Stained Glass Colors – Lead Lining

Helping You Choose Stained Glass Colors

Stained glass colors are what makes a window ‘sing’. If you get them right your window will hit the high notes. If you get it wrong it will seem out of tune.

Lead Lining is a little-known technique that will help you make the right stained glass colour choices first time. No more feeling sorry that you’ve made a mistake with your colour and glass choices.

stained glass winter trees
“Winter Trees” during the lead lining process. By glass artist Sarah Davis

Choosing Stained Glass Colors – Lead Lining

See those blobs of black plasticine? They are holding each piece of stained glass up on a base sheet of tempered glass.

Why? So that you can step back and have a look at the overall design and colour balance of your work-in-progress BEFORE you solder the panel together. It is the only way to get a feel for how your panel will actually look when finished. It gives you the chance to make adjustments, resulting in more satisfying work all round.


This tutorial is inspired by student’s positive response to lead lining in my Leaded Stained Glass Artistry class. It made me realise just how few people do this crucial step and how much they can benefit from it.

If you’re new to using lead came as a technique I’d highly recommend you give it a try. It will add a great deal to your skill set and give you the best of both stained glass worlds – foil and lead. The course is self-paced and online so you can learn this lovely technique even if you are unable to get to a physical class. You can find out more about it here Leaded Stained Glass Artistry.


Tools & Materials Needed

  1. A piece of toughened/tempered glass that is bigger than your panel – it needs to be 6mm thick OR tempered so it’s strong enough to hold all your cut pieces of art glass. It also needs to be a little bit bigger than your pattern.
  2. Black Powder paint (lamp black)
  3. A couple of cartons and some water to mix the paint
  4. A cheap brush that you can cut the bristles off quite short with a razor blade or craft knife
  5. Plasticine, like this rainbow coloured pack here on Amazon (affiliate) – it’s very colourful!

Step by Step Guide to Lead Lining

  • Mix the black paint. It needs to be thick because you’re trying to make a really nice thick black line to represents the lead line. You don’t want any light showing through.
    Use 2 teaspoons of powder, 1 teaspoon of water and mix. It’s best to have it too thick to start with and then thin it down rather than keep adding powder.
  • Slip the pattern underneath the base glass and paint the lead lines on the glass using the black paint. NOTE:  if your pattern is asymmetrical turn it back to front before putting it underneath your base glass. If you don’t do this everything will be back to front when you stick your glass on.
    For the outside lines draw a thicker black line to represent the thicker edge lead. You’re trying to represent the width of the lead with the paint lines. Internal lines are thinner so we paint those lines correspondingly thinner.

  • Wait for the paint to dry. When it’s dry, turn the glass over so that the paint is face down. You have to stick your glass pieces on the non-painted side using the Plasticine. If you stick the glass on the painted side, the paint will stop the Plasticine from sticking.

  • Place the painted glass precisely on top of your pattern. This is where you can see that if you didn’t have a symmetrical pattern, it would all be back to front  which is why you have to flip the pattern over before painting the lines.
  • Plasticine is quite hard to use unless it’s nice and warm. Warm it up by moving it about in your hands and also shaping it into long thin tube shape, making it easy to put just a little tiny bit on the edge of the glass.
  • Pick up one of your glass shapes and add Plasticine around the back edge. Move the glass back and forth so that you’re putting small amounts of Plasticine on the back with your thumb. Once you’ve gone all around the shape, you’re ready to stick it on the base glass. Do one shape at a time.

  • Repeat this for every single shape, sticking it on to the tempered glass until you have done the whole panel.

  • Finally the moment of truth! Prop the glass up on your easel or in front of a window so that you can step back from the panel and get a sense of the stained glass colours and balance in the daylight.
  • Don’t forget to assess the thickness of the lead/solder lines too. These can look very different with coloured glass than they do on paper and may need adjusting.
  • Now you can see whether your panel works as a unified piece before committing to soldering and leading; check the the colours, check the width of the lead and check the grain direction of the glass.

see your stained glass colors before soldering

  • I have sometimes left these overnight so that I can see how the stained glass colors work in reflected light when it’s dark, but its best not to leave unattended in case some precious pieces slip off.
  • Make any adjustments needed to the glass. For example, if something is screaming ‘Too dark!” then cut a lighter piece and replace the dark piece with it until you’re happy with the design balance. Keep making adjustments until you’re 100% happy that the stained glass colours and lead/solder lines are all working in harmony.
  • When you are happy then remove each piece carefully off the tempered glass, making sure all the Plasticine is removed, wash and reassemble on your pattern ready to finish constructing the panel.

Getting The Pieces of Glass Off Safely

  • I use an ancient thin pallet knife which I use to gently get in between the glass and lever each piece up.
  • You can use the remaining Plasticine to remove the blobs on your glass. Just push it along each edge, it gathers them up very cleanly.

Achieve A Balanced, Harmonious Panel

winter stained glass trees
Completed “Winter Trees” panel by Sarah Davis.

I hope you can see the value of lead lining. It’s better to change one or two pieces of glass at this stage rather than be forever regretting the piece or wayward line that got away!

Carry on with your lead came panel by following these tutorials here

Design Original Stained Glass From Scratch

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13 thoughts on “Stained Glass Colors – Lead Lining”

  1. If anyone knows of someone in the Denver area that repairs stained glass please give me a name by way of email.
    Remove the spaces below to get hold of Vince (it’s not a good idea to put email addresses on the Internet 🙂 )
    Vince real clean @ gmail .com

    Reply
  2. Quick thanks and confirmation that this is a must when selecting glass for your work. One of my first pieces was an orchid. The flower portion was to have various shades between internal and external portion for the petals. It looked great in the “classroom” but once done I placed it in a window to take a picture with sunlight and some portions substantially changed while others did not. Lesson learned and now a technique to exercise that lesson learned. Thankfully I was giving this to Mom and she loved it. Mom’s always do, pretty much 🙂

    Reply
    • Ha ha, always good to give gifts to mums! I’m happy that you learned this early on and take the time to add the step into your projects now. It really does eliminate those surprises that light and colour can throw on us.

      Reply
  3. Good idea, more than what you can see working on a light box, and many people don’t have one of those. I think I’d use Blu-Tack instead of the clay. I already use that if my piece is too fiddly when I tack-solder. And maybe black acrylic or tempera paint would also work.

    Reply
    • Yes, you can get the texture better than on a light box and the colour is totally different too of course.

      Thanks for your alternative suggestions Lisa. Others have suggested Blutack – I’ve always been wary as I thought it might harden but give it a go. Anything that works with the principle is good! Permanent pens are another option instead of the black lines.

      Reply
  4. Wonderful idea Milly! Thanks for the tip. What is plasticene, though? Is there an American term for it? Also, ive heard the term lampblack but never seen it. Any other name 4 it?

    Reply
    • Glad you like the idea Bruce. Plasticine is a modelling clay that doesn’t harden. There is a link to Amazon.com above, so it is available in the US. Some people use Blutack, which I’m a bit wary of as it can dry out but you could try that.
      Lampblack is a powder paint – poster paints that you mix with water. You can use a wide permanent pen but I like the paint as it’s very dense.
      I hope that helps.

      Reply
        • Yes, ‘roll’ it off with a small ball of warmed up plasticene. It doesn’t leave any behind. Needs a clean before foiling – but then we do that anyway. If using lead came you don’t have to do any special cleaning.
          I hope that helps Linda.

          Reply
  5. Hi, I am doing a very large panel right now and could use some help with the colours, etc before I finish and then get to see what it looks like. But I have NO IDEA what you are trying to explain here. And I don’t think I am that thick…

    any other way to explain this? pictures? thx

    Reply
    • Hi Hope, sorry to hear that my explanation wasn’t clear. I don’t currently have any more photos I’m afraid – next time I do it I can add some!

      If you imagine sticking all of your cut glass shapes on to a sheet of tempered glass with blobs of plasticine so that you can prop it up against a window and stand back and look at it, does that help?

      If you want to get the black lines on the tempered glass so that it imitates your finished window more faithfully, then these have to be painted on the back of the tempered glass and left to dry BEFORE you stick your glass pieces on.

      I’ve added a few more pointers at the end – numbers 7-10 – which might help explain the process further.

      I hope that helps… promise I’ll put any more pix up if and when I have any!

      Reply

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