Art is all about expression. Being able to draw and paint is only part of it as you also need to find the medium that communicates and displays your work best. Today I’m going to teach you how to apply acrylic paint on glass. With a little preparation, you can not only apply your work to this medium but you can make it last!
There are a few options that you have for getting your work to ‘stick’ and I’ll go over 3 of them with you today and we’ll also discuss everything that you’ll need to get started.
Why paint glass?
Without preparation, some people already paint their glass with acrylics for the holidays. If this is something that you do sometimes then you know that the acrylic is easily removed once the holiday is past and you can apply it again later.
With the right preparation, however, you can get that acrylic to stick for many, many years, and this gives you an exciting new canvas that you can work with. Not only can you decorate the glass with designs of your choosing, but with some techniques you can do things like make your glass appear to be ceramic.
It’s fun and it gives you new creation options, so I highly recommend that you give it a try. Some of the looks that you can achieve on the glass are definitely worth your while! Try with wine glasses, glass panes, whatever you like… you’ll get a feel for it over time and it’s really quite addictive.
Types of glass that are best for painting
This is where things are going to get tricky. There simply isn’t a specific list of glass types that are going to be optimal for the best sealing method, which happens to be baking the paint right into your glass. Towards the end of this article, we’ll give you some alternative sealing methods that you can use which will give you good results, if a bit less longevity, but if you really want to have fun with this kind of painting and you want your work to really last then I highly recommend that you experiment with baking the paint in.
Over time you’ll get a ‘feel’ for it and have a pretty good idea what glass you can safely bake your art into and if you really like painting glass, you might even expand your options with a kiln! So, I’ll tell you how to bake it in and if you don’t want to try that, just skip the baking option and check out the alternatives that I’ve listed at the end of the article…
…or put on your mad-scientist lab coat and live a little, because baking art is fun!
Select paints that will show well and stick on the glass
When you are selecting your paints, you want to make sure that you select colors which are as opaque as possible in the beginning. You can play with mixes of fairly clear paints and opaques later, but for now let’s keep things simple so that you don’t get discouraged.
Select the colors that you would like and make sure that they are opaque. As far as selecting acrylics that stick, check out the paint packaging and it will generally tell you if the acrylic that you want is suitable for painting glass. Alternately, you can go with special acrylic paint on glass that are specifically designed for glass and for tiles and work with, typically these will be enamel-based acrylics, but whichever you choose you want to make sure that the packaging specifically states that it is good for glass to avoid any frustration later.
Don’t be afraid to visit the art store
In this information age there is a temptation to simply pick some colors and wait for them to come in and this can be a bit disappointing. I recommend that for the best results you get out of the house and visit a local art supply. There you can ask them to show you the actual paints, by unscrewing the cap and letting you see the actual color.
Online vendors have been known to occasionally ‘cheat’ when it comes to showing actual colors in
“Online vendors have been known to occasionally ‘cheat’ when it comes to showing actual colors”
products and as artists, we tend to get really upset when a color varies in the slightest from what we had in mind. I don’t know about you, but that really ruins my day, so I cannot recommend enough that you check out the actual color and if you still want to order it online, then you’ve got the brand name and the confirmation that you need to order it with confidence.
You’ll want to get an Enamel-based primer
Now that you know which glass and paint that you want to use, we need to apply an enamel-based primer to it so that your paint is going to stick. Glass is quite slippery and a good enamel-based primer will treat the surface so that it will hold paint but without affecting the aesthetics of the glass.
You will have to use a very light application of this primer when you prepare your glass piece and this is another technique that you are going to have to learn by experience. If you apply the primer on too thick and completely coat the piece, then you will have problems when it is expanding from the heat.
Your primer options are going to be ‘spray-on’ and ‘brush-on’ and they both have their own perks, personally I like the spray-on because with a little practice you can get pretty good at holding the piece at a distance and applying just the right amount of light coat to hold the paint without adversely affecting the baking process.
Whichever you use, just be sure to apply it lightly and only in the areas where you need it.
Once you’ve got your primer coat put on, let it dry for the amount of time that is specified on the packaging. Typically, you are looking at 24 to 72 hours of drying time before you are ready to start painting the glass.
Painting your glass
Prepare your paints for the application and to help keep yourself focused, it’s a good idea to draw your designs on paper first. This helps to keep you from getting distracted from your original intent because face it, we artists sometimes get funny ideas when it isn’t always practical. Learn the technique before you get crazy or paint 2 pieces so that you can do what you want on one and do a basic ‘learning’ piece on the other bit of glass.
Once you’ve got the piece painted the way that you like it then we are ready to bake those designs right into the glass!
Baking in your design
The problem that we are faced with when we want to make glass into a canvas is also one of the things that makes it so attractive.
It’s fragile so prepare yourself for the possibility that it might break. If that happens, try again and again until it doesn’t. You’ll learn much more from this that you think, trust me!
Also, don’t worry about the glass melting. Glass has a typical melting point of around 1400 degrees, so what I’m about to propose isn’t going to provide any risk for that. Even when it’s self-cleaning, your oven isn’t going to break 850 degrees, so melting is simply not on the table… or in the oven. You know what I mean!
The problem with painting glass is really pretty simple. The heat makes your glass expand and cold makes it contract. If either occurs too quickly, you get broken glass.
So, what we’re going to do is heat it slowly and let it cool, and if everything works out then your art will be baked right in. Follow these steps to test out your shiny new canvas:
- Put your glass into the oven while the oven is still cold. Don’t touch any of the knobs to heat it in advance and if you just cooked something in there, wait for it to completely cool before you start this. You want to make sure that changes in temperature occur gradually and if the oven is already warm, your glass might well shatter or crack. Note: Do not use glass that is already chipped or cracked!
- Set your oven to 350 degrees EXACTLY. That is the optimal temperature for baking your acrylic without damaging the glass, provided it has a good COE for our purposes.
- Bake it for half an hour and turn off your oven. Use a kitchen timer so that you don’t go over this time or under it, so that you have repeatable conditions that you can learn from.
- Do NOT open your oven door. Leave your glass in there for 45 minutes before you open up the oven to check it. We want it to cool down as slowly as possible so that your glass is likely to survive intact. Personally, I like to do the process in the evening, so I can just turn off the oven and look in the morning. Yes, you’re going to get up at night and peek, but after you’ve done it a few times then you’ll get more confident and you can learn the joys of opening the oven in the morning to see what you’ve just created!
Apply a varnish if you like
The right finish can really change the overall look of the piece and adds a little extra protection for your piece. That said, when you bake the paint in with that enamel primer in place, your piece should be pretty solid and after 72 hours you can even wash it in the dishwasher to see for yourself.
If you want to play a little with the finished look, however, then consider applying a varnish. Matte, Glossy, or even Frosted varnishes look great and sometimes make the difference between your finished work looking like something from art class or like a unique, professional piece all it’s own.
Once you’ve got the baking technique down, consider playing with varnish to see what kind of difference that it makes. I think you might be pleasantly surprised with the results!
Congratulations! Now do it again and have fun with it!
Practice makes perfect and glass is tricky to work with until you’ve got a little experience under your belt. To get the experience, spent the next 3 months making a glass piece every weekend. This won’t take up a lot of your time and you’ll learn quite a lot from it. You’ll start to get an artist’s intuition when it comes to picking the perfect glass and once that becomes second nature to you then the you have officially acquired a new and useful tool in your repertoire!
If the baking process frustrates you or you do a lot of cooking in that oven and the idea of cooking glass and acrylics inside it just doesn’t work for you, then you can always use spray or brush-on sealant, but
“you can always use spray or brush-on sealant”
just keep in mind that it is not as durable and you may need to reseal it on occasion to keep your artwork protected.
Applying spray or brush-on sealant
If you want to apply a spray or brush-on sealant then I only have a few basic recommendations for this. Just be sure to do the following:
- Seal your piece in a well-ventilated area because those fumes aren’t good for you.
- Apply your first layer and let it dry completely.
- Once it dries, repeat the process 2 more times so that you have 3 coats of sealant. This will give you the best results.
Bonus: Faux ceramic technique for cups and vases
One fun thing that you can do when painting glass is this faux-ceramic technique. Mix a cup or several cups of paint and add a teaspoon of baking soda to each. Next, paint the inside and outside of your glass cup or vase with this paint and let it dry.
Seal with the gloss of your choice once it has completely dried and voilla, you have made your glass look like ceramic. This is really, really fun to play with so I hope that you give this a try!
Some final words on painting acrylic on glass
Today we have walked you through the process of painting glass with acrylics. As you can see, it’s not all that difficult, but there is a bit of a learning curve in that you will need to try it a few times to really get the hang of it.
Painting glass can produce some amazing results, so if your first experiments don’t go as planned then just keep trying. When you produce your first perfect piece it is going to be worth all of the time that you put into learning it.
Don’t take me word for it, though. Get your glass, enamels, and acrylics and give it a try… you’ve really gotta see this for yourself!