homemade sandblasting pressure pot system. I try to keep the costs down until I can scale a business up to justify the costs. My setup was purely to prove the concept of using a photographic film to sandblast images on glass and to prove to myself how easy it is. I can always upgrade to a professional system later.

The recommended pressure to apply to the sandblast system is 35psi directly onto the glass. This allows enough pressure to etch the glass but not to damage the blue film masking. It is also recommended to use 150 Grit Aluminum Oxide sand in the blaster and keep the blasting nozzle at least 4 inches away from the glass. As you are sandblasting you will clearly see the impressions the sand is making onto the glass. Make sure you keep a light inside your blast cabinet so you can inspect your progress and see anything you might have missed.

Sandblasting equipment
Sandblasting equipment
Sandblasting in the booth
Sandblasting in the booth

10. Clean the Glass

After the sandblasting is complete, remove all the tape and blue film from the glass. Run water over the glass to remove any sand grit and leftover tape. The water will slowly dissolve the blue film and make it easier to remove.

Make sure all the sand grit is removed from the glass and set it aside to dry. When the water dries from the sandblasted area, the image will show a good contrasting image. Inspect your work for any part of the image that didn't get sandblasted or any part that should have received more etching from the sandblasting.

Enjoy your sandblasted mug or give it away as a present or sell it. This process is quick and easy for a last minute gift ideals or office awards. Reward your favorite boss or teacher with a fine sandblasted mug or vase.

© 2015 Alan Lehmann


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 15 months ago

Wow you make it look so easy. Nice work and great hub.

RichFatCat profile image

RichFatCat 15 months ago from Texas Author

Thanks. The mugs make great gifts, especially when you tell them how it's made.

Callie Marie 12 months ago

Your glass turned out so nice. I never knew that a sandblaster could give glass that neat, frosted look. I used to have a chess set with a mirrored board, but it broke a while ago. This project makes me think it would be easy to recreate a similar chess board! Thanks for sharing your great tutorial.

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    RichFatCat profile image

    Alan Lehmann (RichFatCat)10 Followers
    17 Articles

    I bought my first vinyl cutter over ten years ago and then I found UV resist. This gives much finer details to the designs.

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