Desert Floral Beads - notice the dark streaks and imperfections across the back. Etching allows these imperfections to blend in and enhance the earthy organic quality of these beads.

Etching is a great way to change the look of a bead after its come out of the kiln. It can be used to accentuate the positive, mask the negative, create “window-like” effects, or just give it a completely matte finish. Just grab a few not so perfect beads, play around and take them a step further with these simple etching ideas and techniques.

Some basic supplies needed for etching beads.


  • Etching cream or solution
  • Old paint brush to apply the etching solution
  • Fast drying white glue or nail polish for a “resist”
  • Wire or string to hang the beads
  • Wide mouth cup to support the beads while they hang

Using a Resist

A “resist” is a substance that is applied prior to etching that resists the etching effect.  This allows selected areas to be etched, and other areas to remain clear and shiny, which can make for some interesting designs.

Resists can be applied in small patterns or over large areas.

Fast drying glue is commonly used to resist etching.

Bead artist extraordinaire, Debbie Weaver shared her tip for using fast drying nail polish.  Nail polish works great not only because it dries fast, but because it comes with its own brush, its easy to apply in small detailed areas, the vibrant colors make it easy to see where your resist has been applied, and it’s easy to remove after the etching is complete.

Vinyl or plastic stickers work well.  Clear print labels are also great because you can draw and punch or cut your own designs.

Two Ways to Use a Resist

The image below shows two different techniques for using a resist.

1) Resists can be applied in patterns or free form to create interesting designs. These designs offer a view into the bead’s interior – a trick that’s particularly cool when using dichro or creating designs within clear encasing.  The bead shown left shows a very rough demonstration of this application.

2) Resists can also be applied to mask the background and emphasize the central design on the surface of a bead. The bead shown right features a floral bouquet that is painted with nail polish.  The flowers will remain shiny while the rest of the bead surface will be frosted with etching.

Applying the Etching Solution

Etching liquid is the consistency of water. Using wire or string, beads can be dipped and held in the solution for a desired length of time (20 minutes or more, depending on the desired effect).  Etching liquid is great when you want thorough and even etching over your of entire bead.

Etching cream (shown below) is thick and can be brushed onto the bead using an old paint brush or sponge applicator. Be sure the application is thick and even or you may experience streaks. Etching cream works well when etching focused areas of a bead. It provides more control over the areas being etched, and it stays in place once applied.

Etching cream can be brushed onto a bead using an old paint brush.

Once the etching solution is applied or the beads are dipped, hang them from string or wire for the desired length of time.

Experiment with etching times, which can range anywhere from 20, 30, 40 or more minutes. More time = deeper etching and a more frosted matte surface on your bead.

An old toothbrush works well to remove the resist substance from the bead.

Once the etching is complete, simply remove the bead from the wire and rinse them with clean water. If resist is used, soak the beads for several minutes in warm water to loosen. Then scrub the resist using an old toothbrush to remove it from the bead and create a clean surface.

Waste not, want not…next time you visit the local craft store, buy a bottle etch-all to keep on on hand. It’s an easy and fun way to change the look of your beads, and you might even turn a few wonky beads into great little works of art!

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