Tip #43: Ceramic Decals
Have you ever wanted to experiment with ceramic decals? Here is a quick overview of how they work.
What Are Decals?
Decals are colored patterns that can be applied to glazed work to add designs. You see them on commercial mugs that have sayings or pictures on them. But they are also available in very attractive, intricate designs. You can buy commercial decals with everything on them from dogs and cats, to grapes and trellises (for example for kitchen counter tiles.) Decals are made from overglazes which fire at a low temperature. You can also make your own decals.
The Basic Process
First you bisque and glaze fire your piece. You should use light colored glaze so the decals shows well. Make sure the surface is free of dust, fingerprints, etc.
Trim the decal and soak it in room temperature water. The decal is attached to a paper backing. Soon it will start to peel up on the edges, which means it is ready. This will probably take about 30-60 seconds. The decal may curl up a lot at first, but will then relax then release from the paper. If you’re not sure if it is ready see if it slips easily. Don’t move it too much though or it may tear. If you are not quite ready for the decal, rest it on a towel.
When you are ready, moisten your piece, lay one edge of the decal on your piece, and slide paper away from underneath the decal, leaving the decal there. It may be helpful to use a banding wheel, especially if you are applying several decals such as borders. You can slide the decal around to place it, but be careful of tearing it as it will be very fragile.
Next you need to remove all the air and water from beneath the decal. Start by dabbing with a damp sponge, then blot dry with paper towels. Work the bubbles out the sides. Make sure there are no air bubbles trapped, or the decal will not adhere there. If there is a bubble once the piece is dry, prick with a pin, drip some water over it, and smooth over.
Finally, you refire the piece to about Cone 015. (note the 0 before the 15.) This temperature is approximately 1450 degrees F. That temperature will be achieved relatively quickly in your kiln.
It is possible to use decals without a kiln. You can use on ceramic and cover with a spray sealer, or on wood and cover with a shellac. If you are using on ceramic pieces that have been painted with acrylic paints, use a sealer before the decal in addition to after. Of course these pieces will be strictly decorative.
Note: Many decals are not dinnerware safe. They contain lead or other harmful materials. Please check, and if they are not safe, only apply only to the outside of any item that could be used for eating, drinking, or cooking.
Where To Get Decals
We don’t currently carry decals, although we are interested in hearing whether our customers would like them. One source of decals is: http://www.harbon.com They have thousands of decals on-line, as well as a catalog you can order.
Making Your Own Decals
If you really plan to do this, I suggest getting our book on decal making. (No longer available) Decal Book But to give you a general idea of the steps involved, you will be doing the following:
Buy or mix the overglaze colors to be used in your decals. (We sell already mixed overglazes to be used for this purpose – oil based Amaco Versa Colors.)
Make a pattern of the design you want (a screen) and place it on top of a piece of decal paper.
In a technique similar to silk screening, use a squeegee to get the overglaze evenly onto the pattern.
Pull the pattern away and let it dry.
Coat the whole thing with polyurethane varnish which creates a film on the decal paper and print.
Cut out the decals to shape. Continue as with commercial decals.
If you like the idea of screen printing on clay, Ceramics and Print is another book that may interested you. It is found on this page. Glazing and Decorating Books