If your car is covered tip to tail in stickers, you know how quickly the cost of each custom cut sticker can cost. These costs can add up fast, especially if sponsors change, or a front fender needs to be replaced. Our team invested in our own vinyl die cutter and has saved thousands of dollars in vinyl cutting.We love our die cutter and have become pretty adept at using it. After owning one for a number of years I don’t know what our race shop would do without it.

In the July 2017 issue of Speed News magazine, we covered purchasing a vinyl die cutter machine to make our own decals for our racecar and T-shirt iron-ons for our crew uniforms. During the offseason this year, we found another use for our vinyl die cutter, a piece of equipment I swear has paid for itself 10 times over. By using a negative image of a sticker and some glass etching cream, we found a way to make custom wine glasses, beer mugs, and decorative mirrors for the race shop.

We love our die cutter and have become pretty adept at using it. After owning one for a number of years I don’t know what our race shop would do without it.

We covered the use of our US Cutter vinyl die cutter in the July 2017 issue of Speed News magazine. We have used our cutter on a weekly basis, doing all sort of different projects. Now, we found a whole new use for it: glass etching.

To move on from simple sticker making to glass etching, the only new item we needed was some glass etching cream. We have tried hobby-store cream made by Martha Stewart and a more industrial cream called Armor Etch, which works great, but isn’t easy to find at the store. Thanks to Amazon, this stuff hit our mailbox within 24 hours. I love the Internet!

Once we had our vinyl die cutter, all we needed to make custom etched glass items was a bottle of Armor Etch, glass etching cream. This stuff is crazy. All you do is brush it on some glass or a mirror and then wipe it off. It instantly etches the glass. The trick is not rubbing the etching cream on anything you don’t want etched. That is where the vinyl die cutter comes in handy.

The trick to making the transition from sticker making to glass etching is understanding the concept of a negative image sticker. Once we wrapped our heads around that idea, we were on our way to etching glass with ease. We decided to make a huge mirror with an etched image of the Double Nickel Nine Motorsports logo for our race shop.

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The one big change from regular sticker making, to glass etching, is the concept of weeding a negative image. “Weeding” is the term sticker nerds refer to when they are peeling away the vinyl they don’t want in a decal. For glass etching it is the opposite. We weed away what we do want in an image. Because we want the “g” to show up on our mirror project, we weeded the “g” out of the vinyl and kept the background.
This is the entire image we wanted to etch onto a mirror with all of the yellow vinyl weeded — you can see it all stuck together in a ball on the bench. Whatever isn’t yellow will be etched into the glass.

Besides some etching cream, our vinyl cutter and some leftover vinyl, we needed some transfer tape. We use this stuff on all of our stickers and get it from US Cutter.com. Transfer tape is something you use for about one minute and then throw away, but you can’t do a project without the stuff.

To place the image on our mirror, we added transfer tape. This is the same process we would do if we were making a normal sticker. This just lifts the adhesive vinyl from its backing and makes it easy to place on a surface. We use plastic squeegees to keep air bubbles out of the tape.

Here is a handy pro tip for placing stickers on anything, whether it is a racecar sticker or for a glass etching project: Only peel half of the backing off, fold it over, then take a razor and cut it away. This leaves half of the sticker with the adhesive ready to apply, and half the sticker with the waxy backing paper. This allows you to hold up the waxy backed portion of the sticker on your item and ensure it is straight, level, and positioned correctly before the sticky part of the decal hits the surface. Hold that part away until you are ready. Once the sticky part of the vinyl hits an object you are done. That is where it is going, period. If it is crooked, oh well. If I had known this trick five years ago I would have saved myself a lot of grief redoing stickers after mistakes and my cars decals would actually be straight.

Only remove half of the backing to help you position your sticker before squeegeeing the adhesive part down. This will help you position your decals perfectly. I actually learned this tip from just talking to a random guy in a bar who just happened to be a professional sticker dude. What are the odds? This pro tip, is literally a pro tip.
Once you have one side squeegeed down, peel the rest of the waxy backing and squeegee that side down. Then peel away the transfer tape. This will leave the sticker behind. Then you are ready to apply etching cream.

Before we added any etching cream to our mirror project, we used some more vinyl to ensure the entirety of the mirror that we didn’t want etched was protected. The step allowed us to be sloppier with the application of the etching cream without worrying about damaging anything.

Because glass etching cream is messy, we took some spare vinyl and added a protective covering around the frame of the mirror. This would make it easier for us to brush on the cream, clean the cream off, and to wash the entire mirror once the project was completed.
I learned how to use etching cream from just watching YouTube videos. It seems this is how most of us learn to do stuff these days — and it is awesome. Some people use plastic utensil knifes to spread the cream on glass. I have found that using a small art brush seems to work easier and ensures good coverage.

I learned how to use etching cream from just watching YouTube videos. It seems this is how most of us learn to do stuff these days — and it is awesome. Some people use plastic utensil knifes to spread the cream on glass. I have found that using a small art brush seems to work easier and ensures good coverage.

To apply the magic, we used a disposable brush to wipe on the glass etching cream. There is nothing complicated about this step. The vinyl sticker will protect the mirror you don’t want etched.

The cream doesn’t need to be left on the glass for any length of time. Just like the Karate Kid, wipe on, wipe off. It is pretty wild how quick this stuff works. It works so fast I choose to wear gloves. Once it is all wiped off then wash with water.

To remove the etching cream from the mirror and the vinyl, we used paper towels to clean the surface. Lots of disposable paper towels here will come in handy.
Once we had most of the etching cream wiped way, we took out the hose and washed the surface to ensure all of the etching cream was removed.

After all of the etching cream is removed, it is time to take off the sticker. Just like the transfer tape, the sticker in this project is only used temporarily. Remove it and see how the glass etching came out. If you follow these steps, it should come out great.

To see how the project turned out, all that is left to do is peel away all of the vinyl. It takes some patience but eventually all of the sticker will be peeled away.
With the project completed, we hung it up and enjoyed our hard work. The whole project cost less than $30. It was an inexpensive mirror from Walmart, some leftover vinyl from the racecar and some glass etching cream from Amazon. Easy.

We liked the mirror so much we decided to make some beer mugs for the pit crew using the same process: negative image sticker, apply sticker to glass, spread the etching cream, wife off, wash off, peel the sticker and they were done.

The process for etching our mirror is the same for etching beer mugs. I scored some inexpensive large beer mugs, etched the mugs, and handed them out to our pit crew as a gift for all of their hard work during the season.

Some people spent their offseason making their racecars faster. We didn’t do that. Instead, we just sat around and drank Tactical Ops Brewing Double Nickel Nine IPA beer out of our own custom beer mugs. Cheers!

Rob Krider is a NASA National Champion and author of the novel Cadet Blues, to read more, or to contact him, go to www.robkrider.com.

Image courtesy of Rob Krider

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