Mirrors can update the look of any room and they serve a great function. It's great having mirrors around the house so you can have a quick look, especially before heading out. Find out which of these types can give your home interior that much needed oomph.
Mirrors are not just practical household items, they’re also often used for home decorating. Decorative mirrors with ornate carvings, an oversize, a full-length or even a pair can make great accent pieces to any room. You can also use them for hiding imperfections such as paint scratches or holes.
Mirrors also brighten the room so the space looks light and airy. It’s also efficiently used to create the illusion of space so a small room looks larger than it actually is. And some mirrors, like the acoustic type, do more than we’ve often thought of.
Table of Contents
- 1. Plane Mirrors
- 2. Spherical Mirrors
- 3. One- or Two-Way Mirrors
- 4. Silvered Mirrors
- 5. Acoustic Mirrors
- 6. Non-Reversing Mirrors
- 7. Miscellaneous or Customized Mirrors
- The History
- The Framework
- Using and Reusing
Related: Mirror Alternatives | DIY Vanity Mirrors | Living Rooms with Mirrors | Large Wall Mirrors | Small Mirrors | Types of Bathroom Mirrors | Bathrooms with Two Mirrors | 10 best places to put mirrors in your house
1. Plane Mirrors
A. Design Elements
The most common type of mirror, this has a reflective surface that is usually flat or planar. It can also be made slightly curved as well, and it can even come in various shapes and designs. Many plane mirrors, in fact, are designed to look like other objects, including animals and fun shapes that children and anyone else can enjoy. This is the most standard and basic type of mirror available, but you are still likely to be surprised by the options you have when choosing these mirrors for your home or office.
A plane mirror is the only type of mirror that produces images which are almost identical, or identical to the image it is portraying, including being the same size and shape as the original reflection. The reflection is always virtual, which means the light rays do not come from the image itself, as well as upright. In other words, plane mirrors produce realistic reflections that are also laterally inverted, which causes a right hand, for example, to look like the left hand of the person whose image is portrayed.
As you can imagine, plane mirrors come in hundreds of sizes. They can be as small as the ones used in makeup compacts or large enough to fit across an entire wall. They can also be round, rectangle, square, octagonal, star-shaped, or shaped like objects such as letters, flowers, animals, and toys, so when it comes to mirror sizes, the sky truly is the limit.
Most plane mirrors are created using a thin piece of plate glass that not only produces great images, but also strengthens and protects the surface of the mirror and makes it slow to tarnish. Some mirrors are made out of liquids such as mercury and gallium because these items are extremely reflective when in their liquid state. As long as the mirror is in good condition and un-tarnished, its reflecting surface will work continuously for a very long time.
Online stores such as Etsy do a great job of always providing unique and high-quality plane mirrors, which can be found here.
2. Spherical Mirrors
A. Design Elements
Instead of being flat, spherical mirrors have shapes that resemble pieces which have been cut out of some type of spherical shape. The two most common types of spherical mirrors are concave and convex mirrors. If you picture the mirror to be shaped like a half moon, the two types of spherical mirrors are either reflected on the inside or the outside of the shape, which helps explain how these mirrors are designed and how they work.
If you’ve ever visited a festival or carnival, it is very possible you have visited a house of mirrors of some type which portray a distorted, funny image whenever you stand in front of it. This is a perfect example of a spherical mirror that is used for entertainment purposes.
If you place objects close to a spherical mirror, those objects are magnified, which is essentially how they work. The glass in spherical mirrors is curved either inward or outward, similar to the inside or outside of a spoon. Concave mirrors are usually coated and work when the curved nature of the reflection bounces light to a focal point in front of it.
This creates an enlarged image, and examples of a concave mirror include shaving mirrors and makeup mirrors. With convex mirrors, the bulge is an outward bulge, and the mirror works when the reflection occurs more at the edges of the mirror rather than the center of it. As a result, the image you are looking at is a bit smaller than the reflection in a concave mirror and may even be somewhat distorted.
The images can also appear farther away than they actually are, which is one of the reasons why convex mirrors are often used as outside windows on the doors of cars and trucks. Other examples of convex mirrors include large mirrors used in parking garages or even corridors to allow you to see what is around the corner.
Because of their many uses, spherical mirrors can come in any number of shapes. They can be small and round, medium-sized and rectangle, or large enough to see images from very far away. They can be used as accent mirrors, wall mirrors, coasters, vanity mirrors, cabinet door alternatives, in jewelry boxes, globes, bath bars, and even for items such as teapots and other kitchen items. In fact, because of the versatility of spherical mirrors, you can find them in almost any household item if you look diligently enough.
Most spherical mirrors are made out of either glass or a type of polished metal. Naturally, the materials used are always high-quality, but spherical mirrors are usually very reasonably priced as well, especially since they are used so often for a variety of products. Stores such as Wayfair have great spherical mirrors for sale, which can be found here.
3. One- or Two-Way Mirrors
A. Design Elements
One- and two-way mirrors are transparent and partially reflective. They are designed so that when the light reflects the coated side and goes behind the mirror into the dark space, it is possible to see into a lighted room, but not out of it. Only one side is coated with a material that is thin and reflective, which is what makes these mirrors work the way they do.
The coated side usually contains a material such as nickel, tin, or silver, and it is applied to the back side of the glass only. The glass is then covered with a copper material to prevent oxidation then painted with a layer of paint.
One- or two-way mirrors – and they are known by either of these names – are made to work in experimental labs, security observation decks, security cameras that are kept hidden, and of course, interrogation rooms. Their main features are their specialized lighting qualities and manufacturing, and when a thin layer of metal such as aluminum is applied to the front of the mirror, only half of the light that hits the mirror is reflected back. This means that the rest of the light goes through the pane of glass, enabling it to be a two-way mirror. It’s the thinness of the layer that does the trick, and it is extremely effective.
Naturally, two-way mirrors can come in dozens of sizes. They have to be very small when they are used in a hidden security camera, but they are sometimes the size of an entire wall when they are used in interrogation rooms or by focus groups. If you’ve ever been involved in market research where a certain company places you in a room and begins to ask you questions, you likely are aware that there are company representatives on the other side of the large mirror on the wall, and this is a perfect example of a two-way mirror.
The materials used in two-way mirrors include glass, minerals such as copper or tin, and the paint that is applied as the final layer. There are always dark and light materials being used, because in order for a two-way mirror to work the way it is supposed to, there has to be a very dark side (the side the police who are observing use) and a very bright side (the side where the interrogation takes place). Two-way mirrors aren’t necessary complex to make, but they must be purchased from a reputable company that has the expertise and knowledge to know exactly how to make them, because otherwise they may not function properly.
Many one-way and two-way mirrors are available at stores such as Etsy, which you can find by visiting them at their site.
4. Silvered Mirrors
A. Design Elements
When mirrors are silvered, it simply means they are coated with a reflective material, which can include several different materials, including silver, which is the most common. At one time, mirrors were silvered with a mixture of mercury and tin, but by the 18th century that had changed to pure silver, and today, the most common mixture is made of sputtering aluminum or other compounds, although the term “silver” is still used to describe this type of design procedure. It is a very popular process, and many of the mirrors you purchase have been made like this, even if you are unaware of it.
The silver or aluminum compounds used to make mirrors today serve several purposes. Silver is non-corrosive and therefore makes the mirror last a lot longer. It has a highly reflective quality that is beneficial when making a mirror, and it is a low-density material that is much lighter than other types of compounds.
In addition, it can make the mirror a lot stronger, which is likely its biggest benefit and advantage. Through the years, the silvering process has improved greatly, which is why mirrors are now stronger than they have ever been. This trend will likely continue, and in the future compounds may be found to be even more effective when manufacturing mirrors of all types.
Since any type of mirror can receive the silvering process, these mirrors can be all types and sizes, although it is mostly the larger mirrors that undergo this procedure. However, this process is very common for mirrors that are meant to be decorative, so when you’re choosing the next mirror for your bedroom furniture or living room, you will often find that it has been through the silvering process and is therefore much more attractive and a lot stronger.
Since silver has such a highly reflective capacity, it is the perfect material to use on mirrors. Silver can reflect all types of light wavelengths, and it is very often used in bathroom or furniture mirrors that are decorative in nature. Furthermore, only a thin layer is necessary to be effective, making it a cost-effective method as well.
Because of its ability to offer unique and personally designed items, Etsy is a great resource if you’re looking for all types and sizes of silvered mirrors, and you can get started by visiting them at their site.
5. Acoustic Mirrors
A. Design Elements
Unlike regular mirrors that most people are familiar with, acoustic mirrors – also known as parabolic sound mirrors – are made to reflect sound waves instead of visual reflections. Widely used by the military at one time, they can also be used in certain outdoor events, such as sporting events, to pick up distant sounds. Instead of glass, acoustic mirrors are designed from concrete, and they can be used in certain microphones to pick up sounds from very far away.
The main features and uses of acoustic mirrors include a passive characteristic designed to focus and reflect sound waves, not physical images. They have been used by the military to pick up the sounds from enemy aircraft from very far away, and they are also utilized for surveillance purposes and in science museums to demonstrate the focusing of sound, typically by establishing “whisper galleries” for people to enjoy.
The term “mirror” can be a bit confusing, because in many instances you cannot actually see the item that is making the device work. Acoustic mirrors are found inside of products such as microphones and other devices, and they are extremely good at what they do.
Acoustic mirrors can come in various sizes, both small and large, because they need to be able to fit well in dozens of devices of various sizes and shapes. This is why there is no one standard size for parabolic mirrors, and why there are hundreds of sizes available to users.
The main material in an acoustic mirror is something called a parabolic dish, which is sensitive to sounds coming from a specific direction. They therefore need to be placed in the correct position when being inserted into a certain device. This is why it takes an experienced professional to manufacture the microphone or other device that contains this dish, but in the right hands it is simple to get exactly what you need every time.
Online stores such as Houzz.com can help you decide what to do with acoustic mirrors and where to find them, and you can visit them at their site.
6. Non-Reversing Mirrors
A. Design Elements
Also known as a flip mirror, a non-reversing mirror is one in which two mirrors are placed together at a 90-degree angle. This type of mirror is designed to view an object at the point where the two mirrors meet, which is why they are often found in public bathrooms or dressing rooms.
There are numerous designs of non-reversing mirrors, including three main designs: one where first surface mirrors are used and joined at an exact spot, meaning the join is nearly invisible; one where the mirror is concave and therefore, at some point a non-reversing image will appear; and one where a disco ball effect results, in which case the mirror can be angled to create a surface with various bends and curves that occur in various directions.
Many non-reversing mirrors are used in commercial applications, including stores and other retail outlets.
Also called a true mirror, a non-reversing mirror presents the subject as it is seen in actuality. Since you can easily make a non-reversing mirror by connecting two regular mirrors together at their edges at a 90-degree angle, there are no actual special features to one of these mirrors, because they can easily be made by anyone with two separate, standard mirrors. If you choose to set up a non-reversing mirror in a vertical position, you can look into the angled section and view a non-reversing image, hence the name.
Non-reversing mirrors can come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, but when they are used in a commercial setting they can be quite large, even filling an entire wall or room. Since these products involve two mirrors placed together, they are usually not very small, and in fact the medium or large mirrors work best when you’re trying to make a non-reversing mirror. Exploring true mirrors online can help you get an idea of what they should look like once you’re done, and of course, purchasing them online is also an option if you’re trying to get the perfect one.
Non-reversing or true mirrors aren’t made out of any special materials, but the basic type of mirror is the best type to use if you’re making a non-reversing mirror yourself. If you try to use a beveled or oddly shaped piece of glass, it likely won’t produce the results you were hoping for, which is one of the many reasons why choosing standard or basic mirrors is such a smart choice.
A bifold or trifold mirror can be considered a non-reversing mirror, and can be found in stores such as Hayneedle.
7. Miscellaneous or Customized Mirrors
A. Design Elements
Custom-made mirrors can come in a wide range of designs, including:
- Backsplashes made of mirrors to add a special touch to your kitchen
- Full-length mirrors to help you dress for success
- Mirror tabletops that look great and serve a unique purpose
- Mirrored walls to give your bedroom a special look
- Mirrors with specialized frames to accent certain aspects of the room they’re in
There are also mirrors that come with beveled glass, without frames, and in various shapes, designs, and even colors, with most companies offering something for everyone.
Whether the room you are decorating is small or large, formal or casual, contemporary or traditional, the type of mirror you purchase for it makes a difference.
Mirrored backsplashes can add space and light to your kitchen and make it look brighter and bigger, full-length mirrors can be made six or seven feet tall or more for your convenience, mirrored tabletops are the perfect way to call attention to your coffee or end table, mirrored walls can add depth and elegance to your hallway, and specialized frames can include mosaic tiles, silver or gold highlights, fancy copper or silver designs, and can come in shapes like stars, sunbursts, or even animals or automobiles.
When it comes to these customized mirrors, the companies that make them can often provide a unique design to suit your own ideas, enabling you to get just what you wanted in the end. This means that regardless of the size of your home or your personal preferences and tastes, you can easily get a perfect mirror or mirrored object when you choose the right company, and most of these items cost a lot less than you think as well.
Mirrors can be oversized, come in a Venetian or Victorian design, contain accents of gold and silver, and come in so many finishes and designs that it is all but impossible not to find something perfect for your home or office.
There is quite literally no end to the sizes available when it comes to mirrors that don’t fit neatly in other categories, especially because custom-designed mirrors come in any size you want them to be. You can find six-inch-long mirrors that look great on the wall and make the room look bigger, larger mirrors that are uniquely shaped and take up the entire wall, and everything in between, making this one task you can look forward to regardless of what look you are interested in.
Even mirrors shaped like letters of the alphabet or animals can be made in any size you can imagine, so when it comes to choosing the right mirror in the right size, the sky truly is the limit.
Customized and unique mirrors come in many different materials, as do their frames, so whether you need a mirror for your bathroom or living room, your home or your office, or for a room that is neutral-colored or dotted with bright colors, you can easily find one you’ll love. This is especially true when you research mirrors on the Internet, because there is no end to the variety you’ll find online. Stores such as Hayneedle offer dozens of beautiful, reasonably priced mirrors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who invented the mirror?
Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, invented the modern glass mirrors that are used today. Though, other examples of mirrors have been around for thousands of years.
When was the mirror invented?
Justus von Liebig’s mirror was invented in 1835, but the earliest archetypes of mirrors date back more than 6000 years. It is believed that people in Anatolia, which is now Turkey, made the first mirrors. They were made from crushed and polished volcanic glass called obsidian. Mirrors were later made from polished copper by Ancient Egyptians. Mesopotamians made mirrors from burnished metal. Polished stone mirrors were produced by Central America and South America. In China, mirrors were made from polished bronze and metal alloys. Mirrors that were made from these precious metals were considered very valuable during the ancient times. Only the most wealthy could afford to have such mirrors.
Are mirrors made of glass?
Yes, glass is one of the main components involved with making a mirror. However, on its own, it is not an adequate reflector. The glass needs to be coated in a metal, like silver or aluminum, in order to make a sufficiently reflective mirror. Today, most mirrors are made by heating aluminum in a vacuum and then bonding it to the cool glass. Though, you can find spray paints that provide a mirror effect when sprayed onto a plate of glass.
Are mirrors magnetic?
No. Mirrors are not magnetic. Even though they do have metal in them, not all metals are magnetic. Specifically, silver and aluminum, as commonly used to make mirrors, are not magnetic.
Using and Reusing
Can mirrors help plants grow?
Yes. A mirror can be used to help increase light in shaded spots of a garden so that more plants can grow in those sparse areas. Mirrors can reflect the available light in a garden to allow certain areas to be brighter. Redirecting the light can help plants that are not getting enough sunlight, but this decreases the overall amount of sunlight. Therefore, plants are better grown with direct sunlight.
Can mirrors be recycled? If so, how?
Mirrors should not be put into the sorted recycling. They are made with a type of glass that is not recyclable. In order to be recycled, the mirror glass would have to be crushed and melted down into a liquid form with the other recycled glasses. However, various types of glass cannot be recycled together. The difference between the glasses means that they do not melt at the same temperature. Still, the mirror can be repurposed, even if it is damaged. If it is in good condition, it can be sold or donated. Otherwise, it is best to wrap the mirror glass in newspaper and place it in the trash.
Can mirrors be repaired?
Some mirror damages can be repaired at home or by a professional. Most black spots can be repaired with resilvering or concealed with a frame. Scratches can be buffed and polished. Superficial cracks can be repaired as long as the silver backing has not been damaged. If a mirror is too badly tarnished, a repair could be too difficult or not possible. In which case, the mirror would have to be replaced.
Can mirrors be cut?
Yes, mirrors can be cut. The best way to cut a mirror is by scoring a straight line into the mirror where it needs to be cut. Then, using gloved hands or running pliers, break the glass along the scored line. Sand the cut edges so that they are smooth and safe to handle.
Can mirrors be painted?
Yes. Mirrors are probably best painted with glass paints because they are meant for glass surfaces. It is sensible to use an opaque glass paint for a more bold and vibrant effect. Some glass paints are more translucent and are designed to make a stained glass effect. Painting a mirror with this type of paint will not give the same look. Also, acrylic paints and water based enamel craft paints will work, but they can be washed or scraped off. Spray paint can be used for larger projects.