Mirrors became a common interior decoration piece in the 17th century, and reflective surfaces in buildings, cars, and hotel lobbies are an incredibly popular part of modern design to this today. It’s pretty hard to imagine a world without mirrors at this point. But how exactly are mirrors made?
Mirrors are made through the silvering process, which basically consists of spraying a thin layer of aluminum or silver on the back of a flat, polished sheet of glass. You can make an antique-looking mirror at home by applying a few coats of looking glass spray paint to a regular piece of glass.
Modern mirrors aren’t fundamentally different from reflective pools of water. Simply put, mirrors are just smooth surfaces with dark, shiny backgrounds that reflect extremely well. Let’s look at when mirrors were first invented, how they were made back then, and how they’re made now, so you know exactly what’s going on behind the reflective surface.
When Were Mirrors First Invented?
The first mirrors were simply polished obsidian stones and were invented around 600 B.C. Eventually, more sophisticated mirrors — like those made of bronze, gold, copper, silver, and lead — were introduced.
However, because of the heavy weight of these materials, the mirrors were very small by our standards. In fact, they were rarely longer than eight inches in diameter and were mostly used for decoration.
The only exception was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, whose large mirror reflected fire at night and sunlight during the day.
How Were Mirrors Made Back Then?
In ancient times, people made mirrors with obsidian stones. When these stones were highly polished, they were able to reflect with incredible clarity. However, as civilizations evolved, people started using aluminum, silver, and gold to make mirrors in much the same way as they did with obsidian stones.
Then, in around 1600 A.D., the silvering process — coating the back of the glass with melted silver — was introduced. This method quickly became incredibly popular and is used even today.
However, the glass used to make these earlier mirrors was usually warped, which created a ripple in the reflected image. In a few severe cases, the reflected images were very similar to those we see in fun-house mirrors today.
How Are Mirrors Made Now?
Modern mirrors are still made by the silvering process, or by spraying a thin layer of aluminum or silver onto the back of a glass sheet. While the spraying process was first invented by Justus Von Leibig in 1835, today, most mirrors are made by heating aluminum in a complete vacuum, which then bonds more strongly to the cooler glass.
The glass must also be flat, durable, and polished to perfection, as any impurity or dip left on the surface would make waves in the mirror and distort the reflected image.
Heavy-duty mirrors and those used in scientific research need to be specially designed in such a way that they retain uniformity while having a curvature at the same time. This allows the mirror to both focus and reflect light.
Can You Make a Mirror at Home?
With a regular piece of glass and a bit of spray paint, you can easily make a mirror at home. You can do this with old glass doors and windows, picture frame glass, and even glass jars.
Tools and Materials Needed
- A piece of glass you want to make into a mirror
- Glass cleaner (on Amazon)
- A rag
- Looking glass spray paint, like this one from Krylon (on Amazon)
- Clean the glass. If you’re using picture frames, remove the glass from the frame and clean it with Windex. If you’re using a glass door or window, there’s no need to remove the glass panel. Instead, you can just clean it in its place.
- Spray paint the back of the glass. The sides don’t matter if you’re using frame glass, but for glass doors, make sure you only spray the back side and not the front. This is because the spray paint will turn the opposite side into a mirror.
- Keep coating the glass with spray paint until you can’t see through it. This might even take seven to eight coats. However, make sure you wait for each coat to dry before re-coating for much better results.
- Once you’ve completely coated the glass, wait for it to dry. Then, flip it over and enjoy your new mirror!
It’s important to note that this method won’t create a perfect mirror, so don’t expect to use it as a bathroom or dressing mirror. The result is more similar to an antique mirror, which still makes for an excellent piece of decoration on your dressing table.