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Can Stained Glass Be Painted

Painting stained glass may seem the height of madness, and it would be akin to using charcoal to add character to the Mona Lisa! Or would it? During the gothic and renaissance periods, artists used paint to add detail and texture to stained glass windows.

The intricate time-honored art of painting stained glass is used not to obscure or dominate it but to enhance its emotive character. To honor the beauty of your stained glass, you must learn the techniques and skills needed to master this art form.

Stained glass can be painted using opaque enamel paints or glass-appropriate transparent acrylic paints. Faux stained glass is created by painting a mosaic image onto clear glass using acrylic paints. 

What Paint Can Be Used on Stained Glass?

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, stained glass was painted using a mixture of oil and resin or gum and watercolor paints. Modern glass artists use a combination of opaque and transparent enamel and acrylic paints.

Except for enamel and glass-specific acrylic paints, few paints are capable of adhering to the smooth surface of the glass. 

Enamel paint has an opaque effect and superior surface fixation to acrylic paints. It’s a robust, durable paint that can be used for outdoor applications or high traffic areas. Enamel paint is less flexible than acrylic paints and dries to a hard finish. 

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However, the oil-based enamel paints don’t remain true to their color origins. Over time, enamel pigments will fade and yellow. 

Acrylic paints are the direct opposite of enamels in almost every respect. They’re transparent paints that demonstrate excellent colorfastness: the color remains true and does not fade. Acrylic paints remain flexible throughout their life but are not as robust as enamel paints. 

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Paint Used to Enhance Original Colors

Stained glass is created by mixing colored metal oxides into the melted glass. The glass is then blown and layered to create sheets of stained glass. 

The vibrancy of stained glass depends on the type and quantity of metal oxides added to the melted glass.

Occasionally stained glass can have a wishy-washy effect, where the colors appear muted and lacking in conviction. Transparent acrylic paints can be layered over the stained glass to increase the vibrancy and depth of color effects. To enhance the colors, you will need to choose a color palette identical to the current color. 

As more pigment is layered onto the glass, the richness of color will be increased. 

To add subtlety and depth to your stained glass, you need to add color combinations that differ from the original shade. Different shades of paint are applied in thin layers changing the light spectrum passing through the stained glass. 

Primary colors cannot be created by overlaying a different colored paint. For example, you cannot make blue glass appear red. However, you can create a purple-tinted glass by applying a thin layer of red acrylic paint over the surface of blue glass. 

Can I Paint a New Picture on Stained Glass? 

Genuine stained glass windows were created by cutting glass into small pieces and combining them in a pattern or picture. The individual glass pieces are joined together by either lead or copper, creating the unique mosaic effect seen in stained glass. 

It is not feasible to paint a new picture on genuine stained glass windows. It really would be akin to using charcoal to enhance De Vinci’s work!

The lead lines would disrupt the continuity of the artwork creating a jarring note to the artistic presentation of the stained glass window. 

Additionally, the individual glass pieces are too small to do justice to painted artwork unless the artist intends to create a pixelated photo-mosaic type effect. 

A photo-mosaic is a technique derived from photography in which each tiny pixel or square bears a unique image but, if viewed as a whole, forms a larger picture. Pete Mason utilized this artistic effect by using stamps to create a larger image. 

To my knowledge, this pixelated technique has not yet been used in a publicized piece of stained glass artwork, although it is only a matter of time.  

The image on a faux stained glass window can be altered or removed, and a new image applied. 

How Long Will Stained Glass Paint Last?

Traditional stained glass windows are designed to last decades and even centuries but painted windows don’t have the same longevity.

The Utah Heritage Foundation recommends that painted windows be re-painted with historically accurate paints as and when needed to maintain the integrity of the painted image.

Modern glass paint manufacturers are reluctant to commit to a product’s longevity as the lifespan of a painted window is highly dependent on numerous factors:

  1. The thickness and quality of paint used.
  2. Exposure to environmental conditions, e.g., humidity, sunlight, wind, and rain.
  3. Type of paint used, i.e., acrylic or enamel.
  4. Painting techniques applied.

Anecdotally, modern artists report glass paints becoming brittle at 5 years of age and thinly layered paint beginning to yellow at 2 years of age. 

How Can I Make it Last Longer?

Painted glass windows will last longer if:

  1. The correct paint is used.
  2. The window is sealed.
  3. The window is double glazed.
  4. If the paint is layered on thickly.
  5. The window is dusted frequently to prevent an accumulation of resistant grime.
  6. No abrasive or harsh cleaning products are used on the window.

Related article: Can Staiend Glass Be Hung Outside?

Can Stained Glass Paint Be Removed?

Removal of paint from historic windows should only ever be done by restoration experts. However, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to remove glass paint from windows of no historical importance or significant value. 

To remove glass paint:

  • Using a soft rag, liberally apply warm soapy water to the painted glass surface. 
  • Allow the water to soften the paint for 10 to 15 minutes, and then scrape the paint off using a sharp blade.
  • The razor blade or crafters knife should be held at a 20° to 45° angle. You can experiment to see which angle works best for you.
  • Use a smooth gliding movement to remove each layer of paint.
  • Once the paint is mostly gone, you can use rubbing alcohol to remove the remaining traces of acrylic paint or acetone to remove enamel paint.
  • Lastly, use a standard window cleaner to return the windowpane to a clear pristine appearance.

Basics of How to Paint Stained Glass

Painting stained glass is a relatively simple procedure, but attention to detail is the key to success. 

To paint stained glass, you will need to:

  • Clean the glass thoroughly by rubbing it down with isopropyl and then allowing it to dry.
  • A motif may be placed behind the glass to act as a guide, or you can paint glass freehand according to your skill and personal preference.
  • Once dried, the paint may be applied. A number 3 or 5 tracing brush is usually suitable for beginners. 
  • A sharp styloid is used to form fine lines and feathering. 
  • A needle or crafters knife is used to clean up painted lines.
  • If you make a mistake or accidentally drop paint onto the glass, it can be easily removed if wiped off with a clean cloth while the paint is still wet.
  • It is essential to only use one color at a time. Allow the paint to dry before layering on a new color.
  • Depending on the type of paint used, the glass is then fired in a kiln. Glass pigment paints need to be fired professionally in high-temperature kilns. Low-temperature enamels and acrylic paints can be sealed in home ovens by following the manufacturer’s instructions. 
  • The painted glass must be left to dry for 3 to 7 days.
ItemAmazon Link
Detailed Instruction Book: The Complete Guide to Glass Painting: Over 90 Techniques with 25 Original Projects and 400 MotifsView
Glass painting kitView
BrushesIncluded in the kit
Liquid leadView
 PaletteIncluded in the kit
PaintIncluded in the kit
Marker pensView
Stylus setView
Craft knifeView
Stained glass sheetsView

Using Paint to Create Faux Stained Glass

Painting glass to resemble authentic stained glass is very similar to the process outlined in the previous section. The main difference between painting glass and creating faux stained glass lies in the application of faux lead lines and the type of paint used.

Transparent acrylic paints are the most suitable paint for mimicking the transparency of colored glass. 

The vibrancy of genuine stained glass can be replicated by the application of numerous layers of paint. The paint must be applied in thin, even layers to prevent bubbling and cracking when placed in the kiln.

The motif or cartoon being used must be placed behind the glass before tracing the lead lines onto the glass. 

Mix your paint with water so that it has the consistency of runny cream. Coat your brush in the paint mixture, and holding it perpendicular to the glass, start applying the traced lead lines.

The lighter and more consistent your brush pressure, the more uniform your lead lines will be. Once finished, tidy up your lead lines using your craft knife. 

Clean the glass one final time before placing it in the kiln for firing. It’s essential to remove all greasy fingerprints before placing the glass in the kiln, as any grease marks will be permanently fired into the glass. 

Once the lead lines are fired, you can apply colored paint according to the instruction given in the previous section. 

Related article: Can Stained Glass Be Tempered?


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