Make: Projects – Label-etching a Glass Bottle

Craft & Design Energy & Sustainability Science
Make: Projects – Label-etching a Glass Bottle

My Make: Projects – Bottle cutting post has proven to be one of the most popular of the series. So here’s a short follow-up revealing a simple trick I discovered for etching designs on glass bottles using the bottle’s label as a built-in resist. Tools:

  • Permanent marker (e.g. Sharpie) for drawing design
  • Sharp hobby knife or razor blade
  • Plastic brush for applying etching cream
  • Sink to wash off etching cream
  • Gloves and goggles for safety


  • Cut glass bottle with adhesive plastic label (I used en empty bottle of Smirnoff “Vanilla Twist” vodka)
  • Glass etching cream (I used Armour Etch)
  • Lighter fluid or Goo-Gone to remove adhesive residue (I used Ronsonol lighter fluid)
  • Paper towels

Step 1: Prepare your bottle


This process probably requires a bottle with an adhesive plastic label. A sure sign that the label is suitable is is that parts of it are transparent. I’ve tried to make label-etching work with paper beer bottle labels and it doesn’t, at least not very well. The etchant tends to bleed under the edge of the paper and give a hazy or ragged edge to the design. But if you have a bottle with a higher-quality paper label, perhaps one that has been metallized, by all means experiment and please let us know, in the comments, how it works for you!

Also, if you’re going to cut your bottle, you should probably do so before attempting to etch a design on it, as the cutting process is considerably more failure-prone than etching. Once you’ve got a good cut bottle with a nice polished edge, it’s easy to do the etch. But if you etch first you run the risk of wasting the effort if the cutting operation fails.

Step 2: Draw your design on the label


Straightforward enough. Use a permanent marker or whatever you can find that will stick to the label. I chose this swirly yin-yang thingy which is reportedly a Japanese heraldic symbol because it tended to complement the twist in the glass bottle I’d selected.

Step 3: Cut out the positive areas of your design


Using your hobby knife or razor, carefully cut around the edges of your design and peel off the positive areas. Once all the positive areas have been removed, you still need to remove any adhesive residue that may be adhering to the exposed glass. Moisten a paper towel with lighter fluid and carefully wipe off the positive areas, being careful not to peel up the remaining edges of the resist/label.

Step 4: Apply etching cream


When in doubt, follow the directions on the bottle. Generously daub etching cream over the exposed positive areas of your design using an all-plastic brush. The etching cream may react with ferrules, rivets, or other metal parts of an expensive wooden brush, so use a cheapy. Leave the etching cream in place 5 minutes, or whatever the label says, and then wash away all traces of the cream with plenty of warm water in the sink.

Notes and ideas

Peel off the remaining label using your knife to get the edge started if necessary. Then apply lighter fluid or Goo-Gone and remove all remaining traces of adhesive. And you’re done!

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan


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