A Different Approach to Glassware: Going the extra mile to make a project work

Ruth Dobbins discusses one of the challenges sandcarvers often face when designing artwork to go with odd-shaped substrates.

We have all done enough glassware pieces to write a book about, but every now and then, there is a need to deal with this product in a slightly different way than the normal process. Case in point is a set of Scotch glasses that we did not too long ago. What makes this set of glasses special lies in the shape of them, as well as in the design applied to both. What am I talking about? Well, let me explain.


It all started innocently enough: A client wanted to get a couple of Scotch glasses etched with a geometric pattern, which was going to wrap completely around the glass. We selected the glasses from a more upscale line of bar ware then proceeded to work on the pattern the client wanted. 

We measured the circumference of the glasses in order to establish the length of the design band. This was helpful in creating the layout for the design. It is important to make sure that the design repeats in the correct way and meets cleanly with itself at the right repetition part when working with a geometric pattern on a round glass. 

After the layout was created on the computer, we printed the design on paper in order to apply it to the glass to check for proper alignment. So far, everything went according to standard operating procedure, until we tried the paper pattern on the glass.

As we taped the pattern to the glass, we noticed that the paper was not laying flat against it, which could create a problem when we attempted to apply the imaged stencil to the glass. A very slight taper in the glass caused this, and it also seemed to be of an uneven surface. This meant that we had a slight deviation in both directions of the glass. 

Even though this deviation was slight (close to 1/16 of an inch), it still caused the pattern to shift. The biggest problem this created was that the pattern band did not meet up with itself on the other end of the glass and also meandered a bit along the whole circumference-it varied in the up and down position on the glass. 

This was not only a concern in relation to the stencil application, but also with the look of the finished pattern. If we made a photoresist, it would be difficult to make adjustments to the direction of the design during application. Even though the stencils are repositionable to a certain degree, it would be almost impossible to keep the design from stretching while trying to make it fit. Normally, we appreciate the pliable nature of photoresist, but in this case, it was not what we wanted. It would be tough to ignore any deviations from the straightness of the geometric pattern. 


So, what to do? We were not looking forward to struggling with the stencil application. In talking about it, it occurred to us that the pattern was relatively simple and therefore would be easy to weed as a pre-cut stencil. If you look at the pattern closely, you will recognize that the background to the geometric pattern would be weeded out. Once you start lifting a piece of the background stencil, the whole background would weed out in one continuous band, making this choice an easy decision.

We cut the stencils on our plotter cutter and tried them out on the glasses before application. Since the vinyl stencils are made from a tougher material than a photoresist, they keep their shape when tucked at and handled. 

In our dry run with the vinyl stencils, we found that they were not going to be completely even in their path around the glass. We finally took our trusty marker tool and marked the location of the top edge of the design all around the glass. Realizing that the stencil would pucker a bit where the glass varied in thickness, we cut the stencil slightly longer than needed, and also cut the band into a couple of sections and applied them consecutively. By doing so, we could ever so slightly overlap the sections onto each other, avoiding having to tape off many gaps. Sometimes we had to slightly trim the meeting point of two sections with a stencil knife. 

When we had a small gap to deal with, we actually used leftover pieces of photoresist to tape them with since the softness and the thinness of the material allowed us to easily push it into the gap. We applied the complete design in four separate sections, and the plan worked out just fine. The weeding went quickly and when finished, we only had to apply a couple of strips of tape above and below the stencil to protect the glass during the blasting process. After all, we did not want to take a chance of blasting any exposed areas considering the amount of work put into them, not to mention the cost of these higher end glasses. 

We blasted the design somewhat deep into the glass, trying not to overdo it. After the blasting, we rinsed the glasses, and the soft vinyl we used easily peeled off. The glasses were for a good customer, so we didn’t mind spending some extra time on the creation of them knowing that the client would cherish them, and we would get the satisfaction of a job well done. 

I firmly believe in going the extra mile to do a good job, even though the payment is not always commensurate with the effort applied. Too often these days I encounter the comment of “good enough” from others in the industry, something that does not sit well with me. But maybe that is a good topic for another article down the line.

© Ruth L Dobbins

Ruth Jan 2018

Ruth Dobbins

With over 35 years in the glass business, Ruth Dobbins offers experience in fused and cast glass, as well as in glass-etching techniques. She owns Professional Glass Consultants with her husband Norm and holds a master's in printmaking and art history.

Avatar of Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon is the executive editor of GRAPHICS PRO and WRAPS magazines. Before that he was served as editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and Sign Business Magazine. He can be reached at 720-566-7286.

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