Some people even make their own blasting cabinets out of sinks. Research your options, and you may be able to get set up for a few hundred dollars. My initial sandblasting set-up was closer to $3000 (in 2009), including the air compressor.
If you’re just looking to purchase items that have been sandblasted, they’re often comparable in price to screen printed or laser etched products. The results may be better, but they do take at least as long to produce because of all the steps involved. It’s carved deeply into the glass surface, so it can’t be removed. Ceramics that have been blasted through the glaze may appear to be delicate, but the remaining glazed areas are as sturdy as they began. Our sandblasted mugs that are 6yrs old don’t show even the slightest forms of wear. As long as the original item was safe for dishwashers and microwaves, the sandblasted version will be too. Since sandblasting doesn’t add anything to an item, it only takes away the surface, it can’t be damaged while washing.
Now, dropping it onto a concrete floor might be a different story. There are online communities and forums for sandblasting, like most other hobbies and professions. I got most of my info from cuttingedgesandcarving.com, which no longer appears to be active. Ikonics Imaging is where we got our pro cabinet, and most of our supplies like resist material, and they put out a lot of really great instructional videos. You could probably also just go to Harbor Freight and ask someone to get you started there. Here's a gallery of our first time using our sandblasting equipment. One of the most fun things is experimenting and trying new things. Sandblasting uses a stencil or “resist” that protects all the areas of an item that you don’t want to get etched. Lasers are programmed by a computer to simply draw your design right onto the surface without needing to be masked. This saves you a lot of time in the prep stage, but there are a few drawbacks to laser etching. Lasers still take a long time to etch designs, so if you have a lot of items, and large etched areas, you’ll need to sit around and wait a long time for the laser to be done with each one, so you can load in the next. Lasers are expensive, and not the kinds of things people frequently have laying around in their garages, or selling on Craigslist. They’re not practical for the hobbyist, especially if you just want to make a few special gifts. I’ve heard people say that laser etching wears off over time. I’m not totally sure how that works, but I’ve seen some laser-etched glassware at thrift stores that did, in fact, look like the design was fading. It could be that scratches from dish washing had just blended in with the etched areas, obscuring their edges. Lasers don’t cut into your glassware, they just produce a matrix of tiny cracks in the very top surface. This means you can see a pattern in the etched area, unlike the even frosting that sandblasting produces. It also means that the edges will never be sharp and crisp, like etching with a stencil. It will look feathered and soft, especially if you’re creating a lot of small text. Because the tiny cracks are just beneath the surface, you also won’t really feel the etching with your fingers. No big deal, but I happen to really like the tactile sensation of feeling the etched designs that sandblasting produces. This is especially noticeable with ceramics or stone, since lasers aren’t capable of carving deeply into anything. They are awesome at carving through paper, some metals, and burning into the surface or cutting through wood and bamboo. They also produce really intricate detail on these materials, so if you don’t mind the drawbacks of price, lack of texture, time commitment, and durability, they could be really useful for production work. How is sandblasting different from screen printing?
Screen printing can easily be done from home with kits you can buy on Amazon or Martha Stewart. The biggest draw of screen printing, in my opinion, is that you can use color! Etching just produces a white, frosty design, but screen printing is actually adding ink to your items, so the sky’s the limit on colors. Both sandblasting and screen printing use stencils to get the design only on certain areas of your item. We use a UV light box to expose our stencil material, then pressure wash it, dry it, and apply it to the surface. Screen printing uses the same method, only you can reuse the screen over and over, where sandblasting stencils are single-use. You can also make sandblasting stencils from vinyl that you cut yourself or cut with a plotter or laser, but these are also single-use.
Screen printing on glass and ceramics from home can be really easy to get into because the kits are cheap and easy to come by.