Mark Campbell’s Decal Workshop

How to make ceramic decals



First I would like to say that in no way would I call my self a master of this craft. It took many failures before I have been able to pullthis off. I am positive through these failures that I can lead you down theright path without having to go through what I had to do.

I learned how to make these from a discussion in this group.Mimi shared a link that I read and inspired me to read. tried this on my own the first time, and it was an epic failure. Of course Idid it on all finished pieces, and pretty much ruined all of them! I haveemailed Frank Gaydos of my problems, and he was kind enough to help me out. My first run was a glaze compatibility problem. It is him that I would give creditto teaching me how to do them.

The first thing you will need is a laser printer. Inkjetswill not work, as I learned this the hard way! 2 good brands that work well is Apple and HP, as both of their ink contains 60% iron oxide. You also need laserdecal paper. I buy mine at is VERY important that you order the clear laser decal paper. They have somethat come in blue and white as well, but they do not work! I also recommend agood photoshop program. A good one for free is called GIMP 2 (thank you DJ!)You can find this by going to will also need some rubbing alcohol and some paper towels.

It will also take some experimenting to make sure the glazeyou are using is compatible with the decals. Clear glazes w/high Gerstleyborate or nepheline syenite tend to “eat” the image. I have a recipein the blog for a good glaze for firing at cone 04 to 05. It is as follows:


Fires to cone 04-05…






Alsoadd: Opax-10%

Recipefrom Frank Gaydos

I have read many blogs on this topic, and they all statethat these decals work fine from cone 013 to cone 10. I have had no luck at allwith any firing that was higher than cone 013. I know it works, but I have nothad any success.

I have seen decal transfers on leather hard clay, as well asa fired and finished glazed piece.   Istrongly warn you about doing this technique on leather hard clay. If you do this, be very careful to not touch the decal at all after a bisque firing, asit will smudge or wipe off the image. Also, the shrinkage can cause a wrinklingthat might not look good on larger decals.

To begin with, the image I want to use for a decal I run through photoshop. I take the image and reversed it. I also use it to changethe image to a rounded off one, as I use on my vases. I do this because thedecal works better when you place it on the piece ink side down. It will work the other way, but the image will be not as dark, and turns out better to placethe decal ink side down.

I try to get as many images as possible on a sheet of decalpaper. I am honestly not very good with computers and/or photoshop, but found agood way to get as many images as I can is with Microsoft word. I move themargin as far out as I can to begin with. Then I insert the image. I use wordbecause when you make a right click on the image, and it gives you the optionto format the image. I do this so I can get the exact size of the decal I want.I also change the image into greytone from black and white or color, as greytoneworks the best. The last thing I do is to try to make the image 25% to 30%brighter than it looks to you on the screen. More than times than not, thefired decal will look too dark after it is fired. It is also good to use Microsoftword for putting any writing you want in what ever font and size and turn thatinto a decal. If anyone knows a better way, please let me know!

When cutting out your decals, cut as close to the image asyou can. Depending on the decal, it may show up over a glaze, even if the decalarea is clear.

After you make the decals, let them sit for five minutes before you use them. To begin with, rub some rubbing alcohol on the part of the piecethat you want to decal to make sure the surface is clean. Place the decal in abowl or plate that has warm water. It takes about 30 to 45 seconds for thedecal to slide off of the backing. I usually just push it off about ¼ of aninch from the backing until I put the decal in place. I then slide the decal inside down onto the surface. Flat surface of course are the easiest, but havedone them on cups and vase as well.

When the decal is in place, use a paper towel and try tosqueegee the reaming air bubbles out of the decal. It is very fragile, so becareful when doing this. Any air bubble left in the decal will not transfer,and will be seen after the firing.

The best way I know is to look at the decal from all anglesin good light. Just lightly rub them all out starting with the middle towardsthe outside. It is a little tricky on vase, as they decal will want to wrinkleon you. Just spend some time doing your best to run all of the remaining airunderneath where there is a little wrinkle. Mugs and cups are a whole loteasier!

Another thing to consider while placing a decal on a vasewith a specific glaze, is fitting the decal to the piece. In my case, it is awhole lot easier because I do low fire, I bisque to cone 04, so my clay isvitrified and I know it is not going to shrink any more during the glazefiring. I simply make the decal before I glaze the pot. I place the alreadymade decal where I want to place it, and trace the outside with a pencil. Ithen glaze the vase with the desired glaze I want, leaving the decal spot bare.I then paint the decal area with a clear glaze. When the piece is fired, I have a perfect canvas for the decal.

Keep in mind, the lighter the area is to be decaled, thebetter the image. I have used underglazes, as well as some light blue, yellow,orange, or red glazes that work pretty well. Also, it is highly recommended todo a test before decaling up all of your ware.

I have read that it is important to let the decal sit overnight before firing. I have always done this and am superstitious to fire it right away. If you try this and it works without waiting a day, please let meknow, LOL! Not really sure why I have to wait, so I just do.

When I do a decal firing, it is very important to ventilatethe area, I will start a firing with all switches on low with the lid crackedan inch. Also, turn on the ventilation to your kiln if you one. I will leave iton low for a couple of hours. Then switch to medium for about the same time.LEAVE the lid cracked until your kiln is at least 700 degrees. You will smell burning plastic until then. When you don’t smell it anymore, it is safe toclose the lid. I will the finish on high to desired cone. Remember that I firemy decals to cone 013. Experiment first is highly recommended!

Some glazes I have used have reacted different in the firingto cone 013, as others have remained unchanged. You will have to figure outwhat works and what doe not in a trial and error way. I have liked the way someof the glaze has changed, and not so much on others.

There are 2 commercial glazes that I know work. Duncan makesa satin clear that works very well. Do not use their clear gloss, as that onedoes not work. Laguna makes a clear gloss that works well also.

I have spoke with other people that do decal work with aclay body that fire hotter than mine. They recommend cone 05 if using a cone 5or 6 glaze. For cone 10 glaze, fire the decals to cone 04. Once again, for low fire(cone 04 to 06), fire between cone 010 to 013.

I have been doing these decal firings with really goodsuccess rate for the last 6 months now, and still have a lot to learn. I am notsure if these firings damage your kiln elements, but I am sure it can not beall that good for them. Please let me know if you know whether is does, or doesnot.

Please let me know how any of these tip help you out. I would love to hear feedback!

Here is the FULL class, complete with the chat on the side…enjoy.

  1. September 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Very thorough, Mark! I want to experiment with this technique soon. Right now I’m working with the litho transfers to leatherhard clay using a mixture of stains and linseed oil. I’m not quite sure I’m going to stick with this way of transferring! The way you explain it would be much easier for transferring my sketches. Thanks so much for sharing, awesome job!

  2. September 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I also have been experimenting with decals and not having much success

  1. September 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

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