From one-of-a-kind artworks to landmark architecture, the design world thrives on unique pieces. Glazing is no different. We at Walker love our full surface etch and bird friendly patterns, but it’s the custom patterned etched glass that really shows off an architect’s imagination. In sweeping statement pieces, award-winning buildings, and exquisitely refined fenestration, architects have made their visions a reality with the help of Walker Textures® custom etched glass patterns. What did these successful projects have in common? The architects started with visionary designs, and they asked the right questions early in the process. Answer these eight questions, and you’ll be ready to start your custom glass project on the right foot.

You can read through for the full scoop, or jump straight to the bit that’s most relevant to you:


Walker’s patterned acid etched glass offering

This article covers nuanced questions about where, why, and how to incorporate custom acid etched glass in architecture. If you’re looking for product info such as etching options, available substrates, MOQ or warranty details, our Patterned Acid Etched Glass product page has everything you need.

Question 1: What role can etched glass patterns play in my building’s aesthetic?

Will the glass be part of a branded aesthetic? If so, consider incorporating elements like illustrations or signature shapes into your design. Walker can etch pretty much any shape onto glass, so let your imagination guide you!

Looking for a more conceptual effect? Some architects use custom acid etched glass to underline a building’s overall concept, as Weiss/Manfredi and Heintges did in their designs for the University of Pennsylvania’s Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology. This award-winning structure folds back and forth on itself like origami, a playful approach that’s echoed by the “pleated” stripes etched onto the building’s windows. In this building, the patterned glass was a team player in a comprehensive architectural concept.

University of Pennsylvania, Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology

Philadelphia, PA

Glass: 6mm Starphire Ultra-Clear® glass with custom acid etched stripe pattern on surface 1

Architects: Weiss/Manfredi and Heintges

Fabricator: JE Berkowitz

Question 2: How will acid etched glass influence the daylighting strategies for my project?

Acid etched glass can be a helpful asset for daylighting in architecture due to its light-softening effects and high visible light transmittance, and custom etched glass is no exception. In fact, the partial etched coverage on patterned glass gives architects more control over how much direct light vs. diffused light enters a space. As a rule of thumb, if you want more diffusion, opt for a denser pattern that covers more of the surface, or select an etch on etch product. On the other hand, if you want more direct beam sunlight, you’ll opt for less dense coverage overall, or combine acid etched patterns with unetched glass.

patterned etched glass examples

Left: densely patterned glass. Centre: loosely patterned glass. Right: partially patterned glass.


Daylighting expert Lisa Heschong has a “90/10 rule” for sunlight in interiors. In this interview with Walker Glass she explained, “I have a rule of thumb for designers: allow direct sunlight into about 10% of an interior, judged relative to the floor area. This can create sparkle and interest, while not overwhelming anyone with too much sunlight.” Custom acid etched glass can help you achieve the perfect balance for your particular building site.

Gensler took advantage of this flexibility when they designed The Hub at Prairie Shores in Chicago. This amenities centre needed to function as an exercise space, a social hub, and a workspace, among other things. Gensler adjusted the amount of acid etched patterning in each portion of The Hub so that users would receive just the right amount of direct beam light: more direct sunlight in the workout area, and less of it around the work desks so laptop screens wouldn’t have to compete with unmitigated sunlight.

The Hub at Prairie Shores

Chicago, IL

Glass: 6mm Starphire Ultra-Clear® glass with custom acid etched pattern on surface 1

Architect: Gensler

Fabricator: OBE Schofield

Photography credit: Kendall McCaugherty

Question 3: What kind of visibility do I want through the glass?

If you’re working in a sensitive context like healthcare or schools, or if you just want to give occupants a bit of privacy without reducing light flow, etched glass can help. It delivers high visible light transmittance while blurring the view through glass. You can fine-tune the effects of the etch with a custom pattern by etching selective portions of the glass, while leaving other areas unetched and transparent. This is the approach that Swanke Hayden Connell Architects took when they designed the Moody’s Investors Service office in New York. Broad stripes across the office’s interior walls keep confidential files out of sight from the corridor, while unetched areas at the top and bottom of the glass give occupants a visual connection between spaces.

The takeaway: when you’re planning a custom acid etched glass application, feel free to get strategic. You can think about what you want people to see through the glass and what you want to keep hidden, then place etched portions accordingly.

patterned acid etched glass at the University of Pennsylvania Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology

Moody’s Investors Service

New York, NY

Glass: 6mm clear glass with custom acid etched pattern

Architects: Swanke Hayden Connell

Fabricator: Bendheim

Some etched patterns can even create one-way transparency. For example, Diamond Schmitt developed custom half-tone dot patterns for the Peter George Centre for Living and Learning at McMaster University. These patterns block views into the building, but still allow a clear view out. This one-way visibility means occupants get all the benefits of daylighting and views, as well as privacy.

Interior view of The Hub at Prairie Shores with patterned acid etched glass

McMaster University, Peter George Centre for Living and Learning

Toronto, ON

Glass: 6mm clear glass with custom acid etched pattern on surface 1, Solarban® R67 and 70 low-e coatings on surface 2

Architect: Diamond Schmitt

Fabricator: OBE Wright City

Of course, if you want to block views completely, you can opt for full surface coverage. Walker Textures® acid etched glass patterns can be combined with a full surface etch to achieve this look.

Question 4: What kind of energy performance is required?

If energy performance is a consideration for the building envelope, glazing will be a significant part of your strategy. One-sided etching combined with a low-e coating on surface two is your best bet when you want to reduce heat flow through the glass. This could mean etch on etch or one sided etching, but remember that double sided etching is off the table since the second surface must be kept clear for a low-e coating.

Walker Textures® acid etched glass is available with a variety of Solarban® low-e coatings from Vitro Architectural Glass.

insulated glass unit with acid-etched pattern on surface one, low-e coating on surface 2

Insulated glass unit with etched pattern on surface 1, low-e coating on surface 2

Question 5: Am I trying to meet any bird deterrence goals with glass?

Does your project need to meet bird safe building requirements, or simply reduce the risk of bird strikes against the glass? Just like our AviProtek® bird friendly glass, custom patterns can be bird friendly if they follow these principles:

  • First-surface etching – patterns are etched onto the exterior surface of the glass
  • Patterning over the whole area of the glass, with no large gaps
  • Spacing following the 2×4 rule or 2×2 rule
  • Visual elements at least 5mm / ⅛” in diameter
  • Sufficient contrast between etched markers and unetched glass. Our custom acid etched glass uses the same high contrast etching treatment as AviProtek® bird friendly glass, so your custom pattern will be visible to birds.

It’s important to note that acid etched glass patterns following these guidelines will meet bird friendly glass requirements that follow the Prescriptive method, and they will be effective at deterring bird strikes. However, they will not satisfy requirements based on the Performance method because that approach requires every new product to be tested individually. If your project will be subject to Performance-based building requirements, you may prefer to use an existing AviProtek® pattern. These products have already been tested and are ready to use under Performance-based legislations.

Look for more information on Performance ratings, the Prescriptive approach, and what actually works for bird friendly glazing in our article, A Comparison of Bird Friendly Glass Rating Systems: Foundations, Limitations, and Outcomes.

Question 6: What’s my project timeline?

Like any bespoke product, a custom patterned etched glass will take longer to ship than our existing glass options. First, you’ll need to factor in time for design development, which includes making sure that the glass can be produced within your budget and scale. Once the artwork is finalized, the unique manufacturing components for your project will be created at the Walker Glass factory, and then we’ll move on to production.

Our best advice is to get your Walker Glass architectural manager involved at an early stage. Our team has loads of experience and know-how in this respect, and they’ll be able to coordinate with the production team to make sure your timeline goes according to plan.

For some projects, an existing pattern might meet your needs better than a custom creation. In these cases, you might want to start your design process by browsing our existing AviProtek® line. While these patterns were developed for bird deterrence, they’re well suited to any patterned glass application.

Custom pattern artwork requirements

  • Minimum space between lines: 1mm / 1/25″
  • Minimum line width: 1mm / 1/25″
  • File format: vector (.ai, .eps, .pdf)
  • Dimensions:
    • Standard: 94 ½” x 128 ½” (glass size 96″ x 130″)
    • On demand: 70 ½” x 128 ½” (glass size 72″ x 130″) and 82 ½” x 128 ½” (glass size 84″ x 130″)
  • No bleed

Question 7: What’s my budget, and how much will I spend on patterned glass?

Reducing off-cuts is one of the best ways to increase yield and get more from every dollar you spend on glass. There are tricks you can use to make sure you’re utilizing as much material as possible from your patterned etched glass.

  • Glass size: Walker produces custom etched glass in 96” x 130” sheets, with 72” x 130” and 84” x 130” available on demand. When you’re designing your project, try out different dimensions of openings to see what combination of window size and glass size will give you the most efficient cutting yield.
  • Pattern orientation: a multi-directional pattern will allow your fabricator to cut pieces oriented either horizontally or vertically, so they can fit more cuts into a single sheet of glass. On the other hand, a one-directional pattern can only be cut from one orientation. You may end up wasting large pieces of glass, simply because the pattern is running in the wrong direction. During the pattern design process, try out multi-directional variations that will look good when they’re rotated 90 degrees.
pattern rotation diagram with directional and non-directional patterned etched glass
pattern rotation diagram with directional patterned etched glass
pattern rotation diagram with non-directional patterned etched glass

Cutting layouts with 1-directional and multi-directional patterns

Our article, “Bird Safe Glass – design rules to meet your budget and minimize bird collisions” gives more information on maximizing cost effectiveness with patterned glass. While the article was written with bird friendly glass in mind, the same principles apply to any patterned glass.

Question 8: How much patterned glass do I need, and where?

Custom patterned glass is ideal for projects using at least 1,000 sq ft of glass per pattern. That’s because the manufacturing process requires made-to-order factory components to create each unique design, which increases the cost of production, and in turn, the minimum order quantity. If your project needs at least 1,000 square feet of glass, great! If it only incorporates a pane or two of patterned glass, you might be better served with digital printing or laser etch.

Some architectural designs incorporate multiple different glass patterns. Since the minimum order of 1,000 square feet applies to each pattern individually, this can add up to a lot of glass. In cases like this, consider whether your concept can be streamlined to achieve the same visual effect with fewer unique patterns. This may seem daunting at first, but our architectural managers are here to help. For example, Gensler’s initial concept for The Hub at Prairie Shores involved seventy-two unique etched patterns. With the help of Walker architectural manager John Just, Gensler was able to bring the number of etched patterns down to just five different designs and still achieve the look they were after.

If you’re interested in how the team accomplished this complex façade design, you should read our case study on The Hub. It’s a pretty spectacular project, if we do say so ourselves.

There you have it. If you can answer these eight questions about your glass needs, you’re well on your way to a successful project with patterned etched glass. We’ve covered a lot in this article, so be sure to save it for future reference. We hope some of the questions we’ve covered here will help you create your own custom acid etched glass masterpiece, and that you’ll reach out to our architectural team to help get you started.

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