We recently acquired a Silhouette Cameo (which was also recently reviewed by Make Magazine in Issue 48, the Ultimate Guide to Desktop Fabrication). It’s a pretty cool crafting tool with which it’s fast and easy to cut paper, vinyl, fabric, and a few other materials. One of the kits that came along with the unit was an etching kit. We tried it out and etched some glass-ware to see what we could do.
The first thing to know about using a vinyl cutter to etch glass is that you don’t want to be too-smart-by-half. It’s easy to think that you’ll be creating curlicues and filigree but that’s just silly. Block letters and bold patterns are much easier to transfer and work with. Fancy-schmancy designs are a bit too tricky. Not that it’s not possible to do fine work, just that it’s hard to hook and transfer if you have too-fine a line or too-delicate an island. Any time you have a section that is not connected to any other section you’re going to end up finagling dots and wee tiny bits. And that can be very frustrating, especially if you have the misfortune to have removed some of the glue when hooking out the negative spaces of the vinyl.
Hooking is when you remove the pieces of the vinyl that you don’t want. There’s a little hook that you use to pick the pieces out. The trouble is two-fold. One, the knife doesn’t always cut completely through the vinyl, which means that there’s a bit of an effort needed to separate the two sides of the cut. Second, the finer the cut-out, the more difficult it will be to hook out and the higher the chance of removing the glue on the underside of the vinyl. If there isn’t enough glue on the vinyl when it’s transferred to the glass it will not stick properly and the final as-etched lines won’t be very clean. That can be disappointing, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time getting the hooking right.
So, don’t get too-smart-by-half.
Another thing to keep in mind is the curvature of the surface you’re trying to etch. If your stencil is too big, the vinyl too stiff, and the glass is too curved, the stencil won’t stick properly and the lines won’t be clean. Thinner vinyl, bigger fonts, and simple patterns result in better etching.
But once the hooking is done and the vinyl is transferred to the glass, it‘s pretty easy to apply the etching cream and get the design onto the glass, The etching cream can be re-used as long as it doesn’t dry out, so there’s a working window of about one or two minutes maximum. Apply, wait, scrape off, wipe remaining cream off with a paper towel, and wash from the glass. That’s it. Pretty easy.
And, it looks nice when you’ve created something that didn’t exist before you made that little bit of effort.