How to commission an etched glass window – expert advice!

Hawke with shading and dove with carving

You have seen elegant etched glass in museums and luxury residences and you would like to commission a window for your own home. But you have no idea of how to go about the commissioning process. Learn all you need to know about how how to commission an etched glass window in this useful guide.

The steps involved in commissioning an etched glass window are:

  1. Establish a budget
  2. Choose a glass studio
  3. Consult with the glass artist
  4. Decide on your design
  5. Approve the finished panel
  6. Approve the installation

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

1) Establish a budget

It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time roughly how much money you wish to spend on your etched glass window. A reputable glass studio will not take advantage of your honesty if you tell them your budget ahead of time.

Knowing the budget will save time and enable the artist to guide you towards the optimum design.

The cost of an etched glass commission is made up of four charges:

Design charge

SW petroglyph look like aliens
Explain your design preferences and expect to pay an artwork fee depending on how long the process takes

Measuring charge

Measuring a window for a stained glass
If necessary your glass artist will come to your home to measure your window, The cost will depend on the distance from the studio.

Money-saving strategy #1: reduce artwork charges by providing black & white line art or camera-ready vector files (ai or pdf).

Money-saving strategy #2: if you are handy and can measure and install your own panel. Artistry in Glass will provide expert advice.

Fabrication charge

Man in the maze design
Elders of the Tohono O’odham tribe witnessing Artistry in Glass working on the iconic “Man in the Maze” design

Fabrication is the sum of the glass cost (materials) and the labor cost of sandblasting.

Installation charge

Single-paned amber glass (left) and modern dual paned glass (right)
Older (pre-1980) windows require the replacement of old single pane glass or plexiglass.

The delivery charge depends on the distance to the glass studio and installation varies depending on the age of the windows.

Glass types used for etching

Sandblast etching can be done on a variety of types of glass, clear or tinted, annealed or tempered, thick or thin. It can also form single-paned or dual-paned units. Jump to this section for more details.

To get ballpark estimates for different windows types, jump to these handy price calculators. Once you have done this homework, decide how much money you are comfortable spending.

Money-saving strategy #3

If a custom etched glass panel is too pricey for your budget, and you really need privacy – consider using affordable window film.

Can’t justify the cost of custom etched glass? Save money with this highly-rated frosted film available on Amazon. Clean your window thoroughly and spray with soapy water – smooth the film with a squeegee.

2) Choose a glass studio

Local or national company – which is better?

There are many excellent glass etching studios that will ship panels nationwide including one of our favorites – San Souci Glass in California. Many of them will do a great job but we highly recommend that you choose a local company whenever possible.

This is because art glass is a highly subjective process and we feel strongly that a personal relationship should be established between the artist and her client. This relationship is best nurtured on a face-to-face basis.

For this reason, at Artistry in Glass, we restrict our commissions to Southern Arizona customers.

As a side benefit, we derive much of our job satisfaction from seeing the delight and gratitude in the eyes of the customer after a successful project.

Installation: an important benefit of using a local company is that, in addition to saving shipping charges, the glass studio will guarantee the important tasks of measuring your windows and installing the art glass correctly – saving you the worry and inconvenience of hiring a separate contractor.

So, choose Artistry in Glass if you live in Southern Arizona but otherwise go with a company in your area.

Which studio to choose?

Competence: Take a look at the studio’s website to see examples of the quality and artistry of their work, check how long they have been in business, whether they have a public studio (rather than working from home),

Testimonials: check their Google testimonials to get real-life customer reviews.

Visit the studio to examine the quality and scope of their work. Do they do all their work “in-house” and do they have their own installers?

Empathy: make an appointment to talk to the glass artist to see whether you “get along” – it is crucial that you establish an empathetic working relationship and that you are confident that the studio will listen carefully to you and will have your interests at heart.

3) Consult with your glass artist

Before consulting your glass artist, educate yourself about the etched glass process by studying these blog posts:

Then take the time to answer the questions on this list:

  • Size & Shape of the window(s) – rectangle, arch, circle, single-pane, or IG
  • Function – privacy, view control, home improvement, beauty
  • Style – Southwestern, contemporary, mission, country, traditional
  • Complexity – simple & functional or “work of art”
  • Budget – approximately how much do you want to spend?

Explaining the details of your project in this organized manner will convince your glass artist that you are a serious customer and also enable her to give you the benefit of her expertise – thereby saving time and money.

Collaborating with your glass artist

The commissioning process will proceed much more smoothly if you communicate your requirements clearly to the glass artist. She has designed hundreds of panels and will be able to give you valuable, professional answers to all your questions.

Wild cat and Big Horn Sheep

Insider design tip: do not send photos of furry animals to your glass artist! This type of artwork is very expensive to process for etching – always send line art.

Design Choice: based on your input, your glass artist will produce scaled drawings for you to review. Old-school artists use paper and pencils whereas new-school, computer-savvy, designers use CAD software. In either case, feel free to express your opinions and request design changes.

For tips on making your own decisions on design style – read on!

4) Decide on your design

The style of etching is your most important decision because the cost of the project depends mainly on the time taken to do the work. Four main styles can be distinguished – in order of cost from inexpensive to expensive:

  • Simple frosting
  • Shaded etching
  • Deep carving
  • Carving with color

Generally speaking, simple frosted designs are the most affordable, and deeply carved designs are the most expensive. Jump to this post to see how the type of etching controls the price of the panel.

Simple Frosting

Frosted art glass agave

Simple frosted glass is the most affordable etching option because it is a one-stage, sandblasting process. Even though inexpensive, bold designs are impressive.

Choose this option if budget is an issue and your main requirement is privacy.

Shaded etching

Shaded art glass

In shaded etching, individual design elements (for example, leaves) are variably etched (from white to black) in a manner similar to air-brush painting. The result is an artistic effect that adds depth to the design.

Choose this option to add flair to your etched panel

Deep carving

Deeply carved art glass

In carving, the edges of the drawing are sandblasted to a depth of 1/16″ or more. These deep edges create a 3-D, sculptural effect to the etching and, when illuminated from the side, refract light into the eyes of the viewer.

Choose carved glass if money is no object and you really want to impress the neighbors.

Deep carving with color

Etched glass is traditionally a black and white artform – but it is sometimes highly effective to add color.

Sandcarved dove with painting

This deeply carved dove has an aqua blue halo painted at the request of the customer. Also, note the polychrome (painted) olive branch and leaves. The dove is surrounded by vibrant yellow waterglass overlaid (plated) to the back of the panel.

Tell your glass artist which style (frosted, shaded, carved, or colored) you would like for your project.

Tips for collaborating with your glass artist

An experienced glass artist has designed hundreds of panels and can be your best resource in guiding you to the optimal design choice. Take her advice to avoid costly artistic blunders.

Avoiding the cliché! Your stained glass artist has made hundreds of panels and knows the importance of original designs. She can advise on the designs least likely to offend a future buyer of your home. It is very important to avoid the cliché – do not commission a coyote howling at the moon unlike you are being ironic!

Accentuate the positive! A great source of frustration for the dedicated glass artist is the customer who goes into great detail about what he does not want. Please concentrate on the positive – explain what you do want.

Have confidence in the artist but, if you want to enjoy the challenge of deciding your own design, follow these tips:

Trust your instincts – do not be afraid! Some customers know exactly what they want: a favorite flower like a rose, a bird such as a quail, or a memory evocative of an idyllic childhood.

Indulge your imagination and enjoy the process – the journey – of developing the ideal design for your home, church, or business. This comprehensive blog post gives general advice on how to design a SW-style etched glass window and this post explains how to choose between etched and stained glass for your home.

Use the search capabilities of the internet. If you have a favorite subject, the best approach is to do an internet image search. For example, if you like roses, search Google images for a term like “etched glass roses”. Use the results for ideas and forward your favorites to your glass artist to serve as inspiration.

Consider the function of the window

The purpose or function of the window will help you to narrow down the details of the design.

  • Privacy
  • View control
  • Home improvement
  • Beauty

The twin benefits of privacy and view control are the main reasons for choosing etched glass in the home. This comprehensive post explains these benefits in great detail. In brief, sandblasted/frosted glass obscures the view but still allows light to enter.

Customers can select exactly the right amount of obscurity to allow light to enter without permitting intruders to see inside. Privacy panels are especially useful in entryways and bathrooms.

The most important function of stained glass in modern homes is to provide privacy.

Spooky guy is obscured by frosted glass
Etched glass obscures ugly view
View control – hiding the garbage pail

Customers can select exactly the right amount of obscurity to allow light to enter without permitting intruders to see inside. Privacy panels are especially useful in entryways and bathrooms.

Insider tips from a glass professional

Essential tip! – for privacy and view control make sure you choose a design with a frosted (obscure) background.

Use design style to narrow your choices

Even if you do not know the exact subject of the design you do have an idea of the style of your home interior.

You describe your home decorating style as eclectic but hard to pin down. Consider the following main categories and decide which is best for your project:-

  • Traditional
  • Southwestern
  • Abstract/contemporary
  • Mission/Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Country/Art Nouveau

Use your design style to search Google images for ideas – specifically: search for “traditional-style etched glass”, “mission-style etched glass windows“, “contemporary-style etched glass windows”, “country-style etched glass windows”, “geometric-style” etc.

Decide which ideas you like best and forward them to your glass artist/designer.

Insider tips from a glass professional

Choose your design without considering colors. Etched glass is essentially a black and white artwork (although color is occasionally possible).

Production of your panel: once the design is finalized, be patient as your glass artist orders the glass and completes the sandblasting – then, prepare for the excitement of seeing the result!

5) Approve the finished panel

Carefully examine your panel before it is installed

You will be living with your etched glass work of art for many years so make sure you are happy with the panel before it is installed.

Most glass artists will invite you to take a look at the finished etched glass panel before it is installed. Make sure there are no obvious scratches or defects (remember that variations are part of the hand-etched nature of sandblasted glass – so do not be too picky).

Use this final review to satisfy yourself that you like the result before the expensive step of delivery and installation.

Remember that etched glass cannot be “un-etched” – but it may be possible to add details like denser frosting or an extra hummingbird for example. Let your artist know before the panel is installed.

6) Approve the installation

The moment of truth has arrived – you have approved the etched glass panel and are ready for the installation.

Two common installation situations

Older residences (the 1980s and before) often have single-pane windows (sometimes even plexiglass). These need to be removed and replaced by your new etched glass panel together with protective tempered glass.

Protective tempered glass

Newer homes have energy-efficient dual-pane windows – see image below. In this case, the stained glass can be installed with clips, up against the IG unit, on the inside of the window.

Single-paned amber glass (left) and modern dual paned glass (right)
An ugly and very dated entryway with single-paned glass (left) modern IG or dual-paned sidelight (right).

Plan for your installers to spend between one and three hours at your home depending on the details of the job. To facilitate the installation, please observe the following courtesies:

Clear the area of small children, dogs, cats, and other pets.
Resist the temptation to park a lazy-boy recliner in front of the window to observe the installation process (even the most rhinoceros-skinned worker is offended by intrusive supervision).
Make sure you are available to examine and “sign off” on the quality of the installation. Examine the glass in different lighting conditions – from the inside and outside and check for details like fingerprints trapped on the inside of the glass.

There is nothing worse for the conscientious installer than to be called all the way back to remove a small fingerprint on the glass.
Stand back and admire your mutual creation – the collaboration between you and your glass artist: the synthesis of your idea and vision – realized and interpreted by the art, craft, and dedication of a skilled artist/craftsman – a treasure for future generations.

Handy price calculators

Use this unique price estimation module to get a general idea of how the complexity of the design affects the cost of an etched glass panel. Enter the approximate width and height of your window to get price estimates.

Simple Designs

Clear background or frosted (for privacy)

Etched corner design
Simple corners
Simple etched border designs
Simple borders
Frosted glass for privacy
Frosted glass

Complex designs

Shaded and/or deep carved works of art

Swooping eagle
Shaded eagle
Sandcarved dove with olive branch
Carved dove

Remember that these pricing modules are just basic guides and do not include design fees and delivery/installation charges. They also don’t take into account special procedures like adding protective glass, glass painting, glass fusing, or gilding.

For more details on etched glass pricing – read this comprehensive post.

Types of glass used for etching

Glass color or tint: most glass etching is done on so-called “clear” float glass which has a pale green tint owing to a small content of iron, but pleasing results can also be achieved on bronze or gray glass. Check this post to learn about tinted architectural glass.

Glass thickness: any thickness from 1/8″ up to 3/4″ glass can be etched, but, in practice, smaller panels like cabinet inserts are etched on 1/8″ glass, medium-size panels on 3/16″ to 1/4″ glass, and large panels, for shower enclosures, for example, are done on 3/8″ or 1/2″ glass.

Use the website to calculate retail pricing for architectural glass.

Glass type – annealed or tempered: architectural glass starts out annealed and can be tempered or “heat-strengthened” to make safety glass. Learn how glass is tempered in this post.

Most residential glass panels are tempered so that, if they break, they shatter into harmless “popcorn” fragments – thus avoiding the danger of serious injury. Artistry in Glass has found it safe to sandblast tempered glass providing it is not deeply carved.

Single or dual-pane: frosting glass by sandblasting creates a porous surface that is vulnerable to staining by fingerprinting. For this reason it is always advisable to protect the frosted surface, especially when the background is frosted for privacy.

Protection method #1: create a dual paned unit. When replacing old, single-paned, panels – we highly recommend creating a dual-pane unit with the etched surface placed on one of the interior surfaces.

Surface nomenclature of IG unit
IG unit incorporating etched and low-E glass

By incorporating low-E glass on surface #2 and etched glass on surface #3, a very efficient dual-pane unit is created.

Protection method #2: install the frosted surface on the window interior, up against an existing dual-pane unit.

Shower doors and enclosures: to guard against damage by water staining – always install shower glass with the etching on the outside (dry side).

Etched shower panel with Hokusai wave
Artistic etching of the Hokusai wave – etched surface is on the outside.

Size and shape of windows

Measure your windows (to the nearest inch or two is OK) and use your cell phone to take photos. It’s helpful for the studio to see an overall view of the window in the context of the room and surroundings. Also, take a closeup to show the window framing. This will enable the studio to explain the recommended method of installation.

All you need to know about art glass

Commissioning stained and etched glass

Technical information

Guides to stained glass design

Artistry in Glass is your source for antique repair in Tucson

Check out this amazing selection of informative articles:-

Unique Mirror Resources from Artistry in Glass

Mirror Design & layout

Mirror Installation & Removal

Mirror Repair & Restoration


I was an exploration geologist and University Professor working in Botswana, Zambia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other countries before opening Artistry in Glass in 1986. In my more than 35 years of experience, I have brought my technical abilities as a scientist to the trade of glasswork. During this time I have become an industry expert in glass and glass-related skills. Watch out for special insider tips developed from my detailed knowledge of the glass business.

Recent Posts