How to Laser Etch Glass

By Jackie Zack
Glass picture frames from Marco Awards Group.

Glasses, wine bottles, mugs, champagne flutes, paperweights, plaques, vases, ornaments --- these are just some of the glass products that can be personalized and enhanced by laser etching. Using an intense beam of light, a laser can engrave messages, graphic designs and even photos onto these products, creating a white, frosted image that looks beautiful and professional. Although glass is a notoriously delicate material to work with and the idea of using a laser to etch glass may sound intimidating, laser engraving is one of the easiest and fastest ways to etch glass. Here are the tips and techniques you need to get started.

Use a computer-controlled laser engraving machine to etch glass. Laser equipment manufacturers offer different engraving systems in various sizes and price ranges. The most common type for etching glass is a CO2 laser, which works with a carbon dioxide glass mixture to produce long-wave infrared light to heat minuscule areas of the glass until it chips off. To laser engrave round items, such as wine glasses and beer mugs, you will also need a cylindrical attachment that rotates the item during engraving. These are available from manufacturers as accessories.

Choose a graphics program and create your text, graphics and/or photographic images. CorelDRAW is the one of the most popular graphics programs, but most laser engraving machines will work with a variety of other software. Remember that images with fine detail work better for laser etching than those with a lot of large solid areas, which generate more heat.

Select the type of glass to etch. Laser engraves less expensive, everyday-type glassware more smoothly than crystal. Crystal and certain types of high-end glass often have a high lead content, which retains too much heat for quality laser etching.

Prepare the glass for etching. Too much heat from the laser can cause large pieces of the glass to chip and crack that can result in a blurred image. To prevent this problem, spritz a single layer of newspaper with water and place it on the item before engraving. Another way to dissipate heat is to apply a thin layer of dish-washing liquid on the glass.

Check your machine's operating manual for specific machine settings for etching glass. To avoid creating too much heat, reduce the engraving resolution and the laser's pulse rate to about half the default values.

Laser etch the glass. Rinse off any residue from the newspaper or the dish-washing liquid and you should have a professionally etched glass product.

Tip

If you use the wet newspaper trick, avoid creating puddles of water.

Avoid etching the glass twice to prevent blurry images.

After engraving, lightly rub the area with a scouring pad to smooth any rough edges. If the glass continues to chip and crack after following these steps, you probably need to use a different type of glass.

A CO2 laser can be used to engrave many materials, including wood, plastic, ceramic, marble and solid surface material.

About the Author

Jackie Zack is a professional freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. Davis has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University. Her background includes writing for a variety of trade publications on various topics, including marketing, business, technical and feature writing. She has written for "CM Life," "The Engravers Journal," "Teradata Magazine," "Bluetooth Quarterly" and Demand Studios.