The DIY Window Etch

The DIY Window Etch

You know what I haven’t seen much of lately? Window etches on mods. Sure, I see a few, but there was a time when folks would do incredible etches, or more often than not, have them done. It could be that window etching has had its day. I tend to think that what is really going on is that small sign and auto detailing shops have stopped etching or “blasting” glass and plastic in favor of getting effects from vinyl wraps and vinyl cutting. There are certainly larger shops still doing it, but they may not be too keen on doing small projects (or want a hefty price). You can still send a piece off to be laser etched or bead blasted. There are even appliqués that will give an etch effect.

There is also the DIY method if you want something truly custom and truly “yours.”

The two simplest methods I know of to “etch” plastic windows are the tracing techniques and the stencil technique. To do an etch from a trace, I take my acrylic (or whatever plastic I'm using) and place it on a reverse drawing of my image. Then I take a rotary tool with a fine grinding nib and trace out the lines (at low rpm). When I’m done I will place the plexi on a dark surface or cloth (so I can see my marks) and “tune” it up. Others suggest using a permanent marker to trace to the acrylic and grind the marker off leaving the etch. Either way, it’s that simple. The technique works well but can give a “wood cut print” look to the final etch. The lines are rarely perfect, but it works for drawings that would look well as wood cuts. The resulting etches are also very noticeable – it’s not subtle and will give a good UV glow.

Another technique is to use a mask or thin adhesive backed stencil to cover the parts of the plexi you want to leave untouched. Then use an abrasive like 220+ grit sandpaper or an abrasive pad to sand the exposed areas. There are rotary tool attachments with abrasive pads that work well also. With this technique you get very sharp lines (provided the stencil or masking is thin and sharp), however, the effect is more subtle.

I won’t fool ya – it takes a small amount of practice, but it’s not very difficult to get great results. Results, I might add, are your own, not the laser etching factory’s.

Some other thoughts:

- Practice on pieces of 8”x10”, 1/8” thick material (<$2 a pop). This will save you a good deal of cash.  And do practice.

- Try multiple techniques – you may find you are better at one than another.

- Experiment – you never know. Bathroom cleanser may turn out to be your ideal abrasive.

- Adhesive left by masking and errant permanent marker can often be removed with isopropyl

- Mix techniques – you can get a two tone effect.


Happy Moddin’


Today’s bling is from Bill Owen – How to Install the Window You Just Etched - *Now with shaky-cam*. Next week I think I’ll do some foreign language bling for added culture.



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It's not exactly the same, but consider the spray-on window frosting that one can buy in a crafts store.

Cover the areas you want to remain clear, spray the surface (I'd spray the inside of the panel), and peel off the stencil....done.

Will give a very even frost look.

(test first, I haven't actually done this on a computer case, but it should work great.)



Nice write-up!!!

Not as cheap, but a whole lot faster & easier... get a tabletop sandblasting cabinet (can be found for as low as $70) & a small, portable air compressor. Technique is the same except you replace the sandpaper / rotary tool with the sandblasting cabinet. There are hundreds of different types & grades of grits you can use depending on material you're etching (glass, plexi, lexan, acrylic, etc..) & what look you want to achieve. But as mentioned, you will want some small/disposable test pieces of the materila you want to use to practice on before tackling your big project!

BTW.. you can add a 3D effect using any etching/engraving method by etching both sides of the glass/plastic :)


Bead/sand blasting is the way to go - but like you said - not cheap. I figure $350 after all is said and done for equipment - and that's being cheap. You could spend a grand. OTOH, you can do windows both faster and better with it. And, a bead blaster will do much more than just etch windows. You can blast wood grain (sand carving), clean parts, and texture metal surfaces.

Good call.




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