I bought a smattering of colors to try it out on, and sure enough, they look great! The nice thing about the glass tiles is that they don't have to be sealed with a top coat and there is nothing to let dry, so they are a much quicker and simpler project.
Etched Glass Tiles
Etching Cream (if you look hard enough, most Michael's stores carry it, although the employees don't always know this... oh and you may need to be over 18 to buy it. I was carded once)
latex or non latex gloves
paint brush (about 1/2" wide is best)
shelf/contact paper or special stenciling paper
pencil or pen
scissors or exacto knife
Access to a sink that will not be damaged by the etching cream (I wish I had a utility sink...)
Felt or cork for backing
Glue to adhere backing to glass
1) Clean the surface of the tile with soap and water and dry thoroughly (do not use glass cleaner!). Cut a piece of shelf paper to the dimensions of the tile, or at least enough to cut your stencil from.
2) Decide what pattern you would like to etch into the surface. Remember that you will be etching the area that is cut out. Use a stencil or freehand the pattern onto the shelf paper. I usually draw on the paper backing because the vinyl surface is hard to mark. If you use a felt tip pen or marker it is easier, but I prefer the thinner lines so I know exactly where to cut.
3) Use scissors or an exacto knife (don't cut through your work surface! put some cardboard behind...) to cut out the pattern. If you have "floaters" you will have to adhere them separately.
4) Peel off the backing, and stick the shelf paper to the surface of the tile. Use your fingers or something flat to rub any air bubbles out of the contact paper. Make sure the edges are stuck down very well. This will help make sharp lines instead of allowing bleed through once the etching cream is applied. Place masking tape around the outer edges of the contact paper to cover any other exposed areas that you do not want to get etching cream on. Having a wide barrier is beneficial, trust me!
5) Put on your gloves. Shake the etching cream well. Apply a moderately thick layer to the exposed areas of the tile. Moderately thick means that you should not be able to see through the etching cream to the surface of your project easily. It should be nearly opaque. If the etching cream has lumps in it, don't worry. That is normal. Allow the etching cream to sit according to the directions on the bottle (I think it recommends about 1 minute - please read the instructions for your safety... This is a dangerously caustic chemical!). Note: Etching cream is not meant to do large areas. For the surface of the tile, it works fine, but use an etch bath or sandblast etching for larger projects.
6) Go to the sink (keep your gloves on) and rinse the tile well. Resist the urge to rub with your fingers, because it can cause streaks in the finished product. Rinse out your brush, too. Remove the masking tape and stencil/shelf paper. Rinse some more. Put the etched item on a paper towel and rinse out the sink thoroughly. You can remove your gloves now!
7) Wash your hands with soap and water. (I am not kidding - this is a really nasty chemical! You don't want to ingest it or touch your face with it on your hands!) I usually wash the tile, too, just to make sure all the residue is off. Towel off your project to see the etching come to life!
8) Cut backing to fit tile. Glue felt or cork to the back of the tile using a glue that will adhere to glass, or use the self-adhesive kind. (for more details on the backing see the ceramic tile posting) Voila! You have coasters!
Project Notes: If you want all 4 of your tiles to match exactly and you are not using a stencil, create a cardboard cutout of your design so you can easily trace and cut each piece of shelf paper. This is a one time use item, so don't expect to salvage it. Alternately, there are commercial products (available from sites like etchworld.com) that allow you to re-stick a handmade stencil (I think it is called over and over), but even those have limits on how many times you can reuse them. So, if you want to make a lot of the same pattern, create a master copy! Also, intricate or delicate patterns do not work very well with etching cream because it is so hard to cut out the shelf paper and it is hard to adhere a delicate stencil to the tile. There will always be a little bleed through which is very noticeable with really intricate patterns that need a hard edge to look good. Keep these in mind when designing so you aren't disappointed with your outcomes after putting in a lot of work on a complex stencil.
Etching cream (small bottle) ~$8
shelf paper ~$5
pair of gloves (buy a box instead of individually to save money; 50 pair ~$5) ~$1
paint brush ~ $.20
4 glass tiles @ $2 each = $8
Time spent: less than an hour, depending on the complexity of your pattern
Total cost per set of 4 tile coasters ~$21
Of course, the etching cream you can use over and over. If you buy a box of gloves from the pharmacy dept at walgreens or walmart you will save a lot over time. And keep your brush clean and reuse it, too!
Glass tiles are WAY more expensive than the ceramic ones ($2 a piece as opposed to $.11 at the cheapest), but this project is quick and easy and requires no dry time, no dedicated space to lay out tiles, and no sealing with acrylic spray to allow for heat tolerance. I am not sure just HOW hot you can get these things, but since they are used in kitchens all the time, I would assume pretty hot! And the edges are nice and finished on these guys... Makes for a very professional look. A word of warning, though. The glass scratches easily, as does the backing on the actual tile. Keep pieces of cardboard between your tiles during transport and storage and check them carefully in the store to make sure they are not damaged. Once you get the backing on them, they should be fine, but it would suck to ruin such expensive materials!
Now I want to find these bigger and make trivets....