Hand painted window

Painting Stained Glass – Not as Mysterious as it Seems

Painting Stained Glass

Artists paint stained glass to add custom detail to a glass panel. Painting enhances the subtlety, textures, and beauty. Stained glass painting creates a realistic look for faces, hands, and feet, as well as shading of the body and hair. 

Painting stained glass is becoming more popular because of its unique and beautiful look. Many stained glass artists know little about the painting process and the materials needed to create beautiful windows.

Some people think stained glass is clear glass that is colored when actually stained glass gets its color from metal oxides while in its molten form.

Even if you don’t have much artistic experience, you can still paint stained glass by following basic instructions and learning from other experienced painters. If you can’t find classes, look for helpful information in videos, instructional books, related forums, or stained glass shops.

Stained glass window

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Stained Glass?

Traditional stained glass paint is a permanent paint that contains lead and glass particles. It also has coloring agents like sand, alumina, clay, red or white lead oxide, boric acid, potassium, and sodium. The lead in the stained glass paint refracts light like a lens, allowing you to create delicate, intricate details in your painting.

In most cases, the colors used for stained glass window painting are predominately brown and gray blacks. The paint is water or gum arabic based, applied with a brush in a method similar to watercolors. Usually, these paints are fired onto the glass. The heat of the kiln causes them to bond permanently with the glass.

Glass paints are also available for smaller projects that don’t require firing.

There are several types of stain glass paints, including those that use vinegar as a trace component, matt paints, silver stains, and oil-based paints. Each has its own unique benefits that can be used to create beautiful artwork.

What is Vinegar Trace Paint used for?

Glass tracing

Vinegar trace paint is used on stained glass windows to enhance details with light. It has a dark color that blocks light coming through the glass. Once dried, scrape some of the paint off with an instrument to make a design or inscription that lets the light shine through.

This paint combines with vinegar, water and gum Arabic. Vinegar trace paint creates figure and design lines.

To apply vinegar trace paint, you must wet the brush and the glass surface simultaneously. You can’t add more to a particular place once it dries; if you do, the paint is likely to flake when fired in the kiln.

Painting with vinegar paint requires practice to get it just right. The hardest part is learning how to apply just the right amount. Too much on the brush will blot, too little will dry before the stroke is complete.

Once dry, vinegar trace paint can be scratched or marked with a small stick or quill to create a design or inscription. This gives texture and depth well beyond the paint alone. 

This method was the most common way to make glass inscriptions in early medieval times. After being prepared, the paint is fired at around 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, becoming shiny after the process.

What Paints are Best for Painting on Glass?

You’ll find paints and supplies online and at craft and supply stores. Be sure to choose paint specific to stained glass painting, as there are many options.

girl painting

For traditional trace painting on stained glass windows, we recommend Reusche inks and coatings. Reusche glass paint is a vitreous material that fuses to the base glass when the painted pieces are fired at the proper temperature.

One of the best brands for general glass paint is Pebeo. They make exceptional water-based paints that apply to several surfaces. When using this brand, make sure to read the instructions. For instance, Pebeo Vitrea 160 fuses at a low 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Link to Reusche inks and coatings catalog and a link to Pebeo website.

To start stained glass painting, you’ll need a few good brushes, spatulas, an easel with a thick-plated glass surface, a lightbox, and an inexpensive small electric kiln. We suggest a pack of artist brushes for detailed work, such as these Princeton artist paintbrushes (link). To save money, look into building your own easel and lightbox.

Check online or in stained glass magazines for used equipment. Also, you can make your mahl sticks and bridges, wooden supports that keep your hands off of the glass while helping to maintain your paint stroke technique.

You don’t need a large work area to paint beautiful stained glass pieces. Set up a small well-lit workspace in your glass workshop with plenty of storage for your materials and color palettes.

You will need pieces of clear glass to practice your stained glass painting technique. Grind and round the edges of these pieces to prevent accidental cuts.

The most in-depth book available on painting stained glass is The Glass Painter’s Method: Brushes, Paints & Tools available here.

Age-Old Techniques

Stained glass artwork has historically been created in churches and cathedrals by using colored glass detailed with silver stain and vitreous paint (that requires firing).

Explore more of the fascinating history and techniques of leaded glass here. Leaded glass: The traditional method for stained glass windows (link to post)

Modern stained glass paints are made with manufactured chemicals, which are sealed with a waterproofing layer to protect them.

Reusche makes a dry powdered traditional paint that needs to be mixed and hydrated before use. First, mix a small amount of Reusche paint gum arabic with some Reusche paint tracing black and a small amount of water on a clean dry sheet of glass.

How to paint stained glass

Gum arabic acts as the binding agent that binds the paint to the glass. Use Reusche paint tracing black to outline your pattern before you do anything else.

Cover the glass in a thin layer of paint and allow it to dry. Then, using brushes or other scraping tools, remove paint from areas where you want the light to come through. As the artist, you control the light by choosing where to remove paint. The paint is worked one layer at a time.

Create your designs on glass by drawing it on paper first or use a stencil. You can erase the design with a dry-erase marker, or tape it onto the glass using masking tape. You can also purchase ready-made stencils.

For new artists, it is best to start with simpler designs. As your skills and experience grow, you will be able to produce more complex works. You can also apply your design to the glass using paint, which protects it from fingerprints and other smudges.

High-Firing vs Low-Firing

There is no one right way to create stained glass art. Some people prefer to use low-firing tools, while others prefer high-firing ones. It all depends on your experience and what you are aiming to achieve.

High-fired paints suit larger pieces of glass, and a high firing temperature is necessary to create a smooth, high-quality finish. Low-fired paints suit leaded panels because they require less heat to fuse the paint to the panel.

When paints are fired at very high temperatures, the lead is sealed. It’s also important to note that some stains have toxic oxides, but they are safe if used correctly. Low-fired paints won’t produce as many hazardous fumes, but they can still stain copper-foiled glass.

Paint stained glass

Can you Paint Stained Glass Without a Kiln?

Stained glass is known for its intricate designs, vibrant colors, and translucent beauty. But did you know that you don’t need a kiln to create stained glass art? With the right materials and technique, it’s possible to paint stained glass without one.

Pebeo Vitrea 160 is a water-based, non-toxic paint developed to mimic the look of stained glass, blown glass, and fused glass without the dangers of working with those materials.

All you need to make the paint permanent is a household oven. After the paint has dried, bake Pebeo Vitrea 160 for 40 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees F. After baking, the paint is heat and water-resistant. 

Which glass paint should I use?

Frequently Asked Questions:


What is the purpose of painting stained glass?

Painting stained glass adds custom details and enhances textures and realism in the glass panel. It helps create a more realistic look for elements like faces, hands and feet as well as shading for the body and hair. Overall, it adds to the beauty and intricacy of stained glass art.


What are the basic materials needed for painting stained glass?

The basic materials needed are glass paints like vitreous paint or enamel paint, paintbrushes in different sizes, a glass palette, a lightbox, an easel with a thick glass surface, and a small electric kiln for firing the painted glass. Reusche and Pebeo make quality paints specifically for stained glass.


What is vitreous paint and how is it used on stained glass?

Vitreous paint contains lead, glass particles, and coloring agents. It provides delicate detailing when fired onto stained glass at high heat. This traditional paint requires mixing with gum arabic and water before tracing designs onto the glass with fine brushes.


What is the benefit of using a vinegar trace paint on stained glass?

Vinegar trace paint blocks light and is used to enhance details on stained glass windows. It creates lighter effects when scraped off in certain areas after drying. This type of paint combines vinegar, water, and gum arabic.


Why are enamel paints a good choice for painting stained glass?

Enamel paints like FolkArt Enamel provide opaque, semi-translucent, or transparent finishes on glass with vibrant color. They adhere well to glass, offer precision, and are durable yet flexible in their effects on stained glass.


Does painted stained glass require firing in a kiln?

Traditional vitreous paints require firing at high temperatures in a kiln to fuse them permanently to the glass. However, enamel and acrylic paints can air dry or be baked at lower temperatures to set them. Firing provides the most durability.


How is a lightbox used when painting stained glass?

A lightbox illuminated from below allows stained glass painters to trace their outline or pattern onto the glass surface accurately. The lit glass makes the design easy to see and follow precisely when painting.


What techniques help create textures and effects on painted stained glass?

Techniques like badger blending, stippling, swirling colors, using various brushes, layering, and incorporating decals or etching cream help add textures and visual interest to painted stained glass.


Why is it important to let vitreous paint thoroughly dry before firing?

Allowing vitreous paint to dry fully before firing prevents cracking or pitting from occurring when the glass is rapidly heated. Slow drying in a dust-free space produces the best results.


What causes brush strokes to show on painted stained glass?

Applying the paint too thickly can lead to visible brush strokes, especially on transparent or translucent glass when lit from behind. Thin, translucent layers of paint help conceal brush marks.


How can you avoid flaws in your painted stained glass project?

Start with high quality glass and check carefully for distortions or bubbles. Use a lightbox to clearly see the glass and illuminate any flaws. Take time to practice techniques and properly prepare paint mixtures.


Is stained glass painting a difficult skill to learn?

While it takes practice to master, stained glass painting is very achievable for beginners by starting simple, using quality materials, and learning from experienced artists through classes or video tutorials.


What mistakes should be avoided when firing painted stained glass?

Avoid shock cooling hot glass after firing as this can cause fractures. Ensure proper ventilation during firing to prevent soot on the glass. Follow manufacturer guidance carefully for best results.


How can you remove or lighten vitreous paint after firing stained glass?

Once fired, vitreous paint is permanently fused and cannot be removed. However, more paint can be added and re-fired to alter the look as needed. Frequent test firings on sample glass is recommended.


What are the hazards associated with painting stained glass?

Inhalation of powders when mixing paint is a potential hazard. Toxic oxides may be present in some stains. Proper ventilation, goggles, gloves and masks are essential safety measures.


Can stained glass paints be thinned or cleaned with water?

Oil-based paints cannot be thinned or cleaned with water. However, water-based acrylic enamels and Pebeo Vitrea 160 can be thinned and cleaned up with water. Always check manufacturer instructions.


How is stained glass painting different than normal glass painting?

Stained glass painting utilizes specialized paints and techniques suited to colored glass panels, like vitreous paint, trace lining, and firing. These differ from standard methods for painting normal clear glass.


What are some tips for photographing a painted stained glass window?

Tips include using a polarizing filter, placing lighting carefully to illuminate details, shooting at dusk for rich colors, focusing on sections for detail shots, and taking high resolution images for capturing fine brushwork.


Where can you learn more about stained glass painting techniques?

Good resources include instructional books like The Glass Painter’s Method, online video tutorials, stained glass painting forums, taking an in-person workshop, or reading blogs from experienced stained glass artists.


If you know what you’re doing, stained glass painting is a straightforward process. With the right information, you’ll be able to create beautiful works of art without any mystery.