How to Make Back Painted Glass - Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Back painted glass first came to my attention in 2007, when architect Christine Matheu used it as the backsplash material for her kitchen. It was clean, luminous, and contemporary, and I was in love.

My local glass store sells back painted glass in several luscious colors. So when my clients for another commission, this time a wall of built-ins for a dining room in Chicago, said they’d love to incorporate a section of backpainted glass roughly 3-feet square, I requested a quote. The material alone was going to cost several hundred dollars. The budget for the job wouldn’t allow for that.

So I decided to experiment with backpainting glass myself and came up with a solution that worked, aesthetically and in economic terms.

back painted glass

The acid yellow back of the upper-left area is back painted glass.

I’ve used it on other jobs since then. Here’s my technique.

Materials

  • Glass (I use 1/4″ for most applications)
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Clips to attach the glass

Step 1: Clean the glass

I wipe the glass thoroughly with denatured alcohol to remove dust and any residue from masking tape, etc. The alcohol dries almost immediately, so there’s no delay.

Step 2: Make samples

Basic clear glass has a blue-green cast that will distort the color of the paint you apply to the back. It’s crucial to make samples with two coats on the back (two coats will ensure adequate coverage), allow the paint to dry, and gauge the color by placing the glass with the painted side against a background the same color and texture as its future home. If necessary, adjust the paint color until you get the look you desire.

Step 3: Apply the paint

back painted glass

Alkyd or water-based? I’ve used both. Two of the samples for this post are oil-based enamel (Benjamin Moore’s Satin Impervo enamel); the other is water-based.

I use a paint brush. You could spray the paint if you’re set up to spray.

back painted glass

All wet. Here’s how the three samples look immediately after application, seen on the painted (i.e. back) side.

At first, I was concerned that the brush strokes would show, but the key to back painted glass in this application is that it’s set against a solid wall or another surface. This makes the brush strokes disappear when the color is viewed through the unpainted side of the glass.

back painted glass

Seen with light behind it, the painted glass shows brush strokes. They will disappear when the glass is placed directly against a wall or cabinet back.

back painted glass

Place the back painted glass against a white wall and presto! The brush strokes disappear.

Warning!

If you scratch the paint on the back, the scratches will show through the glass.

Adhesives may also bleed through and be visible. I learned this the hard way. Instead of adhering the glass with adhesives (for example, Power Grab), I use mirror clips or pin-style shelf supports, mounted sideways with the flat section against the glass, to hold it in place.

 

– Nancy Hiller

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Showing 5 comments
  • earthartinc

    Is this latex or enamel paint Nancy? I suppose one could get fancy and do layers as well, like Chinese glass balls painted from the inside. You paint highlights first, then various layers… makes my brain hurt.

  • 7-Thumbs

    Great idea and article. I’m not familiar with mirror clips, how do they attach? I don’t see any visible clips in your picture.

    • Nancy Hiller

      Thanks for pointing this out. I have added hotlinks to a couple of options for affixing the glass.

      • Neitsdelf

        Oh those mirror clips. I love the old glass ones I’ve sometimes seen. (But it’d be a shame to hide them by using them for holding the back-painted glass, so I’ll just go ahead and use the plasticky ones for that!)

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