Types of Frosted Glass

Glass can be functional while also making a statement. Any type that has semi-opaque or translucent properties is often referred to as frosted glass and covers a wide range of techniques and styles.

There are a variety of applications for frosted glass used in architecture and interior design. This can include:

  • To distribute uniformly and promote the flow of natural light throughout a room
  • Decorative patterns can be created using a variety of materials, including acid, sand, and film
  • To achieve a level of visual privacy, be it an office or a bathroom
  • Used as a partition to create an elegant and modern experience

Frosted glass is an amazing alternative to curtains or blinds. There are many methods to achieve the look. The two main ways are acid-etching and sandblasting. The effect can also be replicated by applying vinyl film as a stencil on the glass surface. Here we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each type of glass and the best applications for the style.

Photo of translucent glass, in this case screen printed ceramic fit
Example of translucent glass, in this case screen printed ceramic fit

Acid Etched Glass

One of the oldest decorative glass techniques, acid-etched (also known as French Embossing) was created thousands of years ago when craftsmen discovered that heated fluorite applied to glass had the effect of hydrochloric acid. The acid is applied to both sides of low-iron, clear, or color float glass. It melts the glass to a desired translucent look with a smooth, satiny texture.

This process allows you to experiment with different levels of opacity resulting in high-quality designs. The glass can be etched into intricate patterns, colors, and even painted for further customization. It’s also conveniently low maintenance, low in cost, and is smoother than other techniques, like sandblasting.

The only issue with acid-etched glass is that it requires further precautions due to the hazardous material. This results in it often being produced overseas. They can also be limited in custom design and aren’t as strong as laminated glass.

Acid-etched glass can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Decorating windows and doors in homes, pubs, restaurants, etc
  • Retail storefronts
  • Workspace partitions
  • Shelves, railings, and walls

Sandblasted Glass

Flat glass that is blasted with sand or other abrasive materials (even nutshells) at a high level of pressure is called Sandblasted Glass. Often compared to acid-etched, it’s the same idea in terms of shaping the glass to create a useable design.

You can take the pattern a step further by using masking tape to block off the sand. These designs are typically a lot simpler and readily available compared to anything you order that is custom.

Sandblasted glass can be created with different gradients and opacity. Much more so than acid-etched glass. It is also incredibly resilient and won’t peel or chip over time. It has more opportunities for customization and visibility levels. It’s simply a deeper way to design.

One of the setbacks to sandblasting is that is can be difficult to clean. This is especially apparent if you keep it in storage. There are specific guidelines you must follow during fabrication and storage to keep the glass from being damaged. It is also more costly to make, so if you get the level of opacity wrong, you could be out a lot of money.

Sandblasting can be applied to any form of glass, including cases for:

  • Visual appearance
  • Light diffusion or transmission
  • Integration with surrounding objects
  • Interior design
  • Privacy and security

It can be done by hand or with the help of a machine and can even be used on smaller items like plates and ornaments.

Ceramic Frit Silkscreened Glass

The process by which ceramic frit (paint) is applied to glass to create a specific design is another method of frosting. It allows designers to use custom colors and shapes on both interior and exterior fixtures. The purpose of the glass is meant to not only reduce glare but increase privacy.

You can choose from a range of patterns and styles, including:

  • Dots
  • Stripes
  • Holes
  • Gradients
  • Clear or tinted glass
  • Transparent, translucent, or opaque

The frit is mixed from raw powdered materials, melted, and cooled. It is then transferred to the surface of the glass during the heating/strengthening process. This creates a permanent bond and a long-lasting design.

The benefits to using ceramic frit silkscreened glass can far outweigh the costs. Higher percentages of frit mean a higher quality of frosted glass. It also indicates:

  • Faster firing
  • Lower melting
  • Brighter colors
  • Smoother surface
  • Better clarity (with fewer defects)
  • Lower thermal expansion

The glass has highly beneficial properties for solar protection as well. Unfortunately, if the glass breaks, the sun protection element will have to be replaced as well. This can end up being a costly procedure for such protection. Lastly, Frits can actually dissolve in water over time. Therefore, they often push the boundaries of stability and solubility.

Specific use cases can include:

  • Canopies
  • Decorative applications
  • Curtain walls
  • Insulating Glass Units (IGUs)
  • Laminated glass

You can always apply a silkscreen to tempered glass for additional protection and customized design.

Translucent Interlayer Laminated Glass

In 1930, the first interlayers were introduced and were used to replace the previous cellulose acetate for car windshields. By the early 1950s, architectural use of interlayers became more popular and colored products hit the market.

Laminated glass is the type that holds together when it is shattered. The interlayer is typically made of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and is positioned between two or more layers of glass. It bonds (or laminates) to the glass under heat and pressure, creating an extra layer of transparent protection.

Unlike other frosted glass, laminated glass interlayers offer a selection of opacity and color that you won’t find with other products like silk-screen or glass substrates. A single color can be used, or they can be stacked (typically up to four interlayers) to achieve various designs and patterns. If the desire has already been achieved with less than four, clear PVB is typically used to fill in the rest of the thickness.

Translucent interlayer laminated glazing has a variety of applications and benefits, including:

  • Soundproofing and noise transmission
  • Filtering of UV, infrared, and visible light
  • Skylights
  • Exterior storefronts
  • Hurricane-resistant construction (small and large projectile)
  • Curtain walls and windows
  • Blast-mitigating

The interlayer laminated glass is one of the sturdiest on the market and is ultimately designed to keep people safe. However, cutting plastic interlayers can be difficult. There are very dangerous ways of doing it. Additionally, many landfills no longer accept waste disposal of laminated glass. This makes disposal very hard if anything breaks.

Applied Translucent Film

One of the easiest ways to achieve the look of frosted glass is to use Applied Translucent Film. It is a great way to bring in a punch of color to brighten up any home or business space. Unlike the other styles, highly-detailed graphics can also be applied using the film technique.

Not only is it incredibly cost-effective, it solves problems like:

  • Heat gain
  • Glare
  • Privacy
  • Protection from projectiles

According to a recent survey, window film can cut down on utility costs by 30-40% and is only $6 to $14 per square foot, which is much cheaper than replacing any windows (or even using acid on them). Much like tempered glass, they also work to control any shards should the window break.

Insulating films not only reflect the sun’s heat in the summer, they keep it in during the colder months. This means you’re A/C and heating units run much less, saving you money on energy. They also block 99% of UV light which can keep the furniture in an office or home from fading. Some state and utility programs even offer rebates if you install films.

Applied translucent film comes in a variety of styles, including:

  • Mirrored
  • Glare-reducing
  • Black static-cling

There are some window manufacturers that will void their warranty if you install films, so make sure you check into that prior to planning. Additionally, certain latches and frames can make it difficult to install. Not every window can support film and still look good. It could cause bubbles which will make your window look atrocious. Some brands are better than others, so you should always be looking for a National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) certification.

Applied window films can be used in a variety of ways. Here are just a few:

  • When you need privacy but don’t want to block out the daylight
  • From decorative finishes to special effects, they’re great for interior design
  • Makes branding a lot easier and more engaging
  • Promotional and seasonal sales with graphics in quick campaigns
Article Updated: May 19, 2021

Help make Archtoolbox better for everyone. If you found an error or out of date information in this article (even if it is just a minor typo), please let us know.