Everything About Ceramic Decals
              Kinds of Decals

A Decal is any image that is meant to be  transferred to another surface. This is why they are often referred to as “transfers”. A simple definition, but WOW, how many kinds of decals there are !!

It’s probably easiest to divide all the decals there are into 2 categories: Fired and Non-Fired. I’m a fired expert, so I’ll have a lot to say about Fired Decals. However, for thoroughness, I will include many of the Non-Fired kinds as well.

                  Fired Decals

 Ceramic Decals – Far and away the most common type of fired-on decal is the overglaze, waterslide ceramic decal. 80% of all Fired Decals are Ceramic Decals. That is why this website is primarily devoted to Ceramic Decals. These decals are engineered to fuse and mature at Cone 016 to 018 on Hobby Ceramics and Terra Cotta (both of which are “softer” [less dense] pottery) and Cone 014 to 017 on Chinaware/Porcelain and Stoneware. I won’t belabor them here except to say that they can be printed with china paints or gold or luster or all of the above.

 Glass Decals – The second most common type of decal (about 10% of all Fired Decals). Glass Decals are engineered to fuse and mature at glass decorating temperatures (Cone 022). Alas, most of these are printed for special order. There are very few Glass Decals that are printed for Open Stock (random purchasing). See the Section on “Glass Decals” for more information.

 Mid-Range Decals – These decals are printed with colors that fuse well on both ceramics at Cone 017 and Glass at Cone 022. The lamp industry relies on these decals inasmuch as opal white glass lamp shades and ceramic lamp bases can be decorated using the same decal. They cannot be visually distinguished from Ceramic Decals. Only us insiders know… heh, heh, heh.

 Inglaze Decals – These decals are printed using underglaze colors and are meant to mature at glaze firing temperatures (Cone 6 to 06). The color palette typically favors earth tones (blue, brown, black, terra cotta reds, dark greens) because these colors tend not to fade at such high temperatures. Note: They must be applied onto glaze that has already been fired, or, glued onto bisque or greenware and then fired. There are no decals that can be applied onto unfired glaze and then fired. See FAQ for more information on specialty applications. Note: There has recently appeared an inkjet printer decal that uses special cartridges containing some inorganic pigments which are being sold to persons who wish to make their own Fired Decals. Because they are recommended to be fired at glaze temperatures, I am classifying them here among the Inglaze Decals. If I am not mistaken, the resultant decal is shades of black and gray. The same goes for the decals made on laser printers using special paper, only in this case the iron (read “inorganic”) part of the toner fires as described above.

 Outline Decals – These are basically patterns which are fired on so that a person can go back with China Paints and fill in the color. They are usually either black or sepia. They are a niche industry product.

 Enamel Decals – Also known as Opaque Decals. China Paints are mostly translucent. You can see what’s underneath them, be it a colored glaze or another decal. Enamel Decals, however, are printed with China Paint Enamels which are opaque and don’t allow bleed thru. And because they are opaque, they can be put on dark colored glazes. Very Cool. Not very many out there though... shucks. Note: Enamel Glass Decals can be used on clear glass !!!

 Metallic Decals – These include gold, silver, palladium, luster, and burnished/metal powder decals. (Can you say e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e?)(Actually, bright gold decals can be surprising reasonable as long as the coverage is less than 25% of the total design.) Engineered either specifically for glass or for ceramic. Note: These are always opaque by nature and so can be used just like the Enamel Decals on dark colored glazes. Yippee!

"Ice/Crystal" Decals - aka. Ice Effect Decals and Sugar Crystal Decals. These are an embellishment that is added over top of a regular decal and which is fired at the same time as the regular decal is being fired. The effect is that of ice, namely, heavily textured, smooth, and clear. Note: These decals do not have any color and so should therefore always be used in combination with a regular decal. Note: These must be fired FLAT. If you fire "Ice" on a vertical surface, it will slide off.

Non-Waterslide Decals – All of the above are “waterslide decals”, that is, you must soak them in water before you can apply them. There are 2 other kinds of Fired Decals that are made to be applied without using water. These are: Varnish MountDecals and Heat Release Decals.

 Varnish Mounts are extinct. See “The History of Decals” for more information. Heat Release Decals are very much alive but only for high production potteries like Lennox. They were invented in 1956 and are machine mounted. They are mounted while the ware is still hot, that is, it has not completely cooled down from the glaze firing (Sharp Fire Decals) or are applied to room-temperature ware via heated silicone pads (Heat Release Decals). Decorating rates are much increased by using machine-mounted decals. To compare: Hand decorating rates range from 40 to 300 decals per hour, depending on the size of the decal and the shape of the ware. (Actually, Efficiency Experts count the number of strikes with a squeegee per piece.) Machine Mounted rates start at 300 per hour and can be as high as 1200 per hour.

              Non-Fired Decals

 Non-Fired Decals may be classified by the way they adhere to the surface. Some stick on. Some are cured or slightly heated. Some are mechanically or chemically attached. Let’s see what’s other there.

 Pressure Sensitive Decals – This is the big Number One! These are the decals that have sticky backs. This includes everything from Bumper Stickers to Name Badges to Semi-Trailer ornamentation. There are more Pressure Sensitve Decals made than ALL other categories COMBINED (both fired and non-fired)! You can have them made at a sign shop, buy them through the mail, or print them on your desktop printer. They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

 Rub On Decals – An adhesive is mixed with the printing ink. When applied, they are reversed and put face down on the surface to be decorated. They are then rubbed on the backside with a spoon or burnishing tool. The transfer paper is then peeled away and… viola, there’s your design. In the old days, the only option you had was Letraset (alphabets and numbers). Today they have a small (but growing) range of craft designs available at most craft stores. Sometimes referred to as “stain decals”. Scrapbookers love them.

 Dye Sublimation Decals – Ever see these guys at the State Fair who want to put your picture on a mug or a cap? They’re using Dye-Sub Decals. The inks that are used to print these decals are cured under ultra-violet light or infra-red radiation. They are cool decals because the can be fused to a variety of surfaces including plastic and (100% synthetic)cloth. Alas, the poor suckers who bought their $5000 Dye-Sub package business must purchase those specially coated mugs and caps from their supplier… forever. And, alas again, these, like most Non-Fired Decals, will fade with time.

 Iron On Decals – Heat fusing inks. Tee shirts. Need I say more?

 Static Cling Decals – This is really a misnomer. When I say Static Cling Decals, most people think Car Window Decals. And that’s correct, but the mechanism that keeps the decal stuck to the window is not so much static as it is chemical affinity and air tightness. Witness: Get it dirty, it won’t stick. On the plus side, because the people who make them know that these decals will typically put in direct sunlight, they are made with UV/fade-resistant inks.

 Watermount Decals – A good example is a old fashioned model airplane decal. A non-fired Watermount Decal works just like a Watermount Ceramic Decal. The only difference is that Ceramic Decals are made with inorganic inks whereas Non-Fired Watermount Decals are made with organic inks (which is why you can’t fire a model airplane decal). Interestingly, Ceramic Decals don’t have to be fired. They can be used for all manner of non-fired decoration (like soap and candles and wood). See FAQ for more information. This is known in the industry as Cold Application.

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