Etching glass is easier than you might think. The techniques aren't hard and the materials are relatively cheap. But I'm warning you- it's a bit addicting! Once you try it, you'll be etching every piece of glass in site!
I was first introduced to etching back in art school and have been making pieces ever since using the same product. It's not a commercial for them... it's really the only product I've ever seen in the craft store to do this with, and it's what I know.
Armour Etch is an acid etch, which works just like it sounds and acid essentially eats away at just enough of the surface of the glass to frost it permanently. This product is a cream and is sold at most craft stores. (I believe the same company also makes an acid bath that you dip glass into- but the cream has always been perfect for the types of projects I do.)
Tip: There is also another method of frosting patterns into glass called sand blasting. It works better for larger areas and produces a deeper etch. I've only ever used the acid cream so I don't have a basis for comparison... but If you're interested in sandblasting I know there are relatively inexpensive starter kits for hobby crafters all the way up to very expensive
machines for professionals.
The easiest way to start an etching project is to use a stencil.
You can buy glass stencils, or make your own using a die cut machine and some vinyl. But I think the very easiest (and cheapest) way to try glass etching out is to use something you probably already have laying around your craft room-
A paper punch and some tape.
This makes a perfect stencil for a beginner project, with barely any investment.
I'm getting a jump on Halloween (yes... I really do start Halloween in August) so I'm using a spider design on a small "potion" bottle.
To make the stencil I apply strips of making tape to wax paper and put it into my puncher.
You'll get something that doesn't look too clean, but don't worry! Carefully peel the wax paper and tape apart and you'll usually find the tape has punched just fine.
Now apply your stencil to your clean glass. Once I've cleaned the glass I actually wear surgical gloves while handling the glass at every stage (until using the acid at which point I wear heavy rubber gloves).
Make sure your stencil is stuck down really well. I usually rub the edges extra with something hard like the back of a paint brush to be sure they're stuck down really well.
At this point you're ready to etch.
Tip: There are lot's of directions on the manufacturers container about how to safely handle this product. Remember it's an acid- I always where thick rubber gloves and eye protection. Please take working with this product seriously and follow the manufacturer's guidelines.
Use a brush to apply the cream to the areas you want to etch. Even using a thick coat of the cream it still goes a really long way. You can make many, many, many projects from just one bottle.
Now you wait for the acid to do it's work. This is where I've found a little experimenting is needed. Personally, I haven't had good results leaving this product the amount of time suggested. I don't know why, but I always have to leave it on longer (Sometimes up to 16 minutes). I've tried using different cleaners on the glass and that doesn't seem to make a difference. (I always make a test piece though and try etching swatches at different times, starting with the suggested time and increasing from there.)
Once the cream has been on long enough, rinse and clean according to the manufacturer's directions and you'll have a gorgeous permanently etched piece of glass!
I hope you give this a try.
I have another project I'm working on using a different method for creating an etched design. I'll be posting that later this week.