How to Light, Secure and Clean Glass

How to Light, Secure and Clean Glass

I'm frequently asked about how to best light, secure and care for my glass so I thought it would be helpful to summarize my recommendations here for future reference.  


As the vast majority of my work is one-of-a-kind, each piece interacts a bit differently with light so experimentation is required.  However, there are some general guidelines that can help find the best lighting possible:  

  1. Direction - Spotlights above and slightly in front of the glass are a good way to light the front of a piece and how I light for photography.  If the work has already has good lighting from the room, try angling a spot that is in front of the work.  If your light source can move (like tracks) try moving it so that it shines into the piece; sometimes this is excellent lighting making transparent colors glow, but other time it creates weird shadows.  You'll probably find a 'sweet spot' where the angle is the best.  Transparent work also benefits from a light behind the work.  Be sure the light is not directly shining into the piece which would create hot spots.  Rather, point the light on a light-colored wall directly behind the work.  This diffuses the light and can make the transparent colors glow.  If the wall behind the work is dark, this approach won't work.  If possible, try a light directly below the work shining up into the base, or just behind the base shining into the back of the piece.  Depending on the piece, a light below can carry and diffuse the light in an interesting way to make the colors glow.  Work that's opaque obviously won't benefit from back or bottom lighting, so focus your energy on lights overhead and in front.
  2. Type - Powerful sunlight-color LEDs are often best because they are usually offer a nicely-balanced natural white and are bright without being hot.  Halogens can be good but run hot so keep them a few feet from the glass.  Direct sunlight may look great but please avoid it because different colors of glass heat up at different rates so cracking is a risk.  Indirect sun is good--just make sure it's not casting hard shadows or making the work too warm.  
  3. Pedestals - Pedestals can be purchased with a built-in light that shines up into a transparent base that the glass sits on.  This is often a great way to display glass that benefits from light from below.  If buying this style of pedestal, get one with an LED rather than incandescent light to make sure things don't get too hot under the glass.  You can also remove the transparent base and use cardboard, contact paper or aluminum foil to create a mask that only lets the light through where the glass sits on the pedestal.  By blocking the light around the bottom of the glass you'll create greater contrast and reduce glare on the bottom of the work.  It's can be a really dramatic look.  Experiment with a flashlight under the piece while it's sitting on a glass table to see if this would work for your glass.  (Set glass down on a glass table VERY carefully!)
  4. Display cases - Most of these have built in lighting, so they're often not as flexible in getting the light where you want it.  I've seen cases with rows of LEDs in the back or top sides--this can be effective.  Beware of hot halogens that are too close above the glass.

Securing Glass

Collectors and gallery owners generally use the following:

Museum Wax: Probably the most common approach but be sure it's compatible with the surface you're putting the glass on.  Most is white, which doesn't always look the best if the base is transparent, but it does seem to be the most secure of the temporary options.  Available at hardware stores, Amazon, and arts & crafts stores.  Can be messy.

Dental Wax: I got a tip from Duncan McClellan that dental wax holds better than Museum Wax and isn't as messy.  I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but plan to do so. 

Museum Gel: The main benefits of Museum Gel are that it's clear and easy to remove.  It does hold objects quite securely but it's a bit tricky to use becasue if you apply too much, the glass will 'drift' on the layer of the gel, sometimes as much as a few inches, which could result in tragedy.  So the trick is to use as little gel as possible so objects stay put.  I usually apply 3-4 balls of the gel each about the size of a small grain of rice to the base of a large piece before setting it down.  Over about an hour, the gel spreads out across the entire base, securing the glass.  I don't know if it's ok for all surfaces, but I've used it successfully on non-porus surfaces.  Be very careful to not use too much.

Silicone: This is a more permanant approach and the right silicone adhesive is very effective at holding glass securely. It's hard to remove from most surfaces without monofilament (fishing line), solvent and/or a razor.

UV Adhesive: This a permanent way to secure glass to glass and what I use when I need to attach blown work or sculpture to a glass base.  I use Loctite 349 which needs a 365nm wavelength UV light to cure.  Surfaces need to be cleaned with pure acetone or alcohol.  Here's a link for more information on Loctite 349.  It's very difficult to remove something that is attached with UV adhesive, so consider it permanant.  I've bonded work to 3/4" clear glass bases; these can be purchased through me or obtained through a glass supplier.  I use Starphire clear bases; this type of flat glass is much clearer than the normally available glass, although it's quite a bit more expensive.  The only way I've ever removed something that's attached via UV is to burn it off by heating up the object to 500F and the glue will fail.  


Cleaning glass that hasn't been sandblasted or etched is very straightforward. I clean glass with either a paper towel or cotton cloth and some glass cleaner.  Glass cleaners have waxes and ammonia in them that both clean and shine the glass.  I'm sure a museum conservator wouldn't use glass cleaner on a 3000-year old Egyptian core-formed vessel, but glass these days is much more stable than the oldest examples.  If cleaning something like museum wax off of the bottom of glass, I use 99% denatured alcohol or acetone.  If cleaning a sandblasted work (like some Bloom) check with the artist on how to best care for the finish.  I include cleaning cloths saturated with mineral oil with all satin-finished Blooms--it's what I use to clean and refresh the finish on these pieces.