19: Fire Flower Vase

My first attempt at etching glass was a hint of things to come.
My first attempt at etching glass was a hint of things to come.

“Well, that didn’t work,” ended my first foray into laser etching glass. I tried to create a design similar to the mesmerizing microscopic pattern found on the back of the Nexus 4 smartphone, this time on the glass back of a spare iPhone 4 that my nephew graciously donated for the cause. The resulting pattern was too big and the laser settings weren’t appropriate, making each vector line look more like a coincidentally straight shatter line rather than the light-reflecting divot I’d intended. I’ve shied away from etching glass since, and after this week’s project, I’ve realized I’ve still got a lot to learn!

Make sure to level the surface you want to etch!
Make sure to level the surface you want to etch!

While I’m doing general graphic design at Eagle Engraving in St. Charles, IL, my coworker and fellow laser ninja Monica is often etching all sorts of designs into glass. I’ve been envious lately of her knack for making designs spring forth from glass, and while I don’t yet have the rotary attachment necessary to etch round objects—like pilsner glasses—I did have a square vase conveniently made of mostly flat glass. Because the sides of the vase were tapered, I had to prop up the bottom side so that the surface was parallel to the laser plane. I ended up using a box of dialog boxes and a handy level to double-check my work.

The two designs chosen for etching were, perhaps, too many shades of gray.
The two designs chosen for etching are another sign of my Nintendo upbringing.
The lightest halftone didn't etch consistently. It almost looks like frost.
The lightest halftone didn’t etch consistently. It almost looks like frost.

The first etch was cut with the default raster etch density (5) and the grayscaled art above. I went with full power and full speed just to see how it would turn out, and the lightest halftone didn’t play well with mostly flat glass, only mostly etching. Apart from that, this turned out to be the single best contrast out of the set of four etches I made. The second etch, at maximum density, was overkill; the raster lines were so close together that wiping down the surface flaked away a lot of the glass, as shown below.

Etch glass at too high a density and much of it will chip and flake away.
Etch glass at too high an Image Density and much of it will chip and flake away.

 

The lower image density didn't help prevent chipping. Maybe the halftone was too dark.
The lower image density didn’t help prevent chipping. Maybe the halftone was too dark.

My third fire flower was etched at a lower image density. While this prevented chipping, some tinkering with the halftone patterns resulted in even more chipping in a much more widespread way. While the contrast was improved from etch two and nearly as good as etch one, the damaged areas really stand out. Who can guess where many of these tiny glass slivers are?

I had to cut at least one Super Mario World flower.  I settled on the default image density again after the tweaked results were poor, and while he’s still hard to see thanks to haphazardly adjusted gray levels, you can still see how much more personality he has. That just won’t do—he’ll only last another game or two, anyway.

Look at that smug bastard.
Look at that smug bastard.

I might have to table glass etching again for a while; I was unable to achieve satisfactory results on this particular piece. Still, I’ve since had a chat with laser ninja Monica, about her own tricks for getting better results on glass, so you can be sure you’ll be reading more about it here in the future!

5 thoughts on “19: Fire Flower Vase”

  1. I always love reading your projects, especially when things don’t work out. (Sorry, I’m sure you hate when that happens!) I find it so fascinating to read what did and didn’t work and how you dealt with it.

    1. Thanks! While it’s better to succeed than to fail, I’m always learning. It’s handy having this written account of my endeavor so that, when I finally get back to glass etching, I don’t have to go “okay, now what did I need to do differently this time?”

      The phone is a good example of that. I don’t remember much at all about what settings I was using for that iPhone back surface etch. All I could really remember was that I had to pay better attention to the glass’s fondness for chipping.

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