Stained-Glass Painting Tools & Materials

Checklist

Here’s a check-list for anyone who is starting out as a stained-glass painter:

  1. See below for details about glass paint and mixing bowl, gum Arabic, media (water and/or oil), light box, palettes, palette knives, paint covers, painting bridge / arm rest, jam jars, badger blender, wide narrow brushes, tracing brushes, various sticks, needles, scrubs, kiln, kiln trays and kiln controller.
  2. There are many articles and videos on this site: see here for a quick tour.
  3. Download and study our hands-on guide to kiln-fired stained glass painting – it’s packed with recipes, techniques, step-by-step projects and the kind of common sense you’ll only get by working with a successful studio.
  4. Get the free newsletter – each week you’ll get a quick tip that will help your stained glass painting: join here now
Stained glass painting tools

Glass painting brushes and tools

Glass paint

Use what you want. But we use glass paint made by Reusche. If you use glass paint made by Reusche, then we can usually help you if you meet problems or have questions.

  • If you’re in Europe, contact Lisa di Campli at PELI Glass Products.
  • If you’re in or are close to the US, get Reusche’s glass stainer’s catalogue here. (For suppliers, see page 14.)

We advise a minimum of 3 ounces of Tracing Black (DE401) and 1 ounce Bistre Brown (DE402).

Now some folks get anxious about the up-front expense of “this much” glass paint. That’s fine. Best just get over it: use it as we suggest in Part 1 of our e-book, and this quantity of paint will last you for a long time. By contrast, paint with a teaspoonful at a time, and you will waste glass paint quickly.

A ceramic bowl is useful for mixing paint in before you transfer it to the palette for a final grinding.

As for enamels and silver-stains: leave these till later. The most important thing is to make a start with tracing and shading, and to get these really good.

Gum Arabic

Added to water-based glass paint so that, before it’s fired, it isn’t excessively fragile once you’ve applied it to the glass you’re painting.

It comes as liquid or powder. We prefer liquid as used by water-colour painters. Ours is made by Winsor & Newton. One bottle lasts for years.

Stained-glass painting media

Glass paint is dry – a powder. So the “medium” is whatever liquid you choose to mix it with, thus allowing you to use it with a brush.

Water is the simplest medium. Start there. For an excellent recipe plus mixing method plus video demonstration, see Part 1. For oil, see Part 2. For glycol, see our documentary, The Master & the Beast.

Light box

We make our own. Here’s our specification:

  • At least 22 inches by 16 inches. Can certainly be larger – make sure the glass is strong enough: you’ll lean heavily on it – but not much smaller. (Size is important.) You must allow for the size of your glass (possibly several pieces at one time), plus some/all of your design (which will be as large as it is), plus your palette (because it’s sometimes useful to illuminate your glass paint from beneath)
  • At least 3 mm toughened glass on top (but this is your decision) which is sandblasted on one side to diffuse the light. Our glass rests on a narrow internal ledge. (It’s possible to use plastic instead of glass, but the main disadvantage is its flexibility when you lean on it to paint.)
  • Lit by a low-heat, movable light source, such as a standard bathroom wall-mounted light. Painted white inside to reflect the light
  • Mounted on legs which allow the air to circulate and also permit the electric cable to pass underneath

No light box? Do without. For instance, use a white oilcloth / PVC tablecloth, and choose appropriate designs such as those with strong lines.

Stained-glass painting palettes

Used as surface on which to mix glass paint. Toughened glass, at least 8 inches by 14 inches. (Don’t waste time with smaller palettes.) For very granular paint, it’s useful if sandblasted on one side. But sandblasting is actually more helpful to your eyes (than to your grinding). It’s useful to have several palettes, each for different media and pigment. Also useful to have a rack for storing palettes when clean and not in use.

Palette knives

Palette knives are absolutely invaluable to stained glass painting

Used for mixing and grinding glass paint. Blade between 6 and 8 inches long. Not too springy – you often need to crush and scrape.

Note: blade gets very sharp. Also gets worn and so can snap with age. Mind your fingers.

Paint covers

Used to cover glass paint on palette when not in use. This slows down the rate at which the lump dries out. It also stops impurities like dust and grease from harming your glass paint. Glazed porcelain cooking ramekins are excellent.

Painting Bridge / Arm Rest

Stained glass painting bridge

The painting bridge / arm rest

Used when painting and highlighting. Keeps hand steady so that you can concentrate on glass paint and brush. Holds brush/stick in required position. Keeps hand away from unfired glass paint and also from glass (so no grease on surface).

Make your own with wood and wood glue.

Tip: it’s a good idea to brace the bottom of the legs with sticky sponge because otherwise the constant banging of wood on glass (as you move your bridge around) gets wearing on the ears.

The new and revised introduction to Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio has a stack of useful photos which show you the best way to hold a bridge. (It’s not obvious.)

Jam jars

Used to hold water, also for brushes, also to store oil-based paint and silver-stain in an air-tight condition.

A large badger blender

Badger blenders last for years

Large blenders

Used to move wet paint around the surface of the glass. Also used to add texture to wet or dry glass paint. 3 inches wide is excellent for most purposes. Traditional model is very expensive and lasts a life-time with good care. Modern model is much cheaper, absolutely fine for most purposes, and lasts for years with good care.

The new introduction to Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio has a useful section on blending.

Wide narrow brushes

Used to paint an undercoat that serves as a “key” for subsequent tracing and shading. Also used to paint an overcoat that softens traced lines, allowing them to be dissolved and expanded with the help of a badger blender.

The best brushes we’ve ever found for both these jobs are called hakes (or sometimes haiks).

Our hakes are part of the “Ron Ranson” series. They are made by Pro Arte. We use the “large” size (item number is 50686452): 1 and 3/4 inches wide. These Ron Ranson hake brushes are also used by water-color painters. So you can ask your local art shop to place an order for you, or you can go online and find a supplier on the internet e.g. here and also on Amazon.com. If you choose to buy a non-branded less expensive brush, you may regret it. A good Ron Ranson hake will last for years and years.

In Europe, get yours from PELI Glass Products.

Wide narrow brushes with the inestimable Ron Ronson hake below

We absolutely recommend this make of brush by Ron Ranson.

Tracing brushes

Used to paint lines of various lengths and thicknesses.

  • Can be natural or synthetic hair. Synthetic hair is fine for some cases e.g. thin lines made with oil-based paint. But the hairs are apt to twist and knot
  • For natural hair, always choose sable. Sable is excellent for all media and all kinds of line (long/short, thick/thin, light/dark)

Regarding length: somehow the myth has got around that real stained glass tracing brushes have enormously long tips. Some brush-makers have even developed a range of “stained glass painting brushes” whose tips are 1.5 inches long (or more). But these long tipped tracing brushes are hard to use. We only ever use them when we have to trace very, very long thin lines – say lines which are 18 inches long, and we want to do this in one go.

We nearly always use tracing brushes whose tips are less than 1 inch long.

Sable brushes come in various sizes from small to large. “Small” ones make a fine stroke, large ones make a broad stroke. The modern classification is numeric e.g. “00” to “6” for finest to thickest. The traditional classification takes its cue from the bird whose quill is used e.g. “lark” to “goose” for finest to thickest.

For most tracing, you need fine sable brushes whose tips end in a point – exactly the same kind of sable brushes as a water-color painter would use.

Make sure you get high quality brushes.

High quality is indicated by the fact that the brush doesn’t easily loose its hairs and by the neatness of the point in which the hairs end.

Even with tender, loving care, daily use always takes its toll. A new brush has very little spring and takes a bit of time to come to life. It then performs well for several months or perhaps a year or two (depending on the frequency and roughness of its typical use). Finally, it will begin to lose its spring. The hairs will crumple around the ferrule. At this point, retire it to a gentler life: take a knife and sharpen its end, and use it for highlighting.

Three good sable tracing brushes will make an excellent start

Start with 3 tracing brushes: a fine one (that is “1”, not the finest “00”), a middle-sized (“2”) and large (“6”). We do most of our painting with size 2s.

In the UK, use either the Renaissance series made by Pro Arte brushes or series 99 from A.S. Handover of London.

Contact PELI Glass Products for supplies.

Sticks and needles

You can improvise anything here e.g. a needle stuck into the end of an old painting brush, a knitting needle, a sharpened piece of bamboo, a cocktail stick etc.

Scrubs

Take care and singe hog-hair brushes to a short stump.

Kiln and kiln controller

Read around. Ask around. Try before you buy. Hire time on someone else’s kiln. See here for other information about stained glass kilns. Here’s a very useful post I wrote on things you must think about when firing.

Kiln trays

We don’t use kiln wash or kiln paper. When we fire glass in a kiln, we use whiting (calcium carbonate) as a separator. We use trays made from 1/8 inch gauge mild steel T-bars which are ½ inch deep, welded together at the four corners. We fill the trays with whiting (calcium carbonate):

Take a sheet of toughened glass and press down the powder so that it is perfectly smooth on top. This is the surface on which to fire the glass. The glass doesn’t stick (not even when it’s been painted on both sides). When the compacted powder get dirty, take a spoon and lift away the dirty bits, then add more powder and press it all down again.

There’s an online video demonstration right here.

Onwards

The main thing is, don’t get distracted by shopping for everything you might need because this will just just distract you from the real task – learning how to paint stained glass.

And, if you consider the hundreds of years during which people have been painting glass, it’s clear that the fundamental requirements must be fairly simple.

So get the basics.

Just the basics.

And join the newsletter because that’s how you’ll get a quick tip or technique each week. You can join here.

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12 thoughts on “Stained-Glass Painting Tools & Materials

  1. Stephen,

    The resource tips are very helpful. Will start with a starter kit and go from there.

    Many THX for all your valuable help!
    Jack

  2. Dear Stephen,

    I really really appreciate your website and all the wonderful information you offer. I want to paint with enamels. Can I paint enamels right next to one another on a single rondel? What term do I use when searching the Web for rondels? I keep finding those spun colored rondels that are used in door/window designs. Thank you and God bless.

    Kind regards,
    Mary

    • Hello Mary,

      You ask about enamels and also about rondels.

      First, enamels: yes you can indeed paint them right next to one another on a single rondel. But it can be a little tricky.

      If you’re working with water, you can prepare a small quantity of a particular enamel, then flood it into the desired area. And then you continue with the other colours. It’s important to test this first because different makes of enamels react differently. It’s also possible to work with different media e.g. Reusche’s water-based painting medium, and maybe this is what you’ll need for your particular design.

      Another method of course is to do several firings.

      We will be the first to say we don’t have vast experience of working with enamels. Reusche sent us some sample kits and we will be testing them as soon as we get the chance. And I will write a post quite soon about my own experience of restoring a vast set of stained glass enamel doors for the wife of the Beatle, Olivia Harrison … Trial by fire, that was!

      Now rondels: I am sorry but the only meaning I know is the spun coloured roundels which you don’t want: can you say more or send a photo? Thanks!

      And thanks, too, for your enthusiasm and kind comments: we’re very glad we all have this opportunity to engage with one another.

      All the best,
      Stephen

      • Dear Stephen,

        After all this time I just found this message from you. Thank you. This question about the enamels is still with me but your answer was helpful. I haven’t gotten around to buying enamels yet but will as soon as possible. I finally began to paint the other day and love it.Your messages and tips are read a lot, and I use them to help, because there are no glass painters nearby. God willing, I pray I can take a course with you and David in 2012.

        • Dear Mary,

          Thanks for your comment and I’m glad the information was helpful. Myself, I’m always looking out for really good enamels, and I’ll be sure to tell you when I find out more.

          All the best,
          Stephen

  3. Hi Stephen,

    Firstly thank you so much for your incredibly generous help and advice – it’s very much appreciated.

    I’m new to glass painting – about to start a stained glass course and hoping to incorporate painted glass into my designs.

    I am a ceramic artist and have a pottery kiln with a 3 ramp controller. Will this be suitable for firing glass?

    Best wishes,
    Ellie

    • Hi Ellie,

      I hope you got my e-mail answer. And the short answer is, yes, a pottery kiln with a 3-ramp controller should be fine.

      A couple of points, though.

      First up, it’s important the kiln has bung holes so you can vent any fumes.

      Second, pottery kilns (in my experience) load from the side (rather than the top), with heating elements at the side (rather than the top), and space for several shelves. Now I don’t have much experience of side-loading and side-firing kilns; I have used them, but not much. But the point I want to make is that, even if your kiln allows you to fire several shelves at once, it’s often best to fire just one shelf at a time, because that way you can (with practice) gain knowledge and experience to get the results you want. The point is, if you fire several shelves at once, each shelf will fire slightly differently. Also, each additional shelf will absorb some heat: this complicates things – as I see it – and makes them less predictable.

      Just be sure to document everything you do; it’ll soon become second nature.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  4. THANK YOU! For posting the video of Debora Coombs. Through the video, I learned that her studio is only 4.5hrs away from my current location, and I have since enrolled in her August, glass-painting workshop. I am BEYOND excited. I am mostly self-taught, with help from the Peter McGrain videos and all of your wonderful downloads and tips. But I still feel as though I have been struggling along on my own, and can’t wait to get some hands-on instruction. You guys are the best! Thanks for passing this wonderful art-form along. ♥

    • Hi Linda,

      I’m thrilled this has worked out so well for you. I’m also envious (in a good way) that you’ll be taking a class with Deborah.

      Best,
      Stephen

      P.S. Anyone who hasn’t seen them yet: these demonstrations are amazing and you’ll find the links right here.

  5. Hello,
    I admire your site, your energy and knowledge you are so generously sharing.
    I do have a request if I may. Can you elaborate a little more on Tracing brushes.
    You have strongly recommended Hakes by Ron Ranson but no word on tracing brushes.
    You suggest sizes but no word on their length. I’ve tried my Kolinskys H2O brushes
    but they are rather short and too stiff – 10-15 mm.
    Any brand your have good experience with? Recommended length?
    Any thoughts will be highly appreciated!!
    With gratitude, Jürek

    • Of course: good question! Will you look here to start with? Then by all means write again if something else occurs to you. Best – Stephen P.S. Thanks for your appreciation! We’re glad to be in touch with you and other glass painters.