Architectural glass is unique among the arts of the world because of the relationship that exists between glass and light. Essentially a dynamic, daylight art, architectural glass is energised through its relationship with light, and changes according to the time of day, the seasons and the weather.

The three primary techniques of decorating glass in architecture are described below.

traditional hand-blown "antique" glass

A traditional stained glass window was, and still is, made by painting onto, or etching, pieces of hand-blown (“antique”) coloured glass. These are held together with strips of lead that are then soldered and cemented together for durability. The term “antique” refers to the traditional manufacturing process, and not to the age of the glass.)

“Antique” glass is coloured during its manufacture. Some “antique” glass consists of a single colour only, whilst “flashed” glass is made up of a base colour with a thin layer of a second colour laid (or “flashed”) on top. By removing some of the “flashed” surface to reveal the base colour beneath, an artist is able to incorporate two colours in a single piece.

The maximum size of a single sheet of hand-blown sheet is about 750mm square, which can constrain its use over large areas. However, modern glues now allow “antique” glass to be laminated onto float glass, which extend its use outside its traditional leaded framework. It is now common for leaded glass to be incorporated within a double-glazed unit, for safety and ease of maintenance.

Hand-made glass is undoubtedly the most beautiful form of decorated glass. The colour is intrinsic to the material, and not superimposed upon it, and is thus much stronger and more saturated, much more vigorous and energetic. Because each sheet of glass is hand-made individually, each contains small irregularities and variations, which provide texture and interest. However, because the process is entirely manual and very skilled, it is the most expensive technique for decorating glass.


enamel paints on float glass

A less expensive technique for applying colour to glass is to use vitreous enamel paints on normal float glass. This is then fired in a kiln at 6000 C, at which temperature the materials fuse together.

The advantage of this technique is that virtually any size of glass can be treated and, because of the reduced cost, much larger areas of glazing can be addressed.


decorated float glass

In circumstances where colour is not required, a design can be created onto float glass, either by sandblasting, etching with acid, brilliant-cutting or slumping over a mould in a kiln.

If required, a single commission could involve a combination of any of the above techniques. In all circumstances, safety considerations can be addressed by using toughened or laminated glass.


waterjet cutting

Using waterjet cutting technology glass can be cut into almost any shape.

This example shows a detail of a full scale sapling tree cut from 10mm float glass.



kilnworked glass

Textural detail can be achieved by slumping glass in the kiln. The glass is then toughened in the usual way in order to comply with safety standards.



stained glass artist