A DIY Shatter-Resistant Garden Mirror

In my previous post, I shared my makeover of a dark shade garden.  That makeover included a DIY garden mirror that I hung on the back fence to bring in and reflect light.

Ideally a garden mirror, one that will stay out all summer, or possibly all year, should be shatterproof and weatherproof.  Now I’m not sure if the mirror I came up with really hits those marks, but I do know that it is shatter-resistant.  As for the rest, time will tell.

The project started with  . . .

Finding Frames

I scoured thrift shops to find a frame made of plastic, resin, or some other weather-resistant material.

I found these frames on sale at a local thrift shop and paid about $7 for the pair.  They had cheap, ugly “art” in them, which I removed.  I was only interested in the frames.

Thrift store frames


I bought two frames because I had a gut feeling that I should do a small test mirror first to avoid making mistakes on the “real” mirror.

Turned out I was so right about that – mistakes were made!  Very silly ones at that.

We will come back to the test mirror later, but for now we’ll talk about my experience with the larger frame – the one I worked on after I had learned from my mistakes.

Finding the “Glass”

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The large frame would hold a 18″ X 24″ piece of art – or, for my needs, a clear acrylic sheet.  I found one the right size at my local hardware store.

The acrylic sheet is lightweight, shatter-resistant, and non-yellowing.

Making an “Antique Mirror”

Step one of making an outdoor “antique mirror” is very, very important:  Put a piece of blue painter’s tape on one side of the acrylic sheet.

Blue tape marks the front side of the acrylic sheet

The blue tape marks the front side – the side that should not be painted.  Otherwise, things can get very confusing later in the project – especially if you’re me and you manage to find a way to lose track of which side of the sheet you were actually painting.  Since it’s a clear sheet, once you lose track it’s almost impossible to tell.

So anyway, blue tape.


With the front “blue tape” side of the mirror facing down, I spray painted the back side with Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect.  I chose it because I read that it gives glass the look of an antique mirror.

This paint has a heavy fume smell so, after a while, I decided to use a painter’s mask.  Some of the other paints and products I mention below are pretty intense too so, if you use them, be sure to read and follow the cautions on the labels.  I also tried to keep my painting project far away from things like bird feeders and bee activity.

Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect after one coat

(Please excuse my old-sheet-turned-dropcloth here which, as you can see, I have been using for years.  It’s starting to look like abstract art itself.)

It took quite a few coats of paint to actually cover the acrylic sheet.  And the paint looked a bit alarming when it was in the process of drying.

Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect dries unevenly, but not to worry

But I wasn’t going for perfection here.  I wanted it to be a bit imperfect and patinated so it would look like an antique mirror.

After about five coats, I could still vaguely see through the “mirror” when I held it up to fence where it would hang.  It needed a backing of some sort to make the “mirror” opaque.  So, after the mirror paint dried, I sprayed black paint right over the mirror paint.

Yes, I sprayed it on the same side of the acrylic sheet where I had sprayed the mirror paint.  This step was a bit counter-intuitive, and my paint-fume-soaked brain had a hard time grasping the concept.


I used RustOleum Engine Enamel, in gloss black, from my husband’s stash of spray paint only because I had it on hand and, since it’s intended to be used on engine parts, it seemed like it would be a durable paint.

Could I instead have used some sort of black weatherproof backing and just placed it in the frame behind the acrylic sheet?  That might have worked too. Or it might not have if, at some point, water found its way between the “mirror” and the backing and caused some sort of problem.  Since it’s an outdoor mirror, this could happen.

And this way just seemed like less work.

I let the “mirror” dry thoroughly.


The Garden Mirror – Or Not

I wasn’t sure how I would secure the “mirror” to the frame, but it turned out that I didn’t need to worry.  That piece of acrylic fits so snugly into the frame that it isn’t going anywhere.

If anything, it’s so snug that there is a slight bow in the acrylic sheet that, if it were any more pronounced, would give it a “funhouse mirror” look.

One reason I liked the frame that I found for the mirror was that it looked like black bamboo.  So I hadn’t intended to paint it.

But when I hung the mirror, I was underwhelmed.

DIY garden mirror

The frame looked boring and dated.

Back down it went – back to my much-used spray paint drop cloth.

Painting the Frame

It would have been really hard to get the acrylic sheet out of the frame again, so I just masked it with newspaper so I could spray paint the frame.

I used the sports section since I never read it.

I really should look through my husband’s paint stash more often.  This time I found another product intended for engine parts called Dupli-Color Adhesion Promoter.  I used it on the frame to make sure the spray paint would adhere properly to the plastic frame. (Time will tell if this step actually helped.)

Then I painted the frame with the RustOleum “Gold Rush” Metallic spray paint – which I had on hand.

The Result

Classic gold frames never go out of style.  And I love the contrast of the rustic fence against the polished gold.

Shatter-resistant DIY garden mirror

As for the mirror itself, it is not super-clear.  In fact, it is a bit hazy.  Everything reflected in it has a sort of “dreamlike” look.


Shatter-resistant DIY garden mirror

But I love how it brings light, interest, and even motion to a dark area of the garden.

This mirror does reflect a lot of light, so I would not want to use it in an area that gets direct sun.

Will it really hold up outside?  Time will tell.  But will a flying rock or errant softball break the “glass?”  Probably not.

The Test Mirror – And What Went Wrong

This is how the test mirror turned out.  It is the result of my doing everything wrong.

DIY garden mirror

What I think happened here is that I lost track of which side I had painted with the mirror paint.  And then, instead of painting the black paint on top of the mirror paint, I painted it on the reverse side of the “glass.”

To secure the mirror to the frame, I used a strong glue.  The glue seeped out along the sides and, when I wiped it away, some of the mirror paint actually came off with it, leaving black paint exposed.

DIY antique garden mirror


So this mirror has a lot of patina and looks very much like an antique mirror.  For this mirror, I used Krylon “Looking Glass” Silver paint, which to me seemed very similar to the Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect that I used on the large mirror.

I had experimented a bit by using a paper doily as a stencil, and the look is fun.

DIy antique garden mirror


But as you can see, the actual mirror part is very murky.  That’s because the mirror paint is sitting on top of the acrylic sheet instead of behind it.

For the right look, it’s always best to paint on the back side of the sheet.

Now I’m intrigued about the endless possibilities of DIY antique mirror projects.  I want to do a little experimenting using more stencils and finding new ways to create a patinated look.  I might even use real glass next time.

Where’s my blue tape?

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