Using Vari-Etch Powder and Cream to Etch Your Glass

Using Vari-Etch Powder and Cream to Etch Your Glass


While Vari-Etch Frosting Powder and Cream can be a lot of fun to play with on your glass, it is still a chemical that deserves respect and knowledge of usage and handling beforehand. Vari-Etch is a weak hydroflouric acid that will etch and frost sodalime and lead crystal glass (it will not frost borosilicate glass, but it will etch it). Hydroflouric acid does not burn your skin but if it is absorbed through your skin it will attack the calcium in your bones so care must be taken to properly work with and handle the Vari-Etch solutions.

It's important also to know how to correct mix the Vari-Etch Powder to make a dipping liquid. When we sell a quart of Vari-Etch powder, the container arrives about 2/3 full of the crystals that make the Vari-Etch. You WILL NOT add a quart of water to the crystals, but only enough boiling water to fill the container to about a 1/2 inch from the top. The same would apply to the 1 gallon and the 5 gallon containers as well.

Boiling water is vital as the chemical reaction is an endothermic reaction so the crystals will only dissolve in boiling water. When the water begins to mix with the crystals, the chemical reaction will suck the heat out of the water and quickly cool the boiling water down to room temperature.


While Vari-Etch is an awesome tool and technique for your coldworking repertoire, you will also need to neutralize the acid on the surface of your pieces when you etch them and sometimes you need to dispose of older Vari-Etch. For these purposes, you need to neutralize the acidic properties of Vari-Etch. Mixing a pound of baking soda into a clean water bath will neutralize the acidic properties of Vari-Etch for your day to day etching processes. We recommend about a pound of baking soda to neutralize up to quart of Vari-etch.


Vari-Etch is amazingly simple to use and yields fantastic results on your glass in a short period of time. A dip of roughly 4 to 5 minutes is generally adequate to achieve a smooth frosted appearance on your glass. Longer dips will often only remove more glass, but not deepen the frosting on your glass and can cause streaking on your glass surface as the glass particles being eaten away can "roll" down your glass causing streaks or even work like a barrier to the frosting acid.

Be sure that your glass is well cleaned as well as any contaminant on your glass will act as a mask to the acid etch and prevent a smooth even frost on the glass. Vari-Etch will also not work on borosilicate glass for frosting it. It will etch the borosilicate by removing glass, but it will not frost it. Different colors of glass will also frost at different rates. Deeper colors like reds and blacks will frost at a much slower rate than other colors.


One of the great things about Vari-Etch is that it can be used for more than just frosting your glass. Vari-Etch is a great way to fingerprint proof sandblasted surfaces or even etch your glass without frosting it. By diluting Vari-Etch you can etch your glass without frosting it. This allows you to fingerprint proof sandblasted areas while retaining clear surfaces on other parts of your glass or even give a different texture to your clear glass. The options are up to you and your imagination!


Not only do we offer the Vari-Etch Powder for creating a dipping liquid, we also have a Vari-Etch Cream that can used for painting or silkscreening a frosted etch onto your glass. This is great for frosting more specific areas of your glass or for working with pieces that are mounted vertically in place and need a design etched into them. Used with 3M's Buttercut Sandblast stencil you can create intriguing designs and effects on your glass with minimal effort.