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Privacy and Obscure Window Glass

On this page:
  • Understand what privacy glass means.
  • Different types and styles of privacy glass.
  • Where can privacy glass be installed?

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What are Privacy and Obscure Glasses?

Most of the windows in our homes use clear tempered glass to add spaciousness and light to interior spaces such as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens. Other types of glass can bring increased privacy to bathrooms and any other space where we don’t want to be seen. Privacy and obscure glass still lets moderate amounts of light into the residence, but they fully or partially distort the view from both sides of the window to enhance privacy.

Translucent windows allow light to flow into the interior of spaces, and they provide an important connection to the outside while we are indoors. Some homeowners prefer to use privacy glass in certain parts of their homes, such as bathrooms, shower doors, or office windows. Patterned obscure glass also can be used as a decorative accent for tabletops, shelving or even a kitchen backsplash.

Privacy Glass for Homes and Office - Windows and Doors | Modernize


The masking effects of privacy and obscure glass can be achieved in many different ways, including frosting, patterning, ribbing, rain dropping, or using opaque tints and films. Modernize created this guide on privacy and obscure glass to help homeowners learn more about the benefits of privacy window glass materials, where it’s best used, and differences between the many different types of obscure glasses.

How much do Privacy Glass Cost?

The cost to install privacy or obscure in your home depends on many different factors, including window shape, size and thickness, type of glass desired, edgework detailing, pattern, and contractor installation costs, to name a few. However, generally speaking, you might pay around $200 for a piece of ⅛-inch thick tempered frosted glass that’s two-foot by two-foot with a sand-blasted decorative pattern on one side.

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Difference between Frosted and Obscure Glass

Glass that you can’t see through because it is patterned, frosted, sandblasted or acid-etched to reduce transparency falls under the umbrella of obscure glass. Frosted glass is made by applying acid to a standard piece of glass to create a frosted appearance, and then it can be further etched with acid to create any number of patterns. Ribbed, raindrop and patterned obscure glass, meanwhile, is made by passing molten glass over cylindrical molds during manufacturing to create distinctive designs and patterns. The patterned glass is slowly cooled through a process called annealing, which prevents it from cracking as it cools and also increases its hardness.

Difference between Privacy and Tinted Glass

We’ve noted many of the benefits and uses for privacy glass. Many homeowners, though, opt for tinted residential windows rather than privacy glass.

Tinted residential window glass can provide many different benefits outside of increased privacy. It cuts down the amount of sunlight entering your house, which keeps rooms cooler and shaves money from your utility bill. Tinted windows also significantly reduce the amount of ultraviolet rays you might be exposed to if you are sitting in a sunlit room.

There are a wide range of window tints available for residential use, and their costs can vary greatly as well.

Tinted vs Privacy Glass | Modernize

Types of Obscure Glass

Obscure glass can be used anywhere in the home where you desire increased privacy, or where you want to add decorative accents. There are many different types of obscure glass from which to choose. Here’s a rundown of 12 of the most popular types of privacy glass.

Frosted Glass

This is one the most widely used types of privacy glass in both residential and commercial settings. The glass is sandblasted or etched with acid to decrease transparency. It’s commonly used in bedrooms, offices, bathrooms and home libraries. This process is very similar to etching with one key difference: Frosting changes the appearance of the glass, while etching alters its texture.

Etched Glass

The process of acid-etching glass dates back hundreds of years. Hydrofluoric acid is used to erode the top layer of the glass,which leaves behind a frosted look that can be further enhanced with colorful embossing. Alternatively, the glass can be sandblasted at high pressure to erode the top layer of glass, leaving behind a rough surface with enhanced opacity.

Tinted Glass 

Tinted residential or commercial windows can provide substantial cost savings on energy bills in hot climates because they block up to 80 percent of heat from sunlight from entering your home. Residential window tinting is an affordable retrofit option for cost-conscious homeowners who want enhanced privacy.

Textured or Patterned Glass

 This type of glass is also called rolled glass and features visually pleasing decorative textures or patterns such as flora, fauna and a wide range of geometric designs and shapes. During manufacturing, molten glass passes between two cylinders – one is flat, while the other has a pattern or texture. The finished glass is imprinted with a texture or pattern on one side and is flat on the other.

Mirrored glass

Mirrored glass uses a reflective film on one side so you can see through the window on one side and see your reflection on the other.

One-way glass

Likely you’ve seen a police interrogation on television where officers are watching the interview unnoticed through a large pane of glass. That’s one-way glass. The light inside the interrogation room is twice as bright as the light on the other side, which provides a one-way view through the window.

Smart and Switchable Glass

Smart glass, also called light control glass, is one of the newest products to hit the privacy glass market. Likely you are familiar with glasses lenses that tint in the sunlight – that’s smart glass in its most basic form. Today’s smart or switchable glass has technology-enhanced films that use electricity to transform the glass from a transparent window into opaque privacy glass. The film is either laminated into the glass during manufacturing or retrofitted on one side of the pane.

Glass Block

Prefabricated glass block windows combine enhanced privacy with ease of installation. However, not all glass brick patterns are completely private – make sure you choose patterns that are appropriate to their location.

Stained or Leaded Glass

The process of using decorative stained glass is far older than the history of the United States. Stained glass uses vitreous paint – paints with bright metal oxide pigments and finely ground glass – to color or paint one side of the glass. Leaded glass, meanwhile, uses flexible strips of lead to join sections of stained glass to form patterns or shapes. Once final assembly of glass sections is complete, the window is glazed and then cemented to secure the pieces in place.

Stained and Tinted Glass Styles | Modernize

Other Privacy Glass

  • Ribbed glass. Thin vertical ribs, also called reeds or corduroy, are spaced about ⅛ to ½ of an inch apart to create varying degrees of visual distortion.
  • Raindrop glass. This pattern mimics the look of flowing water. You’ve likely seen it in sunrooms or atop the seat dividers at higher-end restaurants.
  • Opaque glass. This type of glass has no transparency. It can be created using films, lamination, paint or tint.

Obscure Glass and Safety

Obscure glass is primarily used for privacy. The glass is often tempered since building codes typically dictate that windows near entry doors or any windows that are less than 18 inches from the floor must use tempered glass. Tempered glass doesn’t break into harmful shards that can cut and slice if the window breaks. Instead, it shatters into small rounded pieces that are easily swept up and put in the trash bin.

Obscure glass also can be laminated for increased safety. Laminated obscure glass is made by using adhesive resin to fuse panes of glass together. It can be virtually impossible to break – bulletproof glass is made through the lamination process.

Where can Homeowners Install Obscure and Privacy Glasses?

Privacy and obscure glass can be used throughout your home to increase privacy. It’s commonly used to mask the outside view in bathroom windows, as well as in shower doors. Glass block windows are a common architecture design feature in many homes. Oftentimes, obscure glass windows are used when homes are built in close proximity to one another so homeowners still enjoy the benefits of natural lighting without sacrificing privacy. Privacy glass offers varying levels of opacity, so be sure to choose obscure glass according to your desired level of privacy.

Obscure glass also can be used as a design feature. It can make a bold statement when used as the kitchen backsplash or as shelving in contemporary design styles. It can be used to accent front doors that have decorative sections of glass. Wherever it’s placed, privacy glass can add enhanced visual appeal, increased privacy, and increased energy savings.