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What is A Ceramic Glaze?

11 January, 23

A glaze is a thin, usually glossy, coating of a fused mixture applied to pottery or tiles. It is made from silica, alumina, and other colorants. Glaze is responsible for giving pottery and tiles their color and helps to protect them from water and other wear elements.

There are different types of ceramic glazes available depending on their purpose. They range from traditional majolica glazes that are completely opaque to crystalline and opalescent glazes that can produce unique visual effects in contemporary ceramics. Different types of ceramic glazes also offer varying degrees of hardness or wear-resistance as well as fire resistance, making them suitable for different firing temperatures.

Understanding the differences between these types of ceramic glazes is necessary before applying one to your workpiece:

  1. Traditional majolica glazes that are completely opaque.
  2. Crystalline and opalescent glazes that can produce unique visual effects in contemporary ceramics.
  3. Different types of ceramic glazes that offer varying degrees of hardness or wear-resistance.
  4. Different types of ceramic glazes that offer varying degrees of fire resistance.

What is a Ceramic Glaze?

Ceramic glaze is a type of coating or finish used to decorate and protect ceramic pieces and pottery. Glaze can be applied to a variety of ceramic pieces, including clay vessels, tiles and sculptures. This layer of glass-like material can be transparent or opaque, glossy or matte, and can come in an array of colors.

In this article, we'll discuss the different types of ceramic glaze and what they are used for:


Ceramic glaze is a thin layer of glossy or matte material that is applied to the surface of a ceramic piece before firing. The glaze functions as a waterproof barrier to protect the clay beneath and various pigments and opacifiers are often added to produce decorative patterns, textures, and colors. The glaze must be compatible with the clay body and also be suitable for its firing temperature.

The process of making glazes is often complex as it requires careful consideration of many variables, including raw materials, cooling rate, type of furnace and firing atmosphere. Ceramic glazes come in an infinite range of colors, effects, opacity levels and textures depending on the type of ceramic being used in production. Some common types of ceramic glazes include:

  1. Matt or Satin Matte Finish
  2. Crackle Finish (matte or gloss)
  3. Crystalline Decorate Raku Glaze
  4. Engobe Finish (previously called slip)
  5. Earthenware-Bisque-Glaze Combination
  6. Terra Sigillata Finish

Types of Ceramic Glazes

Ceramic glazes are vitreous solutions or suspensions applied to ceramic pieces as a decorative finish and to waterproof them. The most common type of glazes used in ceramics is glass-based; however, a wide range of materials are used which produce various textures, patterns, and colors. Generally speaking, there are three main types of ceramic glazes: flux, engobe, and cover coat.

Flux glazes contain glass-forming oxides like silica or alumina that react with other onglaze compounds such as metal oxides or colorants to produce an attractive lasting finish on the fired ceramic item. These glazes can be matched to natural hues and textures encountered in nature.

Engobe glazes have less than 10% silica content by weight, which helps give them an inviting texture suitable for salt firing. When applied correctly before drying or bisque firing (the first firing stage), engobes create special grounds for decorative purposes; for example using engobes as resist mediums for creating sgraffito effects through scratching into the wet clay body or layering other materials on top before final firing as is done with luster techniques.

Cover coats are usually glossy surfaces applied over already fired glazeware allowing the artist to shape their works with more creative freedom since these upper layers generally have different coefficients of thermal expansion – meaning they won’t crack when exposed to temperatures during multiple firings. Cover coatings also work well with traditional overglaze painting techniques because they don't add significant amounts of water like engobes can during dry brushing; this prevents subsequent cracking during final firings due to variances in contraction rates between base clays and layered pigments or powders.

Properties of Ceramic Glazes

Ceramic glaze is a coating made of glass, clay, and other raw materials which when applied to the surface of pottery, gives it a glossy and smooth finish. Ceramic glaze has a number of properties that makes it suitable for use on pottery.

Let's look at the various properties of ceramic glaze that make it so invaluable in the creation of pottery:


The most important physical property of a glaze is its color. Of course, a glaze can also be used as a protective finish on ceramic ware, but it is primarily employed to create aspects of beauty. The color of a glaze is determined by the presence and amounts of metallic oxides or other chemicals in its makeup. Lead, copper and cobalt are the most common elements used to create vibrant colors in ceramic glazes.

When selecting the right color for your project, it helps to know some basic facts about these different elements. Cobalt is commonly used to produce intense blues, while copper tends to give off pinks and yellows depending on how much of it you use. Lead produces yellowish orange hues when melted at lower temperatures and deep purple shades at higher ones.

Another important factor that can influence color is how well the glaze melts during firing; if it melts too quickly or slowly, you may get an unexpected hue in the end product. When creating custom colors from scratch, experiment with different ingredients like manganese dioxide and oxides to adjust hue values until you achieve desired results.


Ceramic glazes are applied to pottery in the form of a glass-like coating that seals the material and enhances its aesthetic. The final product combines a host of chemical and physical properties, of which durability is one of the most important.

Durability is related to resistance against abrasion, thermal shock, and impact; ceramic glaze must be able to withstand repeated firing cycles and contact with food or beverages. The degree of durability at room temperature is also important; how well does the glaze resist scratching, staining or cracking?

High-temperature glazing techniques improve both thermal shock resistance and abrasional hardness. In modern production, this quality is gauged by thermal conductivity, a measure of how quickly heat energy is exchanged between two materials after they have been thermally hot joined together. Higher thermal conductivity improves heat transfer efficiency in high-temperature applications by keeping items at an even temperature across their entire surface area. This helps reduce breakage caused by uneven heating or cooling cycles.

The desired degree of glaze hardness also depends on aesthetic considerations such as color, smoothness and luster that are more easily achieved with softer formulas – hence varied formulas are often used for creating multiple levels of glaze strength throughout a single piece of pottery work. Ultimately what matters most may depend on use – try washing other ceramics dishes before purchase for an indication if it will last for your needs or if you should consider a more durable option like porcelain instead.


Transparency in ceramic glazes can be classified into two major types: optical transparency and actual transparency.

  1. Optical transparency is in direct relationship with the thickness of the glaze layer due to its refractive index. The greater this index, the higher the chances of light bouncing off its surface instead of going through it, lowering its optical transparency level.
  2. Actual transparency is determined by the amount of opacity-inducing elements present in a glaze mixture. Recycling old glazes with an unknown formulation may lead to inaccurate results during firing since some materials in the mix may have undergone changes after being stored for a long time.

Transparent glazes generally require refinement with whitening compounds or opacifiers such as tin compounds or zinc oxide in order to strengthen their body without hampering its fluidity, thus avoiding settling problems during application processes and improving their adherence properties. This process determines both physical and visual efficiency of a transparent ceramic glaze, benefitting color intensity, homogeneity and dazzle effect that this kind of finishes can provide not only ceramic wares but also surfaces made out of other materials such as metals or glass.

Application of Ceramic Glazes

Ceramic glazes are thin glass-like layers that are applied to clay bodies before firing in a kiln. They can provide decoration, protection and even waterproofing for ceramics. Ceramic glazes come in a wide variety of colors, textures and properties.

In this section, we'll discuss the different applications of ceramic glazes:

Firing Temperature

Firing is the process in which ceramic glazes are thermally activated and melted in order to create the desired look, feel, and shape. When applying ceramic glazes it is important to pay attention to firing temperatures as they vary greatly depending on the type of material being used.

Low-fire glazes are generally fired at temperatures ranging between 1000-1200°F. These types of glazes have a lower melting temperature so they can be applied with ease. The low firing temperature also results in softer colors and less glossy surfaces. Examples of low-fire glazes include terra cotta and sandstone.

Mid-range glaze temperatures range between 1900-2200°F and require special kilns to reach these extreme temperatures. These types of glazes tend to be more opaque than low fire and allow for more intense color saturation. Typically, mid-range fired glazes are used when creating pieces that will be exposed to outdoor elements such as outdoor pottery or sculptures.

High-fire or stoneware is the most common type of ceramic glaze found on pottery pieces due its durability and sophistication in appearance. Stoneware typically has a glossier finish with richer colors than both low and mid range fired buckets achieve without overmelting the pigment of the material being used for decorative purposes. High fire usually requires a gas kiln operating between 2400-2700°F for reactions to occur within the glaze materials resulting in this permanent change from raw clay into pottery artisans often desire.

Application Techniques

Ceramic glazes can be applied to clay and ceramic objects in a variety of ways, depending on the desired look, type of piece and overall project. Generally, glazing can be done by dipping, pouring and brushing.

  1. Dipping is a convenient way to create a uniform coating on many pieces at once. The object is dipped into the glaze using a tongs or other holder, then set aside to dry. In some cases the pieces will have to be fired after being dipped in order for the glaze to properly adhere.
  2. Pouring is used for items too large or irregularly shaped for dipping or brushing. A length of paper towel or string tied around the belly of a plate does well as an edge catcher when poured from above. Pouring can also be used as an integral layering technique during certain ceramic processes such as raku firings.
  3. Brushing is typically used for intricate detailing work such as combining different colors in one piece or detailing relief designs with intricate brushwork. Certain types of brushes are best for creating fine lines and details; other types may be better suited for creating sweeping strokes on larger projects. Different techniques are often employed when brushing various color combinations on one object—from feathers and mottling to hard edges and slip trailing—depending on the desired effect.


In conclusion, ceramic glazes are a special type of glass coating, made of a paste-like combination of raw ingredients, that are fired on porcelain or clay objects. Different types of glazes can create different effects that range from prismatic to glossy to matte. Glazing can also be used to protect the surface of the piece and make it more durable.

Ceramic glazing is an integral component in the creation of pottery, ceramics and sculpture pieces, as it gives each piece its unique character and visual appeal.


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