Printing your own images, pictures, designs or text onto ceramics is easier than you might believe. This article will demonstrate two popular techniques that you can use at home to transfer images onto ceramic surfaces like plates, mugs and tiles for instance.
Method 1 – Using waterslide papers to print designs onto ceramics
This is one of the easiest craft projects you will ever do and professional looking results can be expected on your first attempt.
1 – Purchase some waterslide decal paper. If your ceramic surface is white or a light colour, choose the clear waterslide decal paper. Alternatively, if your ceramic surface is dark in colour, go for the white waterslide decal paper. Decal papers are available for both inkjet and laser printers and work differently. I shall explain the differences later in this article. A pack of 5 A4 sheets is enough to print pictures onto around 20 ceramic mugs or maybe 10 plates.
2- Open up your picture or type your text into Microsoft word or your photo editing software like Photoshop. You will need to size your work according to your ceramic surface, so for a mug printing project, you would use the top left quarter of your page and print out a test on a regular piece of paper and maybe even cut that out and place onto the mug to ensure that you are happy with the size.
3 – Load your decal paper into your printer so that your print lands onto the papers shiny side. This is the coated side of the paper that is effectively an extremely thin film that slides off the papers backing when water is applied later in the production process.
4 – Take your printed picture or text and either cut it out now or if you have filled your A4 sheet of decal paper with pictures, leave it as one piece as it will make the next stage easier.
5 – If you have purchased inkjet waterslide decal paper, you will also require some clear varnish for the next stage as you will now start to apply the varnish to your image. Ensure that you have either waited at least 30 minutes or have used a hair dryer on your print to ensure that it has dried.
6 – Apply 2 to 3 quick, even sprays of varnish over your image, separated by around 10 minutes. Do not use too much as this can harden your decal, making it awkward to apply to a curved surface. Apply to little though and you risk leaving a tiny area or two for water to engage your print, leading to an ink smudge. That said though, do not over concern yourself with applying the varnish as ceramic printing using this technique is very forgiving and following the instructions will provide great results.
7 – Cut your image out close to the edges and place into some water. You can use your fingers to hold the paper under the water and also to keep it flat as it will automatically have a tendency to curl up when it hits the water. Again, don’t worry if it does this as you can easily flatten it out again whilst under the water with your fingers.
8 – After around 30 seconds the paper backing will suddenly become loose and easy to slide off. Do not slide it off though yet. Remove the ceramic decal from the water and slide off 1 centimetre. Apply the 1 cm of film that you have slide off directly onto your ceramic surface, then slide the rest of the paper backing away, leaving you with your printed film directly on the ceramic surface. Gently feather away the water under the decal with your fingers taking care at this stage not to tear it.
9 – The decal starts to harden almost immediately and once dry you can place it in an oven for a further 10 minutes at 110c.
10 – Applying another coat of clear varnish will add extra protection to your project. Waterslide decal papers provide an excellent finish for decorative purposes. Hand wash any ceramic projects that you complete and avoid placing finished work like ceramic cups and plates into dishwashers.
The difference between inkjet and laser waterslide decal paper
The two decal papers are similar and produce the same desired results, the main difference being that clear acrylic spray / clear varnish is not required when using laser waterslide decal paper. You effectively skip steps 5 and 6 above. After you have completed your ceramic project using laser waterslide paper, you can of course apply some clear varnish for additional protection and durability.
Method 2 – Using ceramic paint to apply your own designs to ceramics
If you have some artistic flair or just want to give ceramic painting a go, start by getting yourself a few basics like some suitable ceramic paint and brushes. Pebeo and Liquitex are the two leading brands for ceramic paint and brush sizes 1 and 2 round and ¼” flat would be suitable for painting small ceramic tiles for instance.
Start by washing your ceramic surface with soap and water, dry and start by drawing your design onto the ceramic in pencil. Unwanted pencil marks can be removed using water or painted over. Choose your colours and squeeze into your palette. Ceramic printing paint goes a long way but can also dry quickly so bear this in mind when starting and have an idea of your colour scheme before you begin.
To mix a colour, apply the lighter colour to the palette first so if you wanted a grey colour, you would apply some white into your palette before adding a small amount of dark colour until you reach the ideal grey. Keep all of your mixed colours in case you require them later for finishing touches.
Start with your lighter colours first and apply one colour at a time. Put a small amount of paint into your palette but take a modest amount on your round brush and paint evenly along the ceramics natural flow. Ceramic paint dries quickly allowing you to add another coat quite quickly if required.
Use a liner brush (thin brush) for detailed edges. Lighter colours can be painted over when you come to painting with the darker colours so don’t panic if you go over the edges.
Continue to work with the lightest colours through to the darkest colours last and finally any black colour last.
Ceramic paint will dry with a slightly raised surface in around 3 hours and completely dry in 48 hours. Your finished work will be scratch resistant and can be gently hand washed in cold water. As with the decal paper, do not place finished ceramic work into the dishwasher.