Everything About Ceramic Decals
              Business Ideas
                    "You mean You can make Money at This?"

My area of expertise is not only in the technical and artistic aspects of Fired Decals. I also am very knowledgeable about the various business venues that use them. I felt it would be good to include a few insights into the ways decals are used by those who like to make a profit (me included).

“In the Beginning…” there were ceramic shops and the U.S. lamp industry. You would not believe the volume of decals that was consumed by these two market segments in the 70’s. This is not to say Fired Decals weren’t being used everywhere and for everything all over the world. They were. But the 1970’s were the glory days of modern decal history. MILLIONS of Dollars worth of decals were run through just these 2 markets. While Collector Plates, Lacquered Furniture, Dinnerware, and Gift and Incentiveware also kept the presses busy.

Things have changed. None of these markets are volume users anymore. The trend of designing locally and producing in China has almost universally swept the heavy hitters of the last decade into oblivion or forced them to “join the club” to survive. Fragmentation is a good word for it. Globalization, the internet, and direct marketing / direct shipping has spun the supply and demand world into a frenzy.

Meanwhile, the users of Fired Decals have settled into different camps, each with differing needs and usages. I would like arrange them as follows:

                                         Teaching Studios
                                                    Contemporary Studios
                                                                Craft Market
                                                                            Giftware Producers
                                                                                                 Volume Sellers / Manufacturers
                                                                                                            Schools and Institutional

                 Teaching Studio

- These are the Ceramic Shops of the prior generation. They have a good working knowledge of both different decorating techniques and technical principles. There are less than 2% the shops still around than were originally in the 70’s. They are fun to be around. They like to try new things. And the ones remaining in business are in business because they love what they do, altho they would love it even more if it were as profitable as it used to be.

- Because they have such a broad knowledge of all things ceramic, many of them have expanded to other businesses, especially Giftware (which shall be expanded upon under that heading below). They are also involved heavily with supplying the demand for bisqueware to both retail consumers and businesses.

- My advice is always the same. “If it pays the bills and you love what you’re doing, you have one up on the rest of the world.” They have always an easy audience for me to sell to because of their ability to “see” new decorating ideas being extended to a variety of pieces. And I’m the worst one to be around because I’m the same way. Show me a new decal and my mind starts immediately humming as the were and how I can use it.

- Now if you are one of these, the truth be known, you’ve got the world by the tail because you can if you can find a market for it, you create a product for it. I’ll give you an example:

One day you walk into a realtor’s office and ask to speak to the head realtor. You introduce yourself and your business, then hand Mr. or Ms. Realtor a beautiful decorated vase, and say, “This is a free gift. No strings attached. Have a glorious day!”, and begin to walk out the door. After a few steps away, turn around and say, “You know, it might be a pretty cool idea that whenever you sell a house, you give the new buyer a house-warming gift. I can make those vases exclusively just for you. I can even put your name on the bottom in fired gold so they will remember you more easily. It would probably all cost about $25. Well, here’s my card if that idea appeals to you. See ya!”, and walk out the door. Now let’s review what’s just happened: You surprised a businessman/woman with a lovely (free) gift, you have deposited a neat and unique marketing idea into their head, and you have made personal, professional contact between your business and another. Oh, maybe half the time you’ll wind up losing a vase. But I guarantee, the other half of the time you’ll get a new long term client who thinks you are just the cat’s whiskers.

But I’m not done.

What about cookie jars for bakeries? What about planters for Nurseries. What about souvenirs for local museums? What about…

What about accepting this challenge? Pick up your Yellow Pages Directory, close your eyes, crack it open, and plop your finger at random on whatever page it happens to open to. Now, what can you sell to that business? Come on, you can do it. Auto Parts Store? Travel mugs or employee gift certificates! Lawyers? Client Giftware for if they win the case! Savings and Loan? Piggy Banks! You can do it! Go get those Yellow Pages!  (PS - They have no idea what a fired decal is, so if that vase or cookie jar or travel mug has a beautiful design on it, all the more mystified they will be at your ability to produce a professional looking product.)

- Back on the classroom front, you have to keep those ideas flowing. New samples on a regular basis, guest teachers several times a year, sales and promotions (but not on a regular basis. Irregular spacing of these is much more effective). And PLAY with those decals! Decals have ever been a good entré point for beginners, children, and the elderly, and for the experienced student, a good way to rediscover a new way to decorate an existing piece.

- Did you know that ordering directly from a manufacturer isn’t always the cheapest way to get your decals? If you are a business, there are 100’s Distributors worldwide who would love to add your order to their order and allow you to get your decals at reduced freight or sometimes even freight free!! Go work a deal. After all, they do it with molds all the time.


           Giftware Manufacturer

- This is big, really big. The only market that compares to it is the Volume Users because of their, well… volume. They come in an unbelievable variety, not only of types of products produced, but in sizes of companies as well. From Mom and Pop Producers (aka. Cottage Industry Commercial Decorators) to Wal-Mart “Vendor Partners”. Interestingly, many of the Traditional Studios that went out of business in the 80’s, went into Giftware Manufacturing in the 90’s. This was the largest segment (over 50%) of the Ceramic Hobby Market for over 15 years, and, is the largest segment for businesses using fired decals today.

- Before I impart my words of wisdom for these producers, may I list some of the markets that these decal users are selling into:

 Home Improvement  DIY
- Tile
- Wall Murals
- Retro-Installation (with Organic Decals)
   - Tile (Bathroom or Kitchen)
   - Patio Doors
   - Window Panes and Frames
   - Kitchen Cabinets
   - Sanitary Ware (Toilets and Sinks)
   - Decoupage on Wood or Metal (e.g. Furniture)

 Home Décor  / Home Decorating
- Coordinating Kitchen Items
   - Tile
   - Ceramic Tile Table Tops
   - Ceramic Tile Cutting Boards
- Ceramic Tile Serving Trays and Hot Plates
- Canisters
   - Funnels
   - Cabinets
   - Flatware and Tabletop Accessories
   - Glassware
   - Mugs (glass or ceramic)

- Coordinating Bathroom Items
   - Tile
   - Soap Dishes
   - Soap
   - Toothbrush Holders
   - Soap Dispensers
   - Toilets
   - Sinks
   - Towel Holders
   - Mirrors

- Lamp Shades (glass)
- Lamp Bases (glass or ceramic)
- Fireplace Inserts
- Furniture
- Ceramic Tile Coffee Table Tops
- Ceramic Tile End Table Tops
- Picture Frames (Wood or Ceramic)
- Ceramic Décor (Vases, Plates, Figurines, etc.)

High End Giftware
- Collector Plates
- Jewelry
- Proprietary Techniques (eg. “Acid Ware”; “Inglaze”; others)
- Keepsakes
- Potpourri Holders
- Tea Sets

 General Giftware
- Retail / Direct
- Wholesale
   - General Wholesale
   - Exclusive Dealers
   - Exclusive Single Outlet
- Specialized Giftware
   - Incentiveware
   - Souvenirs
   - Custom Order
   - Advertising Specialties

 I personally sell the most decals to this group. My forte is small businesses, but I can advise, quote, and consult with most any size company.

Re: Production Techniques

Use the INSTAR squeegee. It is the best in the industry and can increase production by 10 to 40 percent. It comes in two sizes: regular and large. The large one is useful for plate decorating.

Arrange a way for your water to be always warm. Warm water makes a decal release more quickly and makes it more pliable. It also has a rejuvenating effect on older decals.

If you are having difficulty in mounting a decal on a curved surface, try warming your piece. [place it in an oven; set it on top of a kiln; run it under hot water; fill it with hot water; hit it with a hair dryer]

Re: Marketing Considerations

MARK YOUR WARE!! This is a biggie! You should always find a way to back-stamp your ware with… anything! Your logo; a decal with a caption underneath; “Crafted by _________”; “Made in __________”; “Made in the USA”… something… anything! This adds instant value to your piece, helps build brand recognition, and protects against imports and knock-offs.

Typical industry methods are rubber-stamping in underglaze (on bisque or greenware) or bright gold (on pre-fired glaze). Also custom decal back-stamps are very popular. If you just want a 2 or 3 color logo, go to one of the little silk-screen printers who advertise in the trade publications. If you want a half-tone, full-color back-stamp decal, definitely use INSTAR. For as little as $300 you can get a multi-color back-stamp that will give you a competitive edge

Consider custom sizes of existing patterns. Any Decal Manufacturer can easily resize and reshape an existing design to your specifications.

The advantage is two-fold: No Art Charges and Exclusivity.

Usually when a pattern done from scratch, it costs a lot of extra money in the development and proofing phase. But if you can use an existing pattern, the expense of the color separations and proofing has already been paid for. Re-sizing and rearranging a pattern is comparatively easy to do. Moreover, the resulting size is YOURS. It is as if you created your very own design. And by all means, create a back-stamp using the same design with a caption.

Best pricing is had in multiples of 1000. Consider a purchase order that may be fulfilled over the course of a year, so that you don’t have to pay for everything all at once.

Quantity is King! The more you can order of a single size, the more negotiating power you have over your prices. There are also discounts available based on annual consumption.


                   Crafts Market

- This is a largely untapped market for Fired Decals, however I would like to broach the subject a little.

- If the Crafters or Scrapbookers are using decals at all, it is the pressure sensitive or rub-on types. When the surfaces that they are embellishing absorb water, water-mount decals present staining and warping problems. That said, wood, metal, wax (candles)(and soap), and glass are also considered “craft” surfaces and therefore are amenable to fired decals being used for “cold mounting” and decoupage applications. The sad fact is that there are comparably few pressure sensitive and rub-on designs as there are fired designs (something like 10,000 open stock fired designs are available). Moreover, Furniture Decorating is on the way up, and with it, Boutique Apartments and Nuevo Bohemian Chic.

- Now, To Whom It May Concern: Water-mount decals do something that pressure sensitives and rub-ons can’t, namely, s-t-r-e-t-c-h onto curved surfaces. So, water absorbent surfaces aside, fired decals (used for Cold Mounting and Decoupage) should be the decal of first choice when it comes to the above mentioned wood, metal, wax, glass surfaces, which surfaces are often curved and convex. Hmmm?

- There is also the emergence of Organic Decals. Organic Decals are new to the market, but if the was ever a “crafts” decal, it is the Organic decal. Read the above description (under Contemporary Studios) to find out more.

     Volume Seller / Manufacturer

- It used to be that there were a fair amount of manufacturers of decorated ware in both the U.S. and Europe. After WWII, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong destabilized that a little bit. But since the 90’s, China has almost single handedly demolished it. Chinese labor is about 10% of that of Europe and the U.S. and their ability to produce quality ware (as well as inferior ware) has proved to be the undoing of many of the industries of the industrialized nations.  So that big “sucking sound” predicted by Ross Perot were NAFTA to pass, ended up going not to Mexico, but to China.

- “Expedited”. That’s the operative word here. Many companies are designing products locally, manufacturing them in China (and India), and disseminating them through their existing sales channels. It is the way of things in the Mass Market. I can’t change it. Nor can I sell to it. These people don’t want Open Stock decals. They only do Custom runs.

- I would like to also clear up a myth (propaganda, really). It is the phrase “cheap Chinese”. It is meant to carry on the legacy of the other “cheap” products of the post WWII era imports. The truth is the Chinese can do just as good as they want to. So could/can Japan. If you bump into an import of lesser quality, it is not because it is from a particular country, but because the seller knowingly bought it cheap. And even these Sellers are not to be condemned for flooding a market segment with cheap products. No, they have focused on that portion of the buying public that only wants the cheapest of the cheap. (There are, in fact, 4 mega segments in the retail world.) Eventho I bemoan the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs to the Pacific Rim countries, I must speak the truth when it comes to quality. And the truth is, If you want high quality, you can easily get high quality. If you want cheap quality, well, this has never been a problem at any time in the history of the world.

               Contemporary Studio

- In the Ceramic Hobby Industry, this is where it’s “happening”. It’s not the biggest market segment (about 5000 studios at last count), but it’s the most lucrative. “Art as Entertainment” is their mantra and it’s working. My favorite thing about them is their business savvy. These people are writing the book on promotion and marketing (which volume happened to be missing from the Traditional Studio bookshelf). It is positively inervating to attend their annual CCSA convention and be immersed in both technique seminars AND business seminars. This was never done at a regular (and now almost extinct) ceramic show.

Right now this industry is at a crossroads. There are just about as many studios going out of business as there are going into business. The question at hand is, “How to cultivate repeat business”, of which 40% of their customer base is. There are several venues being approached: glass fusing, modeling clay, and mosaics, to name a few.

- My suggestions for this industry is not where they are at right now. But perhaps I might put on the hat of a prophet and cry out, “Giftware, Gold and Decals, and Specialty Classes”, to those who are looking to expand their offerings without sacrificing studio space. I will review these below, and end with a decal emphasis (surprise, surprise).

 1)  Classes – By “classes” I mean special interest classes or special technique classes, NOT “class nite” as found in traditional studios. It can be as simple as setting out a sample piece and a sign-up sheet, or as involved as “class/event calendars” that are used as order inserts. Specialty Classes are an open door for all who are willing to schedule dates, take deposits, arrange for teachers, and (sometimes) be open longer.(Do not schedule on a slow night or an afternoon. Instead, be open longer on a Saturday or a weekday night.)

 2)  Giftware – Because of the upscale location of most contemporary studios, and because most locations have window displays and track lighting, and because many customers love to look at the beautiful finished pieces but often don’t have time to do it themselves, and because giftware also does double duty as samples to inspire customers who want to stay and paint, and because the contemporary studio customer base is willing and able to pay more for original works of art, and for a few more reasons besides (It gives paid staff something creative and fun to do during slow hours)… Giftware is an addition that one can ill afford to ignore.

 3)  Gold & decals – If a studio has a small kiln that catches the overflow of the daily firings, decals & gold are ready to be added to the decorating options for discerning customers. Set out a sample piece or two with a sign “This is a decal! Want to know more? Ask me!” or “Gold is always a welcome touch! Want some? Just ask!”  Marketing is finished. Money is made from the additional firings charges (e.g. $2 for small pieces, $4 for large ones) and from the sale of the gold (Only sell “good” gold, that is, the more expensive, higher content [10% - 12%] gold. You will have less firing problems and more satisfied customers.), decals, and brushes (note: brushes used for gold cannot be used for anything else).    
   Overglaze firings are easy and only take about 3 to 4 hours. Have a small assortment of pre-priced decals in a folder for them to select from - maybe 50 to 100 designs which should only be a $50 to $100 investment. If you don’t have any designs that appeal to them, show them your decal catalog. Tell them that you can special order a design for them, and that you send in your decals orders once a month. This helps consolidate shipping costs.. End of story.

 As always, distributors and manufacturers should be resourced for technical and logistical information for all 3 venues. (Or, call me, and I’ll brainstorm some merchandising ideas with you.)

 Said Another Way

To add decals to your offerings is rather easy: a few samples, an easel card or two, a small inventory, and a few policy rules.

• Samples make the world go ‘round. Always keep them coming. Always rotate them. This is just true for decals. A well placed sample on the check-out counter, an island display featuring the technique-of-the-month, the odd finished piece thrown among the bisqueware; all these are ways to catch attention and prompt questions.

• While we’re on the topic of prompting questions, and easel card or mini-sign that says, “I’m a decal! Want to find out more? Just ask!” will usually do the trick to start the conversation (and ideas) flowing.

 • Never carry a decal inventory of over $100 net cost (= $200 retail).

I recommend:

Carry a varied assortment of patterns and sizes that you believe will fit your clientele.

Carry extra’s of the ones that you have used to make display pieces. (Very important!)

Have a Decal Catalog close by.

It works like this:

When they ask to see what you have in decals, show them your inventory. It should fit in several manila folders. Have the decals pre-priced on the back at retail price for immediate sale. If they don’t see something that speaks to them, show them the catalog and say that you order once a month. [Again, this allows you to accumulate orders so as to defray shipping charges.] If they see something in the catalog that they would like to have, collect a deposit, and inform them of the anticipated arrival day of the order.

Sneaky Hint: You will likely be ordering a few extra’s for yourself to replenish your inventory, so… when they come in to pick up their order, show them the whole folder of newly arrived patterns. There is a good chance that they will see a few other decals that they will want. There’s something about “fresh meat” that tempts a person to buy more.

 • Policy Suggestions and Firing Practices

 Specialty Firings should be done once or twice a week. This allows you to accumulate more ware to be fired in one load. Just tell your customers that you fire your gold and decals one day a week. It being different from your normal firings, most people will understand.

 You can fire decals and gold together in the same load. Cone 017 or 018 should do the job. I like 017, but only if you are using that “good gold”.

 Small kilns are just as efficient as large ones as long as they are full. A small kiln is a good investment because it can also be used for over-flow glaze firings when all the ware won’t fit into the regular kiln and you don’t feel like firing a second, half full kiln.

 If you have a “Glass Kiln”, it may also be easily used for decal and gold firings (but NOT glaze firings).

 Firing Charges are best done with flat rates.
Either $____ per item for all specialty firings, or,
$____ for small pieces and $____ for large ones.
Ranges of $1.00 to $5.00 are common.

- Ordering directly from the manufacturer isn’t always the cheapest way to get your decals. There are 100’s Distributors worldwide who would love to add your order to their order and allow you to get your decals at reduced freight or sometimes even freight free!!

  ORGANIC Decals: The New Decorating Choice

Ceramic decals have been available for many years and are unique and valuable resource that can help expand creativity, promote experimentation, and lure the inexperienced.

In the past, however, open-stock fired-on decals have been limited to either glass or ceramic. Each type of decal uses a different color palette and thus a different firing temperature. Now there is a new option, one that gives business owners more flexibility and choice than ever before  ORGANIC Decals. A new low-temperature application process opens up new avenues of creativity for students and artists alike.

Just as with glass and ceramic decals, ORGANIC decals can be used on glass lampshades, giftware, jewelry, ceramic tile, kitchen utility ware, ceramic mugs and other collectibles. And thanks to the inherent advantage of low-temperature application, they’re also ideal for other items, such as candles, soap, wood, plastic, metal, vinyl, acrylics, or polished stone. Basically, any smooth, non-porous surface.

ORGANIC decals are applied the same way as other water-slide decals, however, after a drying time of 24 hours, the covercoat can be literally peeled off.

That’s a big deal.

But an even bigger deal is that, as an option, the decorated object can then be heat-cured at 300 to 320 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. The heat curing adds integrity to the design adherence and helps provide dishwasher resistance. (Low temperature decals, however, are not intended for repeated dishwasher exposure.)

 ORGANIC decals are totally lead-free thus eliminating FDA and Proposition 65 concerns, and making them an environmentally sound alternative for decorating glass, ceramics, and other materials. Another great benefit of low temperature decals is the wide range of colors available. By using proprietary colors, the process is able to print bright purples and pinks, which are very difficult, and in some cases impossible to reproduce using the conventional glass and ceramic color processes.

Other benefits include the ability to use one type of decal on a variety of products and surfaces.

Did I mention that this product is also the much sought-after answer for retro-decorating. Now you can decorate kitchens and bathrooms without removing and remounting existing tiles and plaster and wood. What could your customer do with that kind of decal?

- ORGANIC Decals are a new chance to jazz customers who want to decorate at home as well as at the studio. Moreover, these won’t be found at Home Depot. They are also known as “Kitchen Oven Decals”. The name “organic” refers to the fact that they would ordinarily burn up in a kiln (whereas inorganic colors are fire proof), and, because they are lead-free. (You can eat them.)( But don’t.)


Non-Fired decoration of any hard or firm smooth surface

May be left intact on decorated surface

May have cover-coat peeled off after drying period

May be fused at low temperatures (300°F)

Dishwasher Safe, but will scratch and fade over time



- Hi There! You don’t know me, but I know you!

- Potters hardly ever use decals. I think it is because they want their pieces to be COMPLETELY handmade and decals seem too… manufactured. Too bad for me because Potters are the most technically knowledgeable people out there, and the most experimental. They’re apt to try ANYTHING!

- Sufficed to say, I believe that there are no ugly decals. Just ugly decorating. If you are doing overglaze firings, you should experiment with ceramic decals a little bit as well. Check out the Gallery link for inspiration.


        Schools and Institutional

- This has ever been a stable market place, despite the declining education dollars for the Arts. But a funny thing happened. It has become the largest portion of the U.S. Hobby Market (over 40%). I don’t really know how it happened. It just did. And Fired Decals are only used here a small bit. Shucks.

- But, if this is your corner of the world, let me encourage you to always factor overglaze decorating (gold, decals, and lusters) into your curriculum. It is an important part of the Fired Arts and should not be neglected. Let me further encourage you to consider having me teach or lecture about these. If this website evidences anything, it is that I am smarter than your average bear about overglazes. Hmmm?

- Now as for age levels and art outlets and decals, may I recommend the following:

                                K thru 6

Soap and Candle Decorating

Decoupage on Wood, Metal, and Plastic

Organic Decals (see above) on Plates and Mugs and other

                               7 thru 12

Low Fire Ceramic (which is bisqued and glazed at Cone 04-06) with overglaze applications (which fire at Cone 017-018). I don’t recommend High Fire clays and glazes, namely, Stoneware and Porcelain, until College level courses. The Low Fire’s are easier to work with and come in more choices of glaze colors, and, they’re much less expensive than High Fire products, which is an important consideration if you only have just so much money in your budget for the Arts. Furthermore, “Paper Clay” is the Bomb (that’s a good thing). Altho it makes more smoke in your kiln, it drastically reduces explosions in sculptures (from air pockets) and deformations in large slabs. Rosette Gault rocks.

                          College Level

High Fire and Low Fire Ceramic with overglaze decorating. That’s where I come in (if invited).

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