Window Films

by Grace Bonney

In the last seven years I’ve lived in six different homes. With each move window coverings were a different challenge and I’ve found that window films can be just the right thing when one needs to create some privacy while allowing in as much light as possible. If you are a renter they are also easy to remove when your lease is up. Window films are good for blocking a portion of a less that great view and they take up no space at all, which can be perfect for a door or window in a narrow hallway. In the last few years a lot of new films have become available.

In my first apartment in San Francisco I used squares of clear contact paper, or shelf liner, on the windoe to create some privacy in my tiny kitchen. I was able to maximize the amount of light and block out the view of the dingy alley between buildings. This worked nicely, but I don’t recommend this approach unless you’re willing to spend a few hours scraping adhesive off your windows when you want to remove it. Happily, window films come off much more cleanly.

There are a few sources for well designed window films. One of my favorites is the Pelargon pattern made by Strossel Design (above). I use this in my kitchen window where otherwise I’d have a view of my neighbor’s siding. It gives the illusion of shadows of potted geraniums on the other side of the window. Strossel Design also makes Flinga, a repeating pattern, and Lov, a pattern of branches with birds.

Strossel Design window films can be purchased at Rare Device and Scandinavian Design Center.

Another window film that gives the illusion of nature just on the other side of the window is this tree pattern film by Maria Liv for Prylfabriken.

In her Flickr pictures Ex Libris showed how she used the Maria Liv film to block the view in from the windows near her front door. Maria Liv also makes a simpler Reed design, you can buy both from the Scandinavian Design Center.

Emms Jeffs offers several styles of patterned window films with a light adhesive backing. My favorite is the simple Pixel style (which would have been perfect for my old San Francisco kitchen).

The Emma Jeffs Living Collection consists of patterns printed in white on frosted films, and the Adorn Collection is larger botanical shapes on frosted and colored films. You can buy the film on the Emma Jeffs site, and the Living Collection styles at 2 Jane.

In poking around I’ve also come across Brume window films in the UK. They offer a variety of designs with peek through cut outs.

I know of two places to buy plain frosted window film. Ikea carries Amorf Frost film, which can sometimes be found in window covering section and sometimes in the bath section of the store. It’s a non-adhesive film and very inexpensive. The downside is that it comes in rather short rolls, less than twenty inches tall. The roll I bought showed some scratches created when it was manufactured. I think the Ikea film is best left for situations that are temporary or to block panels of glass on doors that aren’t the main focus of a room or hallway.

I’ve also used frosted Gila window film, which can be found in hardware stores like Lowes in the window coverings aisle. Gila film comes a very large roll, so large that it can be difficult to find a surface in your home big enough to lay out the film and cut a straight edge. It has an adhesive backing, and has the advantage of providing some UV filtering. I have used this as a temporary measure on a few windows in my home until I figure out which type of window covering I’d like to buy. By the time I got to my last window I had run out and needed to cut a few pieces to overlap to cover it, I am fairly happy with the result.

Window film is applied by spraying the window with slightly soapy water. I simply put a drop of baby shampoo in a spray bottle and fill it the rest of the way with water. You don’t want to use something like a dish detergent as this will create too many bubbles which can be difficult to push out from under the film.

Before removing the film backing cut it to the size of your window, you can hold it in place to see if you need to trim a little more off. Spray the window with your soap mixture, peel the backing off the film and apply right away. The back, or smooth, side of the film is statically charged and will attract lots of dust if you remove the backing too soon. The small amount of soap in the water creates just enough surface tension to hold onto your window film, you can slide it into place while it’s still wet, and once it dries it will hold until you remove it. After the film is in place I use a clean, dry cloth to gently push air bubbles to the edges of the film so that they can escape.

Non-adhesive window film peels off cleanly leaving you with a little bit of soap you need to wash away, I used a regular window cleaner. Adhesive backed window film like the Gila film is more difficult to remove, but I was happy to find that the window film remover they sell worked like a charm to remove the film and any adhesive it left behind.

More information about applying window films can be found on the Emma Jeffs site.

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  • Thank you so much for this post. my apartment faces the balcony of our neighboring apartment. I love the light we get and have spent a ton of money on window treatments that just don’t work (the windows are an odd size). These window films are just perfect. Thank you!

  • These are gorgeous. Does anyone know how they would fare on windows that go through VT winters? And how easy they would be to remove (rented property)? I’ve been looking for privacy screens and some of these would be perfect.

  • LuLu – I’m afraid I cannot say how they would make it through a cold winter. The films come off very easily. If you use one with an adhesive backing I recommend getting the Gila window film remover from a hardware store, it makes removal of the film and any adhesive left behind very easy.

  • Thanks, Megan. I will have to see if a company will send me a sample and I’ll try it out this winter to see how it fares. Fingers crossed!

  • D*S posts have been reading my mind lately! First the mirrored furniture post, then this. I have been looking for some kind of window film to cover an old/ugly entertainment center with a glass door. I was hoping to put a rectangle in and then we could still change the channel, but not have to stare at the ugly cable and TiVo boxes all the time. Thanks for the post!

  • LuLu – 2 Jane offers a sample set of the Emma Jeffs window films for $5. These have a light adhesive, so if you want to test a non-adhesive film (and are unable to get a sample) you might try some of the Ikea Amorf films. I hope they stand up to the freezing cold winter for you.


    I have been living in my current apartment for about a month and its #1 issue is the dark-cave effect of keeping the windows covered all the time, but what’s a girl to do? The window’s look out at the street level and people walk by all the time. There’s even a window in my shower that looks out on to a busy street. Good thinking Mr. Architect. These are the PERFECT solution and its so nice to have such a comprehensive list to look at!! Thanks! I’d been looking at a couple, but it’s nice to see the full range of possibilities that you suggest.

  • Yes, thank you! I have a bathroom window which I’m pretty sure is too high for anyone to ever see in, but, you know, I’d just feel better with something like this acting as additional screen.

  • One wall of our in-bath shower is taken up with a window, which means we have to have shower curtains on both sides of the bath. Annoyingly they stick to us and wrap around us. This could give us the privacy we need! Thanks!

  • Hi Anna I wanted to say thank you for covering my window film in your post. We got a lot of emails this morning and we tracked it back to you. So a big thank you! We are a small UK company and we silkscreen all our window films here in the UK. So it is really nice to here that our products are of interest outside of the UK. Thanks again.

  • I don’t much care to put the adhesive films on my glass (too messy), but you can use them in other ways. I found a really pretty pattern at Solx that I am going to try on the inset of my wooden kitchen cabinets. Wish me luck!

  • Megan, thanks for posting this. It is perfect for our cabana door. We realized the other night when we were having a party that everyone can see straight in to the bathroom while sitting outside! oops.

  • You can also go to your local sign shop and have window films made for you. If you have a specific design in mind, they can do it for you! The sign shops will often carry frosted vinyl.

  • Lulu, i have the frosted window coverings from ikea and they totally stay on through the winter months. they are easy to stick onto the window and they just peel off when you’re finished. there isn’t any adhesive to attach them. you spray the window with water and put the film on.

  • Hi, Everyone.

    Great article, Design Sponge!

    Re: Samples

    We will glady send sample squares for any of our products. Just phone or e-mail and the owner herself will lovingly send it on its way to you.

    Company sells non-adhesive, static cling window films only.

    Yep, they will stay on through all seasons, year after year. But, you can remove and reuse, as often as you want.

    And, they come in many pre-cut sizes, including full sliding glass door sizes.


    P.S. — I just love the flower pot film in the photo. That’s fun!

  • Thanks everyone for the season assurances! I’ve jumped for the Pelargon film and can’t wait to apply this to my dining area window.

  • has anyone used these on sliding glass doors? i think it would be a great alternative to curtains but i’m not sure if i’d be in over my head.

  • Has anyone thought of how you could go about painting/otherwise embellishing a plain window film. i love this idea and would love to do it on my kitchen window- but i am not sure any of the designs work with my kitchen. Or anyone know about how much it would be to get something done at a sign shop?

  • I received the films and within about 20 minutes they were up and looking fabulous. They are ever so easy to apply, so go for it, lainie!

  • I am desperately looking for a solution to the 9 panes of glass in my back door (which opens onto a grassy yard area with neighbors back doors). I’d like something to give complete privacy at night but allow two-way visibility during the day. If someone is at the back door in daytime, I’d like to see who it is without opening the door. These films seem to block everything except light. Am I reading this correctly? Any suggestions for me? I’m hoping to avoid installing blinds.

  • Hi Peg,
    If you get an answer to your question on the privacy at night and visibility during the day for your windows, would you let me know too? You can e-mail me privately at tnr smith@iowatelecom.net Take the space out between the r and s. :) Thanks!

  • I’m considering living at an apartment complex that does not allow cats. Will the frosted window film block out the view of my pet? What if my cat is sitting in the window? Can you see a silhouette? Also, which is better overall…adhesive or non-adhesive?

  • hi peg & trudy… the only thing I thought of was… a one-way mirror. but then people can’t look in during the day, and I think they can look in at night if your lights are on? maybe there are degrees of darkness/visibility though that I’m not aware of…

  • Anyone have any problems with installing their window film? I bought some from rare device and it did not stay on my window for more than 10 minutes before falling off. It is also now warped around the edges from the water in the soapy spray that I used to install it…. Very disappointed. I’ve written to the customer service dept at rare device and am waiting to hear back – but i would love to hear from others. Is there a trick to installing? Has anyone had similar experiences?

  • Just wanted to send an update on my last post. The customer service department at Rare Device (who were very helpful and very nice) responded quickly to my email and pointed me in the right direction with the installation. Somehow I completely missed the fact that there was a paper backing to the film. (How could I miss that!!) So now I’m happy to say that they are up on my windows – looking fabulous and staying put. :-)

  • i have been thinking about these, but am unclear on how much light they allow. i have 1) some windows that i would like to block the view in from outside BUT 2) this is also the perfect window for my succulents. anyone know if they would let enough light in for the plants?


  • I have been researching a lot of the same topics, but haven’t come across the Brume films from the UK. Thanks for sharing this. Lovely “bathroom” frosted film on that picture.

  • thank you for the great instructions on how to apply window film! i just cut some IKEA AMORF film and took the time to cut out some fun tree shapes in it. it’s going to go on the bottom half of a small window above my kitchen sink for a little more privacy from our neighbors (and to hide all the kitty litter buckets on their porch!)… but i couldn’t quite decipher the IKEA pictoral instructions and didn’t want to mess up the window film by guessing! THANK YOU!

  • I love how you can create custom designs for this frosted film. It provides privacy and it looks great on the windows. Applying it was pretty easy too. I’m not sure how taking it off would be but i hope its problem free.

  • I used this article for recent inspiration on 3 bathrooms I remodeled in my condo – and needed some frosted glass. Insane what actual patterned frosted glass costs! Anyway, I tried a few of these films including 3M and Emma Jeffs. I just couldn’t get over how they sort of looked like a milk carton being applied to the window :( — I found a few other companies that are more commercial that do some custom work and ended up getting samples and going with a company called Modern Window Film – modernwindowfilm.com (not sure the actual manufacturer at this time). Good thing : it looks exactly like I was hoping, truly etched designs on frosted glass at a fraction of the cost of real glass… the downside (if this really is one) … is that the film is adhesive. So it takes a little patience installing. But the results were DEFINITELY worth it. I ended up changing my mind on a design and had to remove on of the pieces. Again, it’s adhesive — so it took a little effort. But it came off fine after being up for a month in the sun. I’d probably consider 3M again if they had a DIY product, until then I’d definitely recommend the product I purchased.

  • I need to cover windows in a solarium that the windows have lost their seal and are foggy too expensive to replace. Good idea to try the film???