When a designed space demands both opacity and openness from its surfaces, etched glass panels provide a favorable fix for an array of applications. Adding dimensionality and depth to interiors, decorative acid etched glass surfaces deliver a degree of privacy by delicately obscuring outlines and shapes while still permitting light to permeate through. An age-old technique that first emerged during the 19th century, acid etching treatments continue to create transparent tones and textures today. “Over the years, glass has gained importance as a decorative component of architecture and design, thanks to different techniques of decoration that have been explored by artists, architects, designers,” says Elettra Bresciani of Italy’s OmniDecor Glass Design. “Glass offers a blank canvas that can be customized to the needs of a particular project. With an ethereal appearance, etched glass panels provide a physical and visual separation of spaces that lets the light flow through.” The information below offers an overview of the origins, treatment, and techniques of acid etched glass treatments.
As one of the most ubiquitous techniques used to treat and shield transparent glass, the process of acid etching first emerged in England and was developed into a craft on a commercial scale during the 1800s. Acid etched glass panels became a prevalent option for protecting the privacy of patrons in drinking establishments without sacrificing natural light. Its unique aesthetic was later adopted across domestic interior applications, becoming a particularly popular option for elegantly ensuring privacy or obscuring unwanted views within in Victorian and Edwardian homes.
Acid etching is also sometimes referred to as “French embossing” since the artistry achieved at the time of the technique’s emergence often featured elaborate ornamentation following the French Rococo style. Additionally, the benefits of glass as a material are extensive. “Glass is an extremely versatile material and because of its industrial production and processing,” says Bresciani. “Glass panels are easy to install, require zero to minimum maintenance once installed, do not absorb any smell or dirt, are hygienic, and can be treated to become an antimicrobial surface.”
Altering aspects of a glass surface without modifying its mechanical properties, acid etching treatments use a permanent chemical process in which hydrofluoric acid works to rapidly corrode and remove silica from the surface of the glass. “The acid etching process involves chemicals that attack the surface of the clear glass and make it opaque,” explains Bresciani. Before being dipped into the hydrofluoric acid, a resist is applied to glass through which a design can be added. The object is then immersed in the hydrofluoric acid and, afterwards, a frosted etched appearance accented by subtle shades of white is left behind. The surface underneath the resist remains glossy and untouched.
Acid etched glass treatments reduce the transparency of glass without modifying its light transmission. “Etched glass treatments result in a smooth surface that is soft to touch with decorations that have a three-dimensional effect as a result of different light reflections playing off of the etched surface as compared to the clear surfaces,” says Bresciani. “It also results in optimal light diffusion for a full etched surface, as well as resistance to fingerprints, scratches, or abrasions. The etched surface doesn’t fade or discolor, adding durability over time.” Additional approaches to glass etching include the techniques glass etching cream, mold etching, and frost etching, as well the more established method of abrasive blasting or sandblasting. Offering more options and degrees of transparency when compared to standard sandblasted glass, the acid etching process promises a consistent and reliable result for adding opacity and openness to any interior.