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How many times have you been in a store and seen a vase or set of dishes with a pattern that catches you eye and wondered just how that pattern was put on there?
I know I use to think that they were all painted, because I had never heard of a decal.
Today there are decals that are ironed on clothes, some decals have a sticky back and are put on glass, ceramics or wood by using a popsicle stick and a slight pressure back and forth from the center to the outside to get all the air bubbles out.
They are called rub on decals.
Ceramic decals have to be fired onto the piece that they are used on.

Decals Available at http://www.olympicdecals.com/

What Are Decals Anyway?

Decals are colored patterns that can be applied to the glazed work in order to add to the design.
You see them on commercial mugs that have sayings or pictures on them.
They are also available in very attractive fancy designs.
You can buy commercial decals with everything on them from dogs and cats, to grapes and trellises.
The colors in ceramic decals are a complex mixture of metal oxides and salts, mixed with powdered glass and suspended in a plastic material.
Prior to firing, the decals are quite pale, but after firing they show their true colors which are very brilliant.
Firing in a kiln under extreme heat, up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, causes the decals to undergo a dramatic transformation, as the oxide salts fuse and reveal their rich palette of colors.
This brilliant image becomes a complete and permanent part of the ceramic material.
You can also make your own decals or send a picture or drawing to certain companies that make decals and they will make them for you.

Basic Process

First you bisque and glaze fire your piece.
Before you glaze your piece, pick out the decal that you want.
You should use light colored glaze if your decal is dark so that it shows up well.
A dark glaze should be used if you have a light colored decal.
Always make sure the surface is free of dust and fingerprints.
I always wet a rag down with alcohol and wipe my piece down to make sure that there are no oils on them.
Trim the decal and soak it in room temperature water.
The decal has a paper backing.
Soon it will start to peel up on the edges, which means it is ready.
This will probably take about 30 to 60 seconds.
The decal may curl up a lot at first, but will then relax and 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, I use a pump hair spray bottle because it has a fine mist, then lay one edge of the decal on your piece and slide the 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 so you don't tear it because it is very fragile.
Now you need to remove all the air and water from beneath the decal.
Start by dabbing with a damp sponge and then blot dry with paper towels.
Work the bubbles out to the edges.
Make sure there are no air bubbles trapped or the decal will not stick there and when fired it will burn the bubble off and leave a hole.
If there is a bubble once the piece is dry, poke it with a pin, drip some water over it, and smooth over.

Now, you have to fire the piece again to about Cone 015 (note the 0 before the 15).
This temperature is about 1450 degrees F and that temperature will be achieved fairly quickly in your kiln.

It is also possible to use decals without a kiln.
You can use them on ceramics and once they are completely dry, cover them with a spray sealer or on wood cover them 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 only decorative.
Many decals are not dinnerware safe because they contain lead or other harmful materials.
Always check and if they are not food safe, put them only on the outside of any item that could be used for eating, drinking or cooking.

Where To Get Decals

I have always got my decals from the ceramic shop where I get all my greenware and glazes.
Most of the ceramic and pottery shops carry a good selection of decals.
In this day and age, there are several places available on the internet.
One source of decals that I really like is: www.ceramic-decal.com
They have thousands of decals on line, as well as a catalog you can order from.

Making Your Own Decals

You can make your own decals and there are some good books in the libraries or pottery and ceramic shops that will help you to make them.
Now, 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.
I usually use the 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 and continue as with commercial decals.

Decals can add a lot to a piece of pottery or ceramic.
As I have showed you above they are very simple to put on your piece.
I have dressed up a plain black vase with a very delicate white decal and just by adding something so simple made all the difference in the appearance.
I have taken duck and a pig statues and put a bunch of small and medium flower decals all over the piece and transformed them into quite the conversation piece.
Use your imagination and put your decals where ever you think they will look good.

Good Luck, And Have Fun!

"Copyright BigCeramicStore.com, reprinted with permission."

Even back in Grandpa's time, there was something to make you sleep...they called it work!



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Have you ever come up with a good idea while working with your handmade pottery and thought that you would like to share it with others? You have? Well, why not send it to us and we will add it to the tips page for all to see.

Handmade pottery can be a very gratifying hobby that produces fun and satisfying results. For many people it's an enjoyable release that is created by working an inanimate mound of clay into a beautiful work of art that you made through your artistic abilities.

The best way of starting out is to take a few lessons from Youtube. You will probably waste quite a bit in materials when you first get started. Figuring out how to truly make handmade pottery correctly and shape into what you want it to be can be quite an ordeal. The different tools that a normal shop will have can be fun to try. You will soon see which ones you like to use the most and then when you are ready you will know which ones to buy.

With the help of the internet, you can now purchase most if not all of your ceramic and pottery tools and supplies online. We are located far from any well supplied dealers and yet working with reliable ceramic and pottery suppliers online has allowed us to recieve most of our orders within a timely manner.

When you get all set up, just enjoy the hobby and have fun at it. Some people get pretty serious and start selling their creations at craft fairs and small stores, but others just like to create items for themselves, relatives, and friends. Whichever kind of handmade pottery you desire to endeavor, enjoy the hobby and have fun doing it.

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