[Clayart] transferring photos onto ceramic tile

Fredrick Paget via Clayart clayart at lists.clayartworld.com
Wed Oct 14 19:01:42 EDT 2015


By FRED PAGET Oct.5, 2005. Rev. 7 - Jan. 8, 2007,   Revision. 8  - Oct. 14, 2015.

Posted on <http://homepage.mac.com/fredrick/FileSharing1.html> Photographs of some tiles made with this process were on this Mac site (note:Mac site was cancelled by Apple several years ago. FWP 2015)

Ceramic decals are similar in makeup to ordinary decorative decals except the image is formed from ceramic pigments that are made to withstand the temperature of firing the image onto a ceramic surface. Most often the ceramic surface is already covered with a fired glaze and in that case the pigment blends into the glaze, coloring it and becoming permanent. Often the pigments used are in the form of a frit that has some of the properties of a glaze by itself and in that case the image may be applied to smooth bare bisque ceramic surfaces.

Sticky ink is made by combining a sticky substance, water, and a group of other liquid chemicals that are broadly classified as humectants which retard drying.
For example consider this simple recipe:
Honey 10 ml
Glycerin 25 ml
Water 65 ml
Add colored ink 1 ml
With this ink an image can be made by drawing by hand with a steel pen such as a Speedball pen. After inking, a powder pigment is dusted on the image and carefully brushed off the paper. This technique is sometimes refered to as embossing.

The pigment will stick to the image but loose pigment comes clean off
the paper provided that a glossy surface paper is used. If decal
paper is used the image must be cover coated to protect it and
hold it together while soaking in water during transfer to the surface of the final substrate.


An ink made like the above example will quickly plug up the print head of an ink jet printer, so to make an ink that will not do this we will leave out the sticky ingredient and print on commercial decal paper that has a coating of gum on the

surface. By wetting the gum with the
 special ink the image becomes sticky and receptive to the powder. This is the kind of
decal paper that is used in the silkscreen process of decal

This dusting an image is a very old trick that has been used for over one hundred years to make gravestone portraits of the
dead in black and white on porcelain. It is in common use in
Asia and southern Europe. A modification of the Gum Bichromate process is used to make a sticky image directly on the tile

and a black pigment is dusted on.

It is possible now to buy a decal paper that is called ink jet
decal paper and it will work too but unfortunately the plastic
film that they have applied over the gum and then coated with a
receptive layer for the ink, fuses during the firing and can cause
the image to crawl in an unpredictable manner. (See image of bad result).
If this paper is used apply the decal in reverse of the usual method so the plastic layer is on top. The plastic is very delicate and easily damaged during application .It is best to use plain gum coated decal paper at present. A better plastic film
may be used on some brands of paper that I have not tried.

INK JET INK RECIPE Glycerin 25 ml
NMP* 15 ml
 Propylene glycol 20 ml
 Water 40 ml
Sodium phosphate 1 gm
Surfanol (a wetting agent) 0.1 ml
Blue ink jet ink/yellow ink jet ink 50/50 5 ml *N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone - a viscosity reducer and humectant The phosphate is to make the ink an electrolyte so it will print
in an ink jet that uses the electro-propulsion method of expelling ink such as Lexmark, Hewlett Packard, and Canon. It will
not be needed in an Epsom printer.
*NMP is 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidinone. a somewhat dangerous chemical.

Possibly I can find an ink cartridge refilling company that will brew up this ink or something close. I was working with one several years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to make a pigment bearing ink and he gave me some of these ingredients.

I have had fair results using this ink in a cheap ($50) bottom of the line Cannon Pixma i1500 printer. I did not install the color cartridge at all. The black ink cartridge was exhausted by

printing a dozen or so sheets all black. Then I injected water into the cartridge - it takes about 10 ml, and blew it out again and again until the black ink was dissipated to my satisfaction. Then I injected the new ink and proceeded to print. 

With the printer I use, print with the plain paper setting and check the box for grayscale (displayed in the print driver software) Set the type
of print to what you have - text, graphics, or photo.
You can also do some work just using regular printer ink but

you must be quick to powder it before it dries. The dyes in the ink sort of make it hard to see what you are doing, I have used just the yellow ink in a cleaned out and refilled black cartridge in tests of this as it is light in tone and you can see the powder. Does not work as well as the special ink.


It is fairly easy to make single color decals. The image is printed on decal paper, dusted, cover coated and allowed to dry. Mason stains make a good image if the decal is put onto a fired cone 04 clear or white glaze. Addition of about 25 or 30 percent Ferro frit 3124 as dry powder added to the stain powder
is a good idea to make the stain stick well in the firing step. With some stains this can make food safe decals, avoiding stains with cadmium or lead.

China paint can be used to make conventional cone 015 decals. They usually contain a lead frit component.
Bel Decal Co. (www.beldecal.com/) makes a set of colored china paint like pigments that are designed for use in silk screen printing of conventional decals for ceramic.

Some contain lead as stated on their web site.
They work well with the sticky ink process too, and they fire at cone 015. They costed me about $40 per pound each (which is a minimum order) but a lot cheaper than china paint. Magenta (M) used in the four-color printing process (CMYK) cost $200 per pound, minimum order,when I bought it as it is gold based. That is an old price and since gold price has gone up it is probably more now.


To make a decal from the powder image it must be cover coated. Bel Decal Co. sells their standard clear cover coat in

minimum order 5-gallon cans for around $160. (2004 price) This is an alcohol based flexible film lacquer. It can be thinned with 99
percent isopropyl alcohol, which can be bought in some drug
stores. It comes in a thick viscosity that is designed to be used

with a silk screen to put the coat on the image.
I have found that I can thin it down and put a coating on individual decals by drizzling it on and flowing it around by manipulating
the paper to get a complete coat and then hang it up
over some old papers to catch the ample run off and let it dry overnight, That way I can coat one decal with out getting out a
silk screen and having to clean it afterward. Alcohol is the
solvent for clean up if you want to screen it. Also lacquer
thinner works.

Acrylic sprays do not work well with the sticky ink process because there is no lower plastic film under the image to hold these decals together and the sprays are brittle when dry, unlike the cover coat. Some water base clear acrylics (Liquitex) used in painting have been tried and my very limited test seems to indicate they may work. Since it is water based it is hard to put on the image without smearing.


Decals can be made in full color with this process. You need a
set of four-color pigments in the colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, K (black) -CMYK for short.
You also need Adobe Photoshop to do the color separation. You can print the separate colors directly from Photoshop by selecting the channel in CMYK mode that you want to print.
Print the K first on the gum, put on the powder, brush it over
the image thoroughly with a fine hair brush and next heat it
mildly for a few minutes to dry the image, rub lightly with a
clean scrap of soft paper shop towel to remove excess dust and print again with C. Repeat with Y and finally M.
This order of application is under study. A different order may
be better. It depends on the stains, In the old DuPont Chromalin Art process they dust on the stains in the order of decreasing fusing temperature, and they use YMCK.
If all goes well you will have a four-color image in registration. Too much heat in the drying may shrink the paper and cause
lack of registration. Also you have to keep the powder cleaned
off of the printer’s paper feed rollers so that they will grab the

The last 2 powderings are not as good as the first so you night want to make two decals - K and C, Y and M. Then put on the first one fire it and then register the second over it and fire it. This is tricky to get good register.

I had to permanently remove the outer case of my printer so I can reach the paper grabbing roller to clean it. This involved removing the outer case, which is held by snaps and two screws at the ends of the last set of feed rollers (“pizza rollers”) in the front. Cut off the “Pizza” rollers (they are part of the cover), and reinstall them. Also the papers back rest-required surgery and some duct tape to put it back on the printer.

The so-called gamut of the colors must be right to get good 4
color results. Ceramic stains are not as good in gamut as the inks
used in printing color pictures. Magenta is a hard color to get in ceramics. Gold is used at low temperatures as an oxide stain to get a
pretty good magenta. It burns out at high temperature so a tin
chrome stain is used instead but with worse gamut.


The dusting operation is messy and if you are not careful you will have a mess all around you. I work on a stack of about 20 pages of newspaper and after each step I carefully roll up a sheet of the newspaper and throw it away so I always have a clean work surface. Some of these stains are leaded and none are good for you.


The decals made this way have a gum layer on the bottom that it is dissolved partly but mostly just swelled when the decal is soaked. Some of the powder stays with the gum so that a boost of darkness in Photoshop may be needed for the picture to print well.

Soak the decal until it slides off and put on the ware. Blot off the excess water
Excess water, dissolved gum, and pigment can be rolled out from under the decal into a paper towel by using a rubber photo print roller or a brayer. Also can be done by rubbing it out carefully with a soft towel or a squeegee.

What is really needed is a paper with a waterproof lower layer over the gum that won’t cause crawling and a coat on top to receive the image.

I am going to try to find someone who will make the ink and fill the cartridges and maybe sell the supplies in small quantities. I am not going to do it as I am comfortably retired and
want no part of it


This sticky ink process is very labor intensive and if your time
is valuable it is not the way to go.
One advantage of these decals is that you can make decals with white or gold colored mica pigments that are not possible with the Zimmer laser printer process (see below). Also cone 10 decals are possible
Once you are set up single color decals are pretty easy but 4
color is very difficult.

There is a much easier method for making decals with a
color copier using the Zimmer process of toners with ceramic stains, if a $20000 dollar investment makes sense for you. Several other people including Baltea, D.C.in Italy,are making

the toners some of which will run in cheaper desktop digital color Laser printers.

This process and paper is released to the public domain.
Disclaimer and Legal Notice
This information is a compilation of the best efforts from many users including myself. All information here is believed to be reliable and safe, however, neither I nor the authors of the information, accept any responsibility for relying on this information and the results of the use or misuse of this information.

Revision 0 of this paper was distributed to 50 people at the Pomona Tile Conference of the American Ceramic Society Potters Council October 7, 2005.
This is revision 8-May 14, 2010

Fredrick W. Paget
Twin Dragon Studio,
Mill Valley, CA,94941-2172 USA fredrick at well.com
> On Oct 14, 2015, at 9:36 AM, Fredrick Paget via Clayart <clayart at lists.clayartworld.com> wrote:
> i have not done much with it for a long time. Basically you fill an ink jet printer with the special ink and print a single color print on decal paper. this makes a sticky image and you brush powder ceramic stain on it and the stain sticks to the ink. This can be put on ceramic and fired. It will be the color of the stain you chose. It is possible to put other colors on one image with careful brush work.
> I made my own formula for the ink but any one can try it. you make a liquid containing propylene glycol and glycerine, maybe some other liquids to lower the viscosity. I used 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidinone. from Spectrum Chemical Company, to lower viscosity. I never have found an ink company that was interested in making the ink. The market would be very small so no interest.Finding a prrinter that will print one color was difficult.
> There is a paper I wrote 13 years ago with complete directions and if I can find it I will send a copy to you .It was presented at the Aomori Woodfire Conference in Japan, 2002. 
> There are some new Epson black ink printers called “Work Force” and they offer a possible printer that could be filled with my ink.They have a large cartridge (4000 copies size)  that could be emptied and cleaned out and filled with sticky ink.  They have a chip on the cartridge to prevent reuse,. so by starting with a new genuine cartridge and replacing the ink you could get a lot of copies before the chip turned off.
> Fred Paget
> Twin Dragon Studio, 
> Mill Valley. CA, USA
>> On Oct 14, 2015, at 7:34 AM, Gábor Halász <halasz66 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Dear  Fred Paget,
>> I read your post in potters.org forum.
>> http://www.potters.org/subject88083.htm
>> Little bit old but i hope you remember  :-)
>> I interesting for ceramic decal printing with "sticky ink" method.
>> Can you help me where can I buy these kind of ink?
>> If you have more experience since this post i would welcome to share with me
>> Thanks in advance
>> Gabor Halasz
>> hungary
> _______________________________________________
> Clayart mailing list
> Clayart at lists.clayartworld.com
> http://lists.clayartworld.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/clayart

More information about the Clayart mailing list