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We are often asked to engrave photographs on our glassware.  While photos aren’t the type of artwork that we generally recommend, we can get a nice result with some photos.  However, there are some restrictions, and in some cases we will not recommend specific photos for engraving.  
The issue is that we actually engrave our glassware by carving the design into the glass.  Glass only turns a single color when engraved….frosted white.  By comparison, photographs usually get their detail from dozens of different shades and colors.  Even “black and white” photographs are actually greyscale, and typically contain many different shades of grey.  It is not possible to replicate all of the details of a photograph when working with just the single color of frosted white.
To engrave a photograph, we will use a graphics program to turn the photo into a pure black and white image, composed of white pixels and black pixels.  This image will be “photo inverted” and then used to make the sandblasting mask for engraving.  The reason for the inversion is that there is a “photo negative” effect when glass gets engraved….everything in black on the computer monitor will get engraved, but that will then turn white on the glass.  So, the inversion of the graphic preserves the “correct” relationship of black and white colors.
Also, in general we can obtain a better result with engraved photos on glasses that have a larger surface area for engraving.  Examples of this would include pints, beer mugs, pitchers, and rocks glasses.  Smaller glasses mean a smaller engraving area, and that typically means less detail can be shown.
So what type of photographs will work well?  The answer is simple ones, which include the characteristics mentioned below:
•    A fairly simple subject matter, such as a single face or a close-up of one object
•    Lighting that is fairly even, without a large degree of shadowing
•    An uncomplicated background
•    Contrasting colors, without a lot of similar shades

What type of photos will not work?  Problem photos include those with the characteristics below:
•    Lots of varying shades of the same color
•    A large degree of shadowing….such as a face that is half shadowed and half well-lit
•    Complicated backgrounds, especially ones with similar colors without much contrast
•    Areas of detail that are small in size, like distant faces
•    A need to see specific (and similar) colors to make out objects….such as a litter of black and dark brown puppies

Probably the best way to get a feel for photo engraving is to look at some actual examples.  Below we have shown several examples of actual photographs, and then photos of the engraved version.

The bottom line? We can accept your photograph and use it for engraving, although we do want customers to understand the realities of engraving a photograph.  Please do be aware of the limitations.  Everything will be in frosted white when engraved, and some photographs will translate better than others.  In some cases we will recommend against the usage of a specific photo.  
We hope these examples help to illustrate how various photographs will look on engraved glassware. If you would like for us to review a specific photo for suitability, feel free to email us at and attach the picture.  We will give you our honest opinion!