Years ago, the only way to add color and design to ceramic items was to paint it on with glaze. After adding the glaze, the potter fired the item in the kiln at very high temperatures, the exact heat depending on the glaze’s requirements. But with technological innovation, you can now buy blank glazed ceramic items such as saucers, cups and more and paint them in your home with special paints. After you add the artwork, cure the paint by cooking them in the oven at specific temperatures. Choose food-safe nontoxic ceramic paints for use on dishware that contacts food or drinks.
Ceramic Paint Markers
Ceramic paint markers offer one of the easiest and cleanest ways of painting glazed ceramic without the need of a primer coat. These transparent colored markers work on ceramic, porcelain, metal and glass in the same manner as other felt-tip markers. Spring-loaded markers don’t release the paint until you press down firmly and hold the tip as the paint emerges. After allowing the painted item to dry, bake it at the required temperature as noted on the packaging or instructions, such as 300 degrees Fahrenheit in a standard kitchen oven for at least 30 minutes.
Make certain you choose the right ceramic paints for your glazed ceramic blank. If you’re making a cup and saucer as a gift, choose food-grade paints, as some paints are not meant for food contact. Even though most of these paints are non-toxic, if they are not food safe, use them only on the exterior of dishware, cups, vases or even cookie jars. You can apply ceramic paints with a brush, sponges or use special applicator bottles with tiny tips for dot painting, depending on the type of artwork.
Apply water-based gloss enamel paints to the exterior of glazed ceramic or glass items when you want to add artistic designs. These paints may or may not be safe for contact with foods, depending on the manufacturer. Similar to ceramic paints, cure these paints in a regular kitchen oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, or as listed by the manufacturer, for at least 30 minutes. Some craft paint manufacturers also offer versions with glitter, 3-D textures, opaque or transparent colors or paints that create special crystal-like effects or frosting on glass or ceramics. (Ref. 2)
Non-Bake Acrylic Paints
You can also use acrylic paints to paint on exterior surfaces of ceramics or pottery without curing them in the oven. In situations in which you plan to paint over a clay pot intended for plants or flowers, add a primer or sealant coat to the pot first; let it dry, and then add the desired design or paint. Standard artist’s acrylic paints can decorate most anything, but prime absorbent surfaces first to use less paint. Acrylic paints are not considered food-grade paints.
Paint and Prep Considerations
Clean the ceramic item thoroughly that you plan to paint to remove dust, dirt or grease. The item must be totally clean and dry before you begin to paint it; otherwise, the paint may not hold. Glazed blanks do not require a primer coat, but clay pots and some absorbent bisque ware may require a primer to create a sealed coat over the item before you add paint. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for curing in the oven; work in a well-ventilated room when painting and curing. Don't put cold ceramic items into the oven after painting; instead, allow the item to heat up and cool down gently to avoid cracking.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.