Rich in tradition and full of stunning creative possibilities, glass working is a rewarding hobby for many people. Adding color to your glass creations takes the beauty to a whole new level.
But how exactly do you make colored glass at home in your studio?
You have several DIY colored glass options, ranging from simple to complex—with results from light surface tints to deep, fully infused hues.
So before you go down a path making colored glass, start with this overview of popular techniques to help you decide which approach fits your interests and skill level.
What Gives Glass Color?
Glass is a one-of-a-kind material typically made by melting and then cooling silica sand, along with soda ash and lime.
In its purest form, glass is clear. But when you add various metal compounds to the molten mixture, you can create a wide spectrum of colored glass:
Brown or green
Yellow or amber
You read that last one right: the highly radioactive element uranium is present in glow-in-the-dark glass!
The extremely low levels of radiation pose no greater threat than your mobile phone. But most experts advise against using this glass for food or beverages.
In addition to creating colors, you can use various metal oxides to produce interesting effects. Add a thin coat of metal oxide to make iridescent glass. Or add multiple thin layers to make dichroic glass—which appears to change color based on viewing angle.
Your Options for Making DIY Colored Glass
The approaches to making colored glass fall into three basic categories:
- Surface treatments such as staining or painting.
- Creating colored glass from scratch through glassblowing or lampworking.
- Hybrid methods that involve fusing colored glass pieces with clear glass.
Coloring Glass with Surface Treatments
The simplest route to create color glass is to use a stain or paint on the surface. There are two primary options here: mod podge and glass painting.
Glass Staining with Mod Podge
Many crafters are familiar with Mod Podge—the versatile glue, sealer, and finish with the funky vintage brand. But fewer people know that Mod Podge can be mixed with food coloring to add tint to clear glass.
The process is easy, and you don’t need any special skills.
All you need is a clear glass jar, a jar of Mod Podge, and your food coloring of choice. Mix the color and the Mod Podge, coat the inside of the jar, and let it dry upside down. That’s the whole deal!
Use this approach to create decorative and functional pieces such as:
- Pencil jars
- Candle holders
- Dry flower vases
Painting clear glass to add color is also a straightforward process. But it takes a sure hand. You have a couple of choices on how to go about it—depending on how permanent or deep you want your color.
The quicker, cheaper way is acrylic paint. But this approach won’t stand up to liquids and other use cases that will cause wear.
Glass enamel paint, on the other hand, will be more durable. But it’s also a bit more complicated to apply and cure. You might also consider adding a clear sealant to protect the finish. And in the case of solvent-based enamels, you need to ventilate your workspace for safety.
Beyond that, the key here—as with most painting projects—is preparation. Start with clean glass and brushes. Protect all surfaces from spills.
Use enamel or other paints to create:
- Colorful glassware
- Glass art
- Vases and other home decor
Advantages and Limitations of Surface Treatments
Adding color to clear glass by applying a surface treatment is easy, fast, and fun. You don’t need much skill or expertise.
But if you’re looking for a deep or permanent color, you may want to explore other options. Paint and especially stain will wear off over time.
Crafting DIY Colored Glass from Scratch
The processes are considerably more complicated than surface treatments, but you can make colored glass from scratch in various ways.
Have a furnace capable of reaching very high temperatures (2,700+ °F)? You can make your own colored glass starting with silica sand. Add any of the coloring compounds discussed above to the molten mixture.
Check out our guide to making glass at home for a detailed breakdown of how you can start making your own glass before adding color.
Now let’s take a quick look at two of the most popular from-scratch techniques involving colored glass: glass blowing and lampworking.
Maybe you’ve seen videos of glassblowing artisans at work. The craft is intricate, colorful, and thoroughly mesmerizing. It also takes a great deal of skill and patience.
In addition to a high-heat furnace, you need a long metal blowpipe and shaping tools including jacks, shears, and wooden blocks.
The process begins with heating the core ingredients (silica sand, soda ash and lime) to a molten state. You gather a small amount of the mixture at the end of the blowpipe—rotating to distribute evenly and prevent drips.
Then you literally blow through the pipe to create a bubble of molten material.
After that, it’s time for marvering: rolling the bubble, called the “gather,” on a steel table to begin to shape it.
Using the shaping tools, you can stretch, flatten, and manipulate the gather into the shape you want.
How do you incorporate color in this process? Add metal powder to the initial molten mixture. Or coat the gather with colored glass powder or frits.
Glassblowing is a great way to make beautiful, vibrant glass objects including:
Lampworking is another captivating glassworking technique that takes specialized skills and equipment.
You need a propane lampworking torch, as well as stainless steel rods called mandrels to shape your project.
Start by arranging rods of borosilicate glass—which includes boron and aluminum oxides for excellent stress and corrosion resistance. Combine and layer different colored rods to create intricate designs.
Use your torch to heat a section of material. Then pull, twist, and shape it into your desired form. You can make lots of different small, whimsical objects including:
- Mini figurines
Advantages and Limitations of Making Colored Glass from Scratch
Both glassblowing and lampworking can produce stunning multicolored glass creations. Lampworking in particular can be a fun, accessible way to get into colorful glass work due to its small scale.
But you do need special equipment.
These techniques are also skill-intensive—particularly in the case of glassblowing. And you need to take plenty of safety precautions and wear proper gear, since you’re working with either a high-heat furnace or a torch.
Making Kiln-Formed Colored Glass
Our third main method for making colored glass is to melt and fuse colorful glass pieces using a glass kiln.
For these kiln-formed glass processes, you don’t need temps quite as high as when making glass from scratch. You just need to soften the glass enough to shape it or fuse it together.
Fusing Colored Glass Pieces
Fusing involves melting multiple, multi-colored pieces of glass together.
To get started, you need:
- A suitable glass kiln
- Safety gear (protective glasses and gloves)
- Accessories such as a kiln shelf, kiln paper, molds, and kiln wash
- Glass pieces that are compatible for fusing
Prepare and arrange your glass pieces on your kiln shelf or in your mold. Use different patterns, color combinations, and layers to create different design effects.
Then heat your kiln and soak your creation (at temps ranging from 1,250 °F to 1,500 °F for up to an hour) to gradually soften and melt them together. Complete by annealing your glass, a process of slow cooling in the kiln to relieve internal stresses and help prevent cracking or shattering.
image source: pinterest
Glass fusing is great for colorful creations including:
- Picture frames
- Wall art
- Candle holders and other home decor
Slumping with Colored Glass
Slumping is the process of heating glass in a kiln until it becomes soft and takes the shape of, or “slumps” into or over, a mold.
In addition to a good kiln, you need glass that’s suitable for slumping and slumping molds that can hold up to high heat.
Prepare your glass and your mold. Ramp up the kiln and hold at your slumping temperature. Temperatures for slumping can range from 1,180 °F to 1,500 °F. Just as with other glassworking projects, you should anneal your creation to protect from breakage.
image source: pinterest
Glass slumping can create colorful three-dimensional forms such as:
Check out our guide to glass slumping for a full breakdown of the process.
Advantages and Limitations of Kiln Forming
The world of kiln forming to create colored glass is versatile and accessible for home crafters. It produces more vibrant and permanent colors than any surface treatment. And it’s easier to achieve than making glass from scratch.
However, these processes do require compatible glass and a good kiln (which we’ll get into next).
Getting Started with Kilns
A good kiln is a key to your success as a glass artist.
Keeping a close eye on temperatures is essential to success. So look for a kiln with easy-to-use temperature control. Hot Shot kilns, for example, have precise temperature control to help you get great results.
Safety is also paramount when working with glass at high temperatures. That’s why Hot Shot kilns come with Cool-Touch technology to keep you safe. Our kilns are made in the USA and they’re ready to ship in a range of sizes to fit your needs and home studio space.
Ready for Adventures in Color?
To make colored glass at home, fusing glass in a kiln may be the best way to get the results you want without a lot of advanced skills. But there’s still plenty to learn—and plenty more resources here on our glass art blog.
We could all use some more color in our lives. So however you choose to do it, keep exploring and building your skills in the satisfying and fascinating arts of making colored glass!