Stained Glass Lettering: A Case Study

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Several of you have written to ask about painting black letters onto stained glass, and how to do this really accurately …

It’s certainly possible to use a computer-generated stencil (and flood the glass paint, for example; or apply a thick wash, and blend it).

However, it’s certainly also possible to do it by hand. Here, for example, you see some damage to the lettering of a stained glass window in a chapel:


Damaged lettering in a stained glass window

In this instance, we were asked to paint a copy (rather than to use glue to edge-bond the broken fragments). So we removed the glass and took it to our studio.

On paper, I set down the lettering with calligraphic precision. On glass, I painted an undercoat. Next I copy-traced the design:


Copy-trace the design with great care

At this point I used a stick to correct tiny inaccuracies. Then I reinforced the lines as you see I’ve started doing here:


Reinforce the copy-traced lines

Once again, I used a stick to correct any minor inaccuracies.

Then it was time to fill in the lettering. The paint was thicker and darker than the paint I’d used to copy-trace and reinforce, but, working on such a small scale, it was by no means as thick as the kind of paint I’d use for silhouettes (because, with that degree of thickness, we wouldn’t have had the control that we required).

Once the paint had dried, I picked around it once again:

Stained glass lettering

Use a stick to clean up around the edges of your lettering

Once fired, I returned the new lettering to its rightful place:


And last of all install your forgery

The whole process calls for patience, good eye-sight, concentration, a good understanding of how glass paint behaves, and excellent hand-eye co-ordination.

And time.

Here’s my published article about stained glass lettering.

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12 thoughts on “Stained Glass Lettering: A Case Study

  1. Hi!
    Can you please say more about why you would paint an undercoat on glass you are lettering over if you have to “stick” around your lettering in order to correct tiny inaccuracies?

    Would this not damage the undercoat and consequently force you to remove the entire undercoat?

    If not, how do you resolve the highlights that are created by sticking?


  2. Hi Julia,
    Thanks for your questions.

    First, the undercoat is rarely obligatory. It’s just that the technique of painting on an undercoat is itself so rarely mentioned that we feel it’s more than worth an emphasis.

    Second, your questions are perfect. If you “stick” around the lettering, you will indeed (in some measure) damage the undercoat.

    However, if the undercoat is fine, there are many circumstances in which it will become nearly invisible through firing. (This is because between 10% and 15% of the darknesss of paint is usually removed by the mere process of firing.) So, with a fine undercoat, the “damage” will itself become even finer.

    That said, you are absolutely correct in thinking you would otherwise need to remove the whole undercoat. Now if you will please look in the column on the far right, under “Useful Free Downloads”, you’ll find a published article of ours called “Stained Glass Lettering” where we do indeed remove the whole undercoat. This is a messy process. But, since the lettering lasts for tens of years, maybe for centuries, then, if the undercoat grants us accuracy, perhaps the mess of removing it can now be justified?

    Thanks so much for seeing that we need to expand and clarify here!

    All the best from us,

  3. Thank you, Stephen for such and informative site. I so wish I had more time to spend on painting! I have used my calligraphy nibs and done some hand-lettering on glass with wonderful results. I used your glass paint techniques and the results were amazing!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!


      • Hi Stephen,

        Bonnie spoke about lettering with pens – I’ve tried to do this to no avail and can’t find any reference to that technique. Can you point me in the right direction, please?

        Thanks, Christine ( Australia)

        • Hi Christine,

          Have you seen this post David wrote about using nib and oil? Maybe that will be help.

          Now, for my own part, I can imagine lettering being fine with nib and oil if the lettering is informal and non-calligraphic. But the moment the lettering must be exactly right, then I do wonder if brush and water-based paint become appropriate … because there are techniques which permit one to (a) lay down the lines where they should be, and (b) correct small deviations.

          That said, what do you think?

          All the best,

          • Yes, by ‘lettering’ I was referring to calligraphic letters with something like a Speedball or Mitchell flat nib. These letters are much smaller and more like a natural handwriting than the more exacting letters that Stephen describes above. I use the lettering as a ‘texture’ to the imagery (much like cross-hatching) in a lot of cases. Calligraphy for me is second nature (30 years plus now) so I seem to put it in everything! There are so many phenomenal calligraphers that hail from GB, Peter Halliday being one of my personal favorites 🙂

            Christine, I have used David’s technique that Stephen links to above with the calligraphy nibs and it works beautifully – if calligraphy is what you are looking to do. There are several sites online to pick up the calligraphy nibs but a well stocked local art store would have them, too. They are very reasonably priced.

            Hope this helps.


  4. I am really enjoying this session with you. So many helpful hints. The chalk idea is working wonderfully with the project I have on the go now. Thank you for your inspiration.

    • That’s good to know: I’m glad it’s working well for you, Brenda.

      And, in episode #5 of “The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers”, you’ll see us using chalk in a related – though different and very interesting – way.


  5. Hi David,

    Wonderfully instructive article as always – thank you so much.
    I do have a question, although it doesn’t actually relate to the painting itself. I’m intrigued to know how you go about removing and, more to the point, replacing pieces of glass in a window while it’s still in situ please?

    Many thanks,

    • Well, you have to work slowly and carefully. First of all you take a rubbing of the original opening. Then you carefully open the leads and remove whatever fragments you can. You might now use the rubbing to cut a blank from float glass and check it goes in both snugly and without too much difficulty. Next you re-cut the new glass and paint it. This you then re-fit, folding back the leads, and putty both sides. Well, it might go like this or it might be different: it depends. But I hope this gives you an idea.

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