(and Practical Aspects)
of Pricing Stained Glass
First, let’s clear up one common misconception about stained glass panels and pieces. EACH one is different; but they are also very similar. What drives the price of a stained glass project, however, is its differences from another piece that may appear to be much the same.
Most stained glass projects, especially panels, are custom-built to your specifications. The size of the panel, the types of materials used, the complexity or intricacy of the design, and the final construction of the panel all go into determining the final price. These determinants will be discussed in more detail in a moment.
When you talk to artists, you will hear a wide range of prices for stained glass panels, most often just under $100 to nearly $200 per square foot. Sometimes it’s the artist who determines the price you will pay for his/her work; sometimes it’s the financial resources you are willing to commit to the endeavor that determines how much you are willing to pay; hopefully, it’s a combination of your desires and needs versus the artist’s needs for making a living that determine price.
At times, you will see a panel or piece and know it’s the “right” one, the one you want. At other times, you may have the flexibility to become part of the design process, and actually assist the artist in the creation of a completely unique piece just for you. What you must do, as part of the design process, is share your wants and desires with the artist, including such items as color of glass or an actual design you have in mind.
Size, as we have discussed, has an impact on the cost of a stained glass project, but is NOT the sole determinant. A piece can be small, but can feature a complex design using special pieces of glass and cost much more to create than a larger piece using a simpler design and common glass materials. This is why the range of minimum and maximum prices you hear quoted only provide a “ballpark” price, instead of a firm price for the piece.
If you have a design in mind, by all means share it with the artist. If you have an idea of colors the panel should include, or furnishings you would like the piece to complement, share that, also. Questions you should be prepared to answer at this phase include:
Sketches, photographs, catalog pictures, almost any graphic aid will greatly simplify the design process. Art is an individual thing, and you most certainly will have different ideas about what you do and don’t like the artist needs to hear before creation ever begins. At other times, it is perfectly satisfactory to bring a photograph or picture of some kind to the artist, and expect him/her to duplicate it exactly to satisfy your needs or wants.
An important point to remember about the design process - from the artist’s perspective, at least – is that designs take time and “time is money.” Unless you are willing to pay for unlimited design work, have a good idea what you want to see made when you go to see the artist the first time, and be willing to compromise as the design process begins to drag out. Nothing gets made until the design is finished, so the longer the front-end drags on, the longer the overall construction will take, and most artists will make you pay for it somehow.
Finally, you must understand you are paying the artist to create a piece for you. The actual design that results in the creation of a product remains the sole property of the artist under copyright laws. In short - You have the product, the artist has the design.
When silica is originally formed into glass, the product it yields is CLEAR. As a rule, clear glass is the cheapest type of glass to be found, which is why it is so plentiful for windows, doors, cooking and eating utensils, and so on. Colored, or tinted, glass requires the addition of dye(s) to create the vast array of colors available for glass items, and usually increases the price a bit. However, there are also textured, frosted, etched, and other forms of clear glass that can be very expensive.
Mass-produced, machine-manufactured beveled glass is less expensive than it used to be as a handmade process, but intricate or multi-piece bevel designs increase the price in most projects. The inclusion of glass beads, jewels, hand-blown objects, or painted glass also tend to increase the price. There are many products, however, that can be “stolen” from other areas of arts and crafts and used very inexpensively in stained glass projects.
Stained glass projects are really made a couple of different ways, so you need to be clear what you are going to get for your money. Traditionally, most people think of stained glass as what is actually “leaded glass,” or pieces of glass held together by channels made of lead which are soldered at the joints. They think of church windows and door sidelights or transoms in older homes, but don’t know that many church windows are really “painted glass,” another process altogether. Leaded glass is usually thicker glass, which also increases the cost, due in part to a potential inability to locate the desired color or texture easily. Regardless, joining glass with lead channel is usually the most expensive way to create a stained glass project.
What most people most often see as stained glass is actually “foiled glass,” glass pieces that are edge-trimmed with an adhesive copper foil that forms a joint when the pieces are put together and soldered. This process yields a remarkably-strong project, and it is also much easier and cheaper to make repairs if a disastrous break or some other kind of damage occurs.
Foiled panels can also be “sandwiched” between two pieces of clear glass to make an even stronger panel. Sandwiching also provides some level of insulation, as well as more protection from impacts. Obviously, sandwiching the panel increases the price, but also provides other benefits leaded glass cannot match.
Mathematics of Stained Glass
Let’s get this part out of the way now. A square foot is just that, a measurement of 12 inches high and 12 inches wide (12”x12”), or 144 square inches. If the measurements are in inches, then divide by 144 to convert to square feet.
A square foot is also 1 foot high and 1 foot wide (1’x1’). If the measurements are in feet, rather than inches, then multiply height by width to get square feet.
Example: 18” wide x 24” high = 432 square inches (s.i.)
432 s.i. / 144 s.i. = 3 square feet (s.f.)
OR 1.5’ wide x 2.0’ high = 3.0 s.f.
The number of square feet multiplied by the stated cost per square foot will give a dollar figure. A minimum and maximum range, such as $100-150 per square foot would give us a cost of $300-450 for the 3 s.f. project above.
Going a step further, a square foot of stained glass contains an average of 20 pieces. The more pieces per square foot, generally the more complex and more intricate the design, thus a more expensive piece.
Many artists charge a set amount per piece that is added to the general cost per square foot to arrive at a final price. You just don’t know that’s been worked into the price of the piece before you saw it.
If you have a predetermined amount of money you have available to spend on a project, let the artist know immediately. There are any number of compromises in design, materials, construction, and so on that can accommodate this situation. You still get a stained glass piece you can show off and enjoy, and the artist can still make a reasonable living.
So far, we have talked about a minimum and maximum price range per square foot, plus a price per piece. Special glass, bevels, jewels, etc. also affect price. This must be factored into the cost, but is usually done by the artist unless it is part of the joint design you have worked out. If it is a “spec” piece done with the intention of selling to anyone willing to pay the price, those concerns will already be factored into the price.
Once the decision has been made to have a stained glass project made, be prepared to pay a non-refundable “cutting deposit” of about half the total cost. The deposit shows the artist you are serious about purchasing the piece, and provides the capital to begin spending time on the design, buying glass, locating special pieces to be included, and so on. The other half will be due and payable upon completion. Delivery – shipping and handling – are usually handled separately. Read on….
If you select a local artist, it is merely a matter of transporting the project from the artist’s studio to your home or office. On the other hand, if you are in a different city or state, expect to pay for the special packing that must be done to protect the piece, and the cost of postage or shipping to transport it to your doorstep. This may be a cost that is not known until the last minute, so may be totally separate from the price agreed upon with the artist, and may be paid with a separate payment agreement.
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