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Laser Decal Tests and Lessons Learned

One of the decorating techniques that I got to experiment with in Anna Callouri Holcombe's class at Penland School of Crafts used laser decals.  This process appeals to me because it gives my computer geeky side a chance to play.  I actually enjoy playing around with images in photoshop.  If you are not really computer savvy you still might like laser decals.  Many of the other students in the class made decals from drawings that they scanned into the computer, others found images on the web or brought black and white pictures from home computers.  Even other's just used simple graphics like stripes and dots.  Yes, it takes a little computer skill but if you can print out something from your home computer you can print a laser decal.

The way it works is you print an image using an HP laser printer, onto special laser, waterslide decal paper.  This is placed (stuck) onto a glazed and fired piece and refired.  The paper from the decal burns away as does some of the ink but it leaves behind a photo quality image in sepia tones.  The laser ink is formulated with enough red iron oxide to save the image which is imbedded into the glaze during the firing.

For the class we were encouraged to bring pots from home and porcelain pieces that we found in thrift stores or cheap big box stores.  I'm not a fan of supporting big box stores and it just felt weird to use some mass produced wear so I stuck to commercial test tiles and my own pots that I made during Andy Shaw's class before Anna's.

Everything in the class was a grand experiment, that's what helped to keep it fun.  So we all printed some decals and put them on these various types of ceramics and fired them to cone 02 which is somewhere between 1972 and 2052 degrees.  What we discovered when we opened the kiln was a large range of successes and failures.  Most of the commercially produced ceramics did not hold the image well.  Although the image looked great in the kiln it was untouchable.  The iron oxide just sat on the surface and had not melted into the glaze so if you touched the image with a finger or sponge it would come right off.  Not dishwasher safe by any means.  Some of the pieces keep a bit of the color and were actually okay after a quick rinse, others lost the image entirely.  But the pots that were brought from home, and had already been fired with a cone 5 clear glaze held the image beautifully.

The glaze was not melting enough on the commercial pieces, they are typically fired much hotter.  So we carefully loaded the test pieces back into kilns to fire hotter.  We couldn't go too hot or the iron would burn out, not hot enough and the glazes wouldn't melt.  It's not easy.

We tried firing the pieces to cone 4 figuring this would be a good temperature for some of the other test tiles that needed to be fired.  They were mostly earthenware pieces.  The results are in the pictures below.
Testing laser decals by Future Relics
Laser Decal Test Tiles

What you're seeing is a progression into the kiln.  Actually, the reverse of one.  The best looking pieces, at the bottom of this picture, where at the top of the kiln surrounded by taller pieces.  They got a lot of air around them.  But the kiln was filled with shelves and tiles which held heat for a long time.  As we got further down into the kiln we lost more and more image.

So now I knew that for cone 6 (what I fire to) I should be firing the deals on even cooler and if doing tiles, they should have taller posts.  Let's try cone 1.

Laser decal pottery by Lori Buff
PresARTvation Mugs

Here's the results on some cone 6 mugs .  Much better looking and dishwasher safe.

Have you been to Mudcolony today?

Check out the gallery page - Future Relics Gallery by Lori Buff


  1. What fun! The mugs are awesome.
    I am very interested in transferring images, but for now I will stick to paper. I just can't add anymore to my clay work right now.

    1. Thanks Michèle, I know how you feel about adding something new however, I feel a project in here that I'm very interested in taking on. I just have to figure out how to afford it and how to make room for it in my schedule.

  2. love the antique ironstone transferware......

    xo t

  3. Getting to a decal workshop is high on my to-do list! Loved how you described the process here Lori :) Cheers, Rachel

  4. I fire mine to 1060C on a glazed surface and get pretty good results. I think that is 1940F according to my converter. Those mugs were a good result especially with the very vintage photo images. Do you do the wet finger test? Draw a wet finger across a discrete area of your decal and if it smears it is underfire and should go back into a slightly hotter kiln. the tiles are definitely over fired but you could reapply or leave it as a ghost image with another one over it.

    1. Hi Elaine,
      Welcome to the blog and thanks for your comments.
      It seems like we always have to consider what temperature the base (usually clear) glaze melts at. What cone were your pieces fired to originally?
      We did do the smear test, that's how we found out that many of the commercial pieces needed to be re-fired. It's a good way to test. Thanks for mentioning it.


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