Using Paint Mask with Etching Creams

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Chemically etching glass with etching creams is a quick, easy and safe way to produce a matte finish texture on glass similar to that of sandblasted glass. Note that I said “similar to” and not “the same as”. Chemical etching creams will not produce the same uniform, bright white finish that you achieve when sandblasting. I am not saying that your results will necessarily be bad. It’s just not the same thing. Also, be forewarned that the results produced with etching creams are occasionally a little blotchy and streaky. Other than that, they are great for small projects and for surfaces that you cannot easily remove and drag into a sandblast booth – such as a storefront window.

Safety First

While the use of etching cream is certainly safer than using liquid hydrofluoric acid, you should still use caution when handling it. Some etching creams, such as Armour Etch, contain dilutions of hydrofluoric acid


Before using this product, carefully read the manufacturer’s product bulletins. Safe use of this product requires the following:

  • Wear rubber chemical gloves.

  • Wear safety goggles.

  • Wear a heavy, long-sleeve shirt.

  • Work in a well-ventilated room. The etching cream will create harmful vapors, so be sure to keep the windows and doors of your work area open to vent the fumes.

  • If skin contact occurs, flush the area with water immediately.

The process of etching glass with the etching cream is relatively simple. The steps for using this product are as follows:

    1. Assemble all of the tools required for this job. These tools include:

      • Safety goggles

      • Rubber gloves

      • Glass panel

      • Etching Cream, such as Armour Etch

      • 1” Bristle (non-synthetic) throw away brush

      • RTape ProGrade™ paint mask

      • Xacto knife with #11 blades

      • Isopropyl alcohol (IPA)

      • Paper towels or lint-free rags

      • Sponge

      • Kitchen timer

      • Plastic tray (large enough to fit the glass panel into it)

    1. For etching cream to work properly, the ambient temperature of your work area must be at least 70º F (21º C).

    1. Clean the glass with detergent and water or Bon Ami cake soap. Wipe dry with paper toweling or a lint-free rag. Then clean the glass again with IPA. It should be “squeaky” clean.

Thorough cleaning of glass is a multiple step process. Because I will gild the glass following chemical etching, I first clean it with Bon Ami cake soap. In my article, Gilder's Tool Box, I describe how to use Bon Ami. Complete the cleaning by wiping the surface down with IPA.

    1. Apply ProGrade™ paint mask to the cleaned glass panel using dry application method. To aid the application of the paint mask to the glass, apply application paper to the masking. As a complementary product to the ProGrade™ paint mask, RTape has developed its 4700LT RLA® Conform® application tape. The medium-low tack, latex adhesive on the tape removes easily from the paint mask after the masking has been applied, without pulling off the vinyl mask from the glass. After removing the application tape, resqueegee the masking to ensure that it is securely adhered to the glass.

ProGrade paint mask is easy enough to apply without an application tape. To aid the application, first peel back about six inches of the release liner, creasing the liner with your thumb.

Then tack the exposed adhesive of the paint mask in place. As you apply the paint mask, peel back the release liner as needed exposing more of the adhesive.

    1. To prevent etching the edges of your glass panel and the opposite surface of sheet of glass mask these areas. You can use paint mask for this purpose.

    1. If you have hand drawn your design, transfer it to the paint mask by either pouncing the pattern to the masking or by using Saral paper. Many artists use Saral paper, which works like carbon paper, to transfer their designs from their drawing to a substrate by tracing. Saral paper is a great alternative to pouncing a design, because it’s easier to see the design and you don’t have to deal with messy chalk dust. You can buy Saral paper in a variety of colors from Dick Blick at

      . (Of course, you can also computer cut the paint mask.)

For this project I just wanted a simple border for my design. Using an adjustable square and a metal straight edge, I lay out the border.

    1. Using an Xacto knife with a #11 blade, cut the paint mask and weed the areas to be etched.

When cutting a high grade paint mask with an Xacto blade, you don’t need to use much pressure. ProGrade™ paint mask utilizes a polymeric blend calendered vinyl for its facestock, which cuts very easily.

    1. Using IPA clean the open areas of the stencil. Do not touch the glass after cleaning. Oils from your skin can act as a resist on the glass preventing the etching cream from etching. You don’t want to see your fingerprints in your work, do you?

    1. Apply a heavy, uniform layer of the etching cream to the open areas of your stencil, using a 1” throw away brush. The cream should be thick enough so you cannot see through it and see the glass.

In applying the etching cream, brush on a uniform, thick coating of the chemical.

    1. Set the kitchen timer to the required time. Usually it’s about five minutes.

    1. As soon as the time is up, rinse the cream off with water. Do not rinse the panel off in your kitchen sink. The etching cream may etch the enamel on the sink surface.

    1. After cleaning off the etching cream, remove the ProGrade™ paint mask from the glass panel and clean the entire surface with IPA and either paper toweling or a lint-free rag.

With the paint mask removed, you can see the chemically etched border. For this project, the entire panel will be first water gilded with 23 karat gold, using a gelatin size. The etched border will have a matte finish. Everything else will have a mirror finish. Then a design will be engraved in reverse with a stylus through the gold. The engraving will then be backed up with black enamel. This process, which the French call “verre eglomise”, will be fully described in a future post.

© 2012 Jim Hingst

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