My two brothers build custom bar, restaurant and store interiors for a living. One phase of their work involves etching elaborate signs and designs into glass (usually storefront windows or mirrors) and they use a technique so simple that you can put it to use at home. Even if you have no artisitc sense or skill with tools you can add decorative touches to windows, mirrors, glass doors, even glassware.
The first step is to come up with a design -- a family monogram, or a decorative border, etc. If you have artistic ability you can develop your own design. If you're like me you'll be glad to know art stores have books devoted exclusively to decorative motifs, lettering and numbers, designs you can copy and use.
Next mask off the glass with selfadhesive vinyl paper, such as Contac, and press it down on the glass. One layer will usually do the job, but two layers is safer.
Then transfer your design to the vinyl. If you have a good eye, draw the design on the vinyl with a ballpoint pen. If you have a bad eye or a shaky hand, take your design book to a good copy center and have it copied to the exact size you desire. A well-equipped copy center will be able to reduce or enlarge the design you wish to copy so that it is the right size for your needs. Then you can simply rubber-cement the copy right on top of the masking material.
Next cut out the design, using a razor knife with a sharp, pointed tip. Since you will be cutting right through the vinyl to the glass, the blade will dull quite rapidly. Frequent sharpening or a supply of extra blades will solve that problem.
After cutting out the design, peel away the vinyl. If you peel out the inside of the border design, you'll get a white etched border on the clear glass; but you can just as easily leave the border in place and peel the vinyl from the rest of the glass, which would give you a sheet of white etched glass with a clear border.
The final step is etching. Since you probably don't have a sandblaster, take your work to someone who does, perhaps a furniture stripper or a body shop; ask them to blast the glass just until it takes on a uniform frosted look. Too much blasting can eat through the masking material and spoil the design. If you're etching a mirror, tell the blaster to stop etching as soon as the mirror backing is etched away and the glass turns white. e
When the blasting is done, peel away the remaining vinyl. If you'd like to add an elegant but expensive touch to an etched mirror, apply gold leaf to the etched areas.