Personalized items make great gifts for the holidays. Using vinyl stencils and a sandblaster, we are able to achieve a nice, permanent personalization to several different surfaces. Let’s take a look at how it’s done, and then I’ll show you some of the gifts created using these methods!
Tools & Supplies:
We will need a few supplies before we take on this task:
- Something to etch (Glass, stone, metal, etc.)
- A design
- Masking tape
- A method of etching (We will use sandblasting, but there are also etching creams)
- A resist (in this case a vinyl decal stencil) for each item (not reusable) to protect the area that won’t be etched
If you’re cutting your own resists either by hand or a vinyl cutter, you will need tools to weed and prep the vinyl:
Step 2: Design and Resist
My design is the Instructables Robot. I put this together in Adobe Illustrator. I applied a slight warp to the design (about +6% bend for this particular glass) to allow it to conform more easily to the glass’ shape.
The design is then sent to a vinyl cutter to be cut into sign vinyl.
If you are cutting your design freehand, you have two options:
1. apply vinyl to surface then cut out with Xacto knife, or
2. cut out design in the vinyl then cover with application tape and apply to the surface.
Once the design is cut, you must “weed” the unwanted vinyl. Normally, we would remove everything except the design for a nice decal. However, for a stencil we must remove the design using tweezers, a pick, or an Xacto knife.
After weeding is finished a sheet of application tape is laid on top of the vinyl and rubbed down smooth with a squeegee. After the application tape is applied, I like to trim it to be flush with the vinyl.
*It should be noted that resist color is not important, however if you’re sandblasting, a lighter resist will help to see where you’re blasted and where you haven’t. Resists are also one-time use! So if you plan on doing multiple of the same design, you will need multiple resists.
Step 3: Applying the Resist
Once you have aligned it, press down with one finger, from top to bottom, down the center of the decal. This anchors it to the surface, allowing you to THEN smooth from the center left, and then center right. This will minimize wrinkling and bubbles and reduce the likelihood of failure of the resist.*
After you have smoothed the design down, give it a good once over with the squeegee and then remove the application tape.
At this point, I mask off the immediate area using masking tape or scrap pieces of vinyl, to protect the surrounding area from over-spray. (Red/Orange vinyl cut into strips in my case)
*When sandblasting, wrinkles and bubbles become weak spots and may “blow-out” leading to unintentional etching in clear areas.
Step 4: The Etching Process
Chemical etching involves applies a cream (ArmourEtch) to the areas to etch with a brush, allowing it to work its magic for a set time then washing it off. If you choose this method, be sure to make sure the cream is WELL mixed and be generous with the application, for best results.
Chemical etching offers the advantages of: lower cost of entry, less mess and cleanup and is easier to work with no experience.
Disadvantages of chemical etching include: higher likely hood of splotchy and uneven etch, no depth (only etches the surface) and failure.
Mechanical etching involves using an abrasive and pressurized air (Sandblasting) spraying the surface and “eating away” at the surface itself.
Advantages include: Deeper etching, allowing for more detail by performing multistage etching, and more available surfaces to etch other than glass. The deeper etch also allows for painting the etched areas to allow it to stand out even more.
Disadvantages include: Tighter latitude for error (you can blast a hole in the glass if you stay in one area too long) and resists are more likely to fail from improper blasting technique.
Both methods have differing safety issues to address. Protective eye wear and respiratory protection should be used with either method. Better safe than sorry!
As far as blasting media goes, most any will work, but PLEASE DO NOT USE ORDINARY SAND! Aluminum oxide or coal slag (brand name Black Diamond or Black Beauty) work great and don’t have the serious health implications (Silicosis) that regular sand does. I prefer a fine grit coal slag for my blasting as it is a good all-around media for various applications.
I prefer the look and feel of a mechanical etch, and as such perform this in my sandblasting cabinet I picked up from Harbor Freight. It has an enclosed area to work, and recycles the blasting media. It also allows for a shop-vac to be connect to it and keep most of the dust out of the air.
Step 5: Etching (Video)
Glass and metal etch really quick, so it doesn’t take too long. Granite and marble take a bit longer for the abrasive to cut into the surface.
That said, a proper masking material (I use Avery Paint Mask) works much better on stone or any other surface that takes a bit for the etch to “bite.”
Step 6: Final Cleanup
Simply allow the hot water to run over for a bit then begin peeling away. The glue will release and come off with the vinyl. Labels will require peeling and rubbing to remove all of the adhesive, as the paper of the label will usually separate from the adhesive.
For any stubborn bits a razor blade may be used to remove the vinyl from the surface. I use plastic razor blades to avoid scratching surfaces (stone and metal especially.)
At this point any items that are empty and made of glass can be put in the dishwasher for a final wash before use.
For stone and full items (wine bottles, etc.) I give a final cleaning with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and a lint free towel.
That’s all there is to it!
Step 7: The Gifts (Masked and Ready to Etch)
Step 8: The Gifts (Completely Etched)
Here are the gifts cleaned up and ready for wrapping!
Step 9: Final Thoughts
Don’t have a vinyl cutter? No problem just contact any sign shop, and they should be able to create your stencil for you (I can as well if needed, always glad to help the community!)
Don’t have a sandblaster? Just try the Armour Etch cream. It’s available in most craft stores and online.
Don’t want to mess with either? Well you’re still in luck! There is a type of sign vinyl that simulates the look of etched glass (near identical in appearance.) Quick and easy, though not always cheap. It is also not dishwasher safe and is not a permanent modification (remember removing the vinyl in Step 6? Etched Look Vinyl can come off just as easily) but sometimes that can be handy too.
There’s also the Laser method, but that’s not accessible to as many folks as the stencil etching methods.
There’s something that a gift made with thought and love can deliver that a store bought gift cannot.
*Disclaimer: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.