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Ceramic paints

About pottery painting in general

When we started looking at the different ceramic paints, we were amazed about the number of possibilities. How much more there is to try and how many little things you have to pay attention to even though I have been doing this for years and I try to try and learn as many techniques as possible. We would like to give you a brief introduction to this, but we don't want to be exhaustive.

As with ceramic materials, the boundaries between the different categories of paints have become very blurred. Modern technology, with the use of various additives, now allows paints that were once developed for a specific purpose to be used in a more versatile and liberal way. This is why it is particularly important to read the instructions for use of a particular paint, as in the best case scenario you may not get the expected result, but as we often eat food and drink from painted ceramic pots, it is particularly important to know whether the paint or glaze is suitable for this purpose.

In general, we can group the materials that can be used for ceramic decoration according to different aspects.

From a safety point of view, the most important is whether or not it can be used for food consumption, and whether or not we are painting ceramics that raise this question.

The next one is probably at what stage of the ceramic production process they can be used, there are some that can be applied to raw still wet ceramics and some that can be applied to glazed fired ceramics.

The third very important aspect is whether the ceramic should be fired after painting and, if so, what temperature the paint can withstand. The latter is of course closely related to the ceramic material used. It is well known that materials expand or shrink when exposed to heat. This is of course also true for ceramic materials and various paints and glazes. However, in the case of ceramics, firing involves extremely high thermal fluctuations, as some materials are heated from room temperature up to 1400 degrees Celsius. The paint and glaze must be able to withstand this. It is therefore very important that the right ceramic material is coated with the right paint and glaze and burnt at the right temperature to achieve the right result. Here, even seemingly small variations can cause serious problems. We used the ceramic, paint and glaze that we were used to and had tried and tested, but because the kiln had been re-insulated it caused such a deviation in the kiln when firing that the glaze expanded more than the ceramic and bounced and flaked. These items obviosly have gone in the trash. Now let's look at it in a little more detail.


Do we eat from it

We use ceramics to make plates, bowls, mugs, etc., from which we want to have a drink afterwards, and there are others that we make for other decorative purposes, such as sculptures, wind chimes or other functions, like (such as) incense holders. In this respect, there are 3 types of paint. Some are suitable for storing or holding food after firing without the use of an additional layer of glaze, and we use them too.

Some paints require an additional layer of glaze to be applied to the object. In such cases, the glaze layer ensures that the paint, which may leach out unhealthy substances, does not come into contact with the food.

The last category is when you don't want to eat or drink from the item.

Each has its place. Many of you have heard of acrylic paint. We use it when we hold a workshop at an event, for example, in exchange for the fact that it's not suitable for food storage so we always take objects to the event where the possibility of that doesn't even arise. However, acrylic paint is fantastic to use, it adheres beautifully to ceramics and once dry is waterproof and can even be used outdoors.


Stages of ceramics making

In our previous article, we wrote that there are many different types of ceramic base materials. There are different stages in the process of making them, and practically every stage allows you to paint or colour the object.

The first time we can influence the colour of our object is when we mix the ceramic material in the first place and certain colouring agents can be added or are already present in the material. This will determine the colour of the raw ceramic.

The next stage is when the object itself is ready, but still wet. Certain paints can also be used at this stage. At this stage the ceramic is very fragile and easily deformed. Like the plasticine we used as children.

This is followed by ceramics that have dried but not yet fired. It is also fragile at this stage, although the object is already solid, it is very brittle and becomes malleable when exposed to a lot of water.

The next stage is when the ceramic is fired once. This is called bisque. At this point, the object has acquired its near-final physical properties. It is hard, no longer malleable under the influence of water, but at the same time, depending on the material, porous and very easy to paint. We paint the ceramics at this stage. At this stage, the painting can still be quite easily repaired, it is possible to scrape back a layer of paint, but it is also not a problem to use a lot of water to wash the layers of paint or the colours together. I can also paint nice colour transitions this way.

The final stage, when a ceramic is fired after painting and glazing. It is also possible to paint new patterns on them with certain paints. A typical example of this is porcelain painting, which is difficult because the brush slides very easily over the glazed surface and therefore requires very delicate work and a skilful hand. When using this type of paint, the paint either remains on the surface of the glaze or melts into the glaze when the object is re-fired. This also raises another aspect, namely the layering.


Paints according to layers

Ceramic objects are typically composed of 3 layers. There is the ceramic itself (clay body) the paint and the glaze. As you may have guessed from the previous discussion, these can be mixed, as the clay can be coloured and I think you can guess that there are also coloured versions of glazes.

But for our purposes here, we will separate them and talk about colours under the glaze, which are applied to the object before glazing. In many cases, this is the most resistant way of absorbing the paint into the ceramic material itself.

The next category is fusible enamel, which is applied to glazed ceramics, but when fired it sinks either into the glaze or underneath it.

The last category is that of paints above the glaze, for example, porcelain paintings, majolica, lustres, etc. What remains on the surface of the glaze cannot be protected by the glaze. However, it is important to note that these can also be used to make beautiful and durable objects, because who can say that Ravenclaw porcelain is not durable or beautiful.

What I use

I use a modern glaze paint that comes in a wide range of colours, but also allows you to mix colours so I can paint colour transitions. Some paints will burn to a different colour at different temperatures, but let's not get into that now. The paint I use can also be used for edible ceramics. In order to make my creations as durable and usable as possible we even coat them with a clear glaze. This way there is no glaze on the colour border and we can be sure that you can use them for a long time.

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