How are Mirrors Made?

Mirrors are not a recent invention. The history of mirrors dates back thousands of years to a time when basic mirrors were crafted from various materials that had reflective properties. Polished stone, such as obsidian, was likely one of the earliest materials used for creating rudimentary mirrors. These mirrors were not as clear or precise as modern mirrors, but they still served the purpose of reflecting images and light.

The first manufactured glass mirrors that we would recognise today were produced during the Roman Empire around the 1st century AD. These were made by coating blown glass with a mixture of tin and mercury, which created a reflective surface. However, this method was quite dangerous due to the toxicity of mercury.

Over time, mirror-making techniques improved, and the use of glass with a metal backing became more widespread. During the Middle Ages, the method of using glass with a silver or aluminium backing was developed, creating clearer and safer mirrors. This basic concept forms the foundation of modern mirror manufacturing techniques.

While the concept of reflecting images can be traced back to ancient times, the creation of the types of mirrors we know today began to take shape in ancient Rome and evolved over centuries into the mirrors we see all around us.

Convex Wall Mirror
Convex Wall Mirror – Stainless Steel

What Are Mirrors Made From?

Most of the mirrors we use in our homes are made from glass that’s coated with a reflective material. But mirrors can also be made from stainless steel and acrylic, especially convex safety and security mirrors.

Advantages of Stainless Steel Mirrors

Stainless steel is robust and highly durable. This is why stainless steel mirrors are commonly used in situations where glass mirrors might be broken or damaged, such as roadside safety mirrors.

Another important attribute of stainless steel is its corrosion resistance. Since the primary purpose of a mirror is to present recognisable reflections the ability to withstand the effects of arduous environments where moisture, humidity and possibly chemical exposure can adversely affect reflectivity is clearly beneficial.

Unlike glass, stainless steel is shatterproof. Wherever safety is a priority shatterproof mirrors are the best option. This is why stainless steel mirrors are commonly used in public lavatories, dance studios, gyms, warehouses and industrial locations.

Polished stainless steel also has excellent reflective properties. Stainless steel mirrors can provide crystal clear reflections making them useful in environments where reflected image quality is essential.

Stainless steel mirrors are lightweight and highly versatile. They can be used both indoors and outside in the worst weather conditions. These attributes make stainless steel mirrors popular in road safety applications as well as architectural projects.

Importantly, stainless steel mirrors have appealing, modern aesthetic qualities which is why they are popular in a wide variety of design applications.

Advantages of Acrylic Mirrors

Another popular material used to create modern mirrors is acrylic. Acrylic resin is a versatile thermoplastic material commonly used to make plexiglass and acrylic glass, widely used for windows, displays, signage – and mirrors.

Acrylic mirrors offer a number of appealing advantages over traditional glass mirrors. Importantly, acrylic mirrors are very lightweight compared with their glass counterparts. This makes them far easier to transport, handle and install.

Acrylic mirrors, unlike glass mirrors, are shatter-resistant. This makes them the safe option in environments where safety is a priority. They are also highly flexible making them easier to cut to shape and customise as required. The flexibility of acrylic makes the material ideal for curved mirror surfaces.

Acrylic mirrors are also cheaper to produce than both glass and stainless steel making them the most cost-effective option. They are highly versatile and being very lightweight, easy to install.

High quality acrylic mirrors are designed to be UV-resistant making them suitable for outdoor use. And acrylic is less prone to condensation due to the thermal properties of the material which can be useful in bathroom and outdoor applications.

But its important to be aware that while acrylic mirrors have many advantages there are some important limitations. For example, the material is more susceptible to scratching and can react to some cleaning agents.

How Glass Mirrors are Made

Traditional glass mirrors are made using a process called ‘silvering’. This involves applying a reflective coating to one side of the glass. Historically the reflective material may have included mercury, which is highly toxic. Silver or aluminium is typically used these days.

antique mirror with damaged silvering
Antique Mirror with Damaged Silvering

The process starts with a sheet of glass that’s thoroughly cleaned. This is vitally important for the final mirror quality. Mirrors made with silver as the reflective coating use a chemical solution containing silver compound applied to an undercoat of sensitising solution that enables the silver solution to adhere to the glass.

decorative convex mirror
Decorative Convex Mirror

Mirrors made using aluminium for the reflective surface use either aluminium vapor or aluminium film. Aluminium vapor deposition involves the use of a vacuum chamber in which the glass is placed along with the source of aluminium. The chamber is evacuated to create a vacuum and the aluminium source is heated causing it to vaporise and form a thin layer of aluminium on the glass surface. This mirror manufacturing method is commonly used for high quality mirrors where crystal clear reflections are essential.

traditional glass mirror
Traditional Glass Mirror

A protective backing is applied to the reflective coating to protect it from damage and oxidisation. Historically this may have been lead based paint which is why antique mirrors need to be handled with care. After the protective coating is applied the mirror is allowed to fully dry and cure to ensure the reflective coating is robust.

old decorative mirror
Old Decorative Mirror

Mirror manufacturing processes vary depending on the types of mirror being produced. Mirrors used in scientific applications and instruments have far higher quality requirements than mirrors used in domestic and decorative applications.

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