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How To Paint A Commercial Tile And Refire For Durability

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I am new to this forum and the art. I hope that I am addressing my question to the correct forum.


My wife currently paints flowers, birds, etc. on furniture and other things. I have to say that I believe she is quite good. She would like to extend her talents to painting existing commecial tiles. While this can be done in various ways, these approaches are not durable. We would like to be able to paint the tiles with a glaze where the tile can be refired (with or without a clear glaze topcoat) and the glaze does not change color. We have heard of "underglaze" and "majolica". Would this sort of glaze work?


I truly do not know what I am talking about, and plead pure ingnorance.

Thanks for your time,


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You might be better with china paint, rather than under or over glaze. It's fired on to a very low temperature (relative to ceramics), and it's colour response is similar to watercolours in that you build up layers and the only white you use is the paper (or tile) behind the paint. Same stuff fine china is painted with. Under and overglaze techniques can be tricky on a commercial tile, because what you lay down won't look the same after it's fired, and it takes a fair bit of practice and testing.

I know where to find it in Canada, but maybe someone else here can chime in with a source south of the 49th?

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The approach you take will depend on where you fire the tiles. I am assuming you do not have a kiln and will need to find a pottery studio that will fire the tiles for you. If that is the case, you will be tied to their firing schedules/temperatures unless your wife produces a whole kiln full of tiles to be fired at one time. Most studios bisque fire (the first firing to make the clay somewhat hard and ready for glazing) at about 1888F or cone 05 (some go higher to cone 04) and glaze fire to about 2232F or cone 6.


If you are using tiles purchased from a clay supplier, they come bisque fired and your wife can either put a majolica base glaze on them and then decorate with colors (Amaco used to make a separate line of majolica colors; Duncan may still do so). Or, your wife can decorate the bisque tile with underglazes and then apply a coat of clear glaze on top. Then you get to tote them to the clay studio for firing. The hotter the firing temperature, the more you will finds some colors tend to fade. At the lower temperatures, the colors appear more vibrant. Some people prefer to rebisque after putting on the underglazes and then apply the clear glaze and fire again; others just put the clear glaze over the underglaze and fire once.


Another option, mentioned above, is china paints. China paints are formulated to be brushed on top of already glazed tiles -- like the ones you can buy at Home Depot, Lowes, etc. -- much like water colors. These are fired much lower than bisque ware -- somewhere around cone 016 to 012. If you take this approach, you'll need to either have your own kiln or find a studio that will fire at that temperature and provide them with a full kiln load of tiles.


But, where and what temperature you fire to will dictate, to a large degree, which path you and your wife follow.

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China paints are also called over glazes.

If your wife is a painter she will love China paint. It is great for realistic painting and can mimic, toll painting, oil painting, acrylic painting, pen and ink, or water color. The colors can be opaque, but are usually on the translucent side.


China paint is a powdered pigment you must mix with a medium. You typically mix what you will use. What you see in color is usually really close to what you get when its fired.


The classic mediums are various oils these can yield a paint like oil paints... if she likes oil paint.

You can experiment and try other unconventional stuff, I have use shellac, lacquer, and clear acrylic for something similar to acrylic paints.

KY liquid or straight glycerin mixed in is much more like a true water color paint, If that is what she likes.


The best way to get into this is buy a used big set of china paints off of ebay to get started. You want all of the main colors to start with. You can mix china paint, but you usually do not mix more that two colors at a time or you may end up with a yuck color. The more colors you get, the better.

New bottles of individual colors are expensive, but not bad if you have to buy a single replacement color.


The negative side of china paint is that many of the old colors and the new colors are fluxed with lead. Some of the newer china paints are made with safe borates instead of lead. What this means is you probably will not want to eat off of the china painted surface, Don't sniff the powder like cocaine and wash your hands, but it will be fine for wall tile. The flux is what makes it stick to the glazed surface of the tile at a low temperature.

You'll need a kiln, china paints are fired at the lowest of the kiln temperatures. It would be best to have your own kiln because you fire multiple times at progressively lower temperatures to build up color. If your going to go with china paints your kiln will be used often and it will be at an uncommonly low temperature. Temperatures that are not commonly used by pottery studios.


The great thing about China paint is that you can buy plain glazed tile, paint right on it, then fire it and your done. You might have a little experimentation with picking a good tile to use and a little experimentation with the medium, but an artist/ painter will pick up on this quickly.


Under glazes fire at higher temperatures and are great for basic solid colors. You can mix them but they are really nothing like a paint. Their more like colored clay. They would be used on unfired or bisque fired clay and often have a clear glaze fired over them. The up side is that most of the modern under glazes are food safe with a clear glaze over them. Most of your pottery studios will fire at these temperatures. The negative is that you are very limited. The colors can be a little translucent, but are pretty opaque for the most part.

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I think an easy answer for you/your partner is to invest in mayco's Stroke n' Coats. They are sold in small sets so you can try them out. The advantages:


1. The colors are unbelieveably firm all the way to cone 10 with reds and brights staying true to color. Amazing chemistry there.

2. They are easy to paint with, as they glide onto surfaces, and don't get as tacky as other commercial glazes on application.

3. They can easily be used on already vitrified tiles, meaning you can go and get a box of tiles intended for a bathroom or such and paint right on them, refire and poof=results. My local grocery co-op had consumers paint-yer-own tile and then installed the finished pieces on a wall. Who knew.

4. You partner will not need to learn about china paints and all of the techniques therein.


The disadvantages.

1. Highly addicting, and hard to feel as though you aren't cheating the alchemy goddesses somehow.

2. They will not give you quite the finesse that china painting will give, because (I think) you can't overlayer/refire and to get the depth and complexity possible in china painting. However, not as basic/flat appearing as underglazes, and does not require an overdip of a clear overglaze.

3. Might not be a disadvantage, but I believe they apply fairly opaquely, so you don't get translucency. The also fire to a high gloss.


I personally use neither china paints nor Stroke n' Coats. The first because my painting technique isn't up to snuff, and the second because I am trying very hard to clear out some of my glaze inventory before I launch into a whole new world of these glazes. My studio colleagues use SnC's to magnificent effect.


My other suggestion, if you are working on bisque tiles and are looking for a watercolor effect, is to check out Georgies Clay. Their pallet of glazes makes Monet watercolors happen on pots, and are very reliable colorwise. Not as creamy to paint on as SnC's, but worth the effort if you want translucent results.


Love to see some of her work if you get something she likes.

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our students do this all the time with both commercial tile and dinnerware from thrift stores.  simply use low-fire commercial glazes and underglazes.  decals also work.

definitely make sure you test fire the object at the temp you plan on firing to BEFORE you do your entire kiln full of them - sometimes we'll come across a random tile or plate that looks all good, only to find a puddle where it sat in the kiln.  also, not all colors work with this technique - for example greens with chrome sometimes don't fuse well or flux out with the existing glaze

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Recently I have been using two types of inexpensive commercial tiles to investigate tissue transfer printing.  Both come from a home improvement store (Lowes).  The first type of tiles are small hexagons around 3/4 inch between flat sides.  These come hot-melt glued to a backer mesh with mostly white and some black tiles.  A sheet with dozens of tiles sells for around $5.  I peel white ones off the backer and use them, and ignore the black ones.  The second type are white glazed wall tiles: a 4x4 inch tile sells for a princely $0.16 .


I fire these at 1900 F after the transfer designs are applied.  Sometimes after firing the transfer, I apply a clear glaze and fire again at 1900 F.  The clear glaze is from Gare, but I am not certain exactly which product it is: sort of turquoise in color (presumably from an organic dye that disappears during firing).  (I buy this in small quantities from a local glass/ceramic decoration crafts shop, and have neglected to write down exactly what it is.)  If I apply this glaze to a tile after it cools from the decoration firing (without touching the surface, apart from using a paper towel to wipe off any schmutz), it seems to lay on without too much trouble.


The 4x4 tiles refire without any perceptible change to the original glaze.  The hexagons go matte to slightly orange-peel.  Both tiles overglaze with nice glossy results, if I am careful.  Overglaze on the 4x4 tiles can craze a bit depending upon how abusive I am with thermal cycling.  Removing an 1100 F tile from the kiln and setting it into a room temperature steel tray on a concrete floor to cool quickly, is probably not what you want to do if you want the nicest results.  Also, I will put a cold tile into my little Paragon test kiln at anywhere between room temperature and 800 F from a previous firing, set the firing program for full-rate to 1900 F, soak for 25 minutes, and shut off.


The 1900 F firing temperature is chosen to be not too expensive or slow to fire, and to be compatible with the overall process that I am trying to model.  The principal component of the ink is 3134 frit, which works well at that temperature.

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  • 11 months later...

If your wife opts for china painting she does not have to stop at tiles.  I have a friend who bought assorted white plates and bowls, took photographs of local beach scenes - pier, lifeguard station, passing bicycle riders and used these images to decorate the recycled ware.  They sold very well at a gift shop located on the pier - as art by local artist.  He quite enjoyed the project. 

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  • 1 year later...

I've come across this thread and thank goodness that I did! I've been researching for weeks on how to paint over a commercial tile and re-fire them. We are planning to invest on a kiln as well.


The process we are planning is for a small artisan line of floor and wall tile. Basically:


Screen printing (or hand painting) on top of the matte-finished tile & re-fire in a kiln to fuse the inks. My utmost concern is if the tile and design printed will be durable enough for floor use. This is the first time I'm hearing about using China paint for plates. Do you think it would last? 


We were studying UV printing at first, but several suppliers told me if used for floor would only last for 2 years. Can you imagine re-tiling your house after 2 years? Our last option would be painting on a bisque with an underglaze and then overglazing it but we have zero experience with this. I've also seen a digital printer printing ceramic ink with a heat setter on top of it, however the manufacturer told me that it is experimental at this point and the inks are in testing phase and are somewhat unreliable. 


Thank you in advance for all of your input!

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You might be better with china paint, rather than under or over glaze. It's fired on to a very low temperature (relative to ceramics), and it's colour response is similar to watercolours in that you build up layers and the only white you use is the paper (or tile) behind the paint. Same stuff fine china is painted with. Under and overglaze techniques can be tricky on a commercial tile, because what you lay down won't look the same after it's fired, and it takes a fair bit of practice and testing.

I know where to find it in Canada, but maybe someone else here can chime in with a source south of the 49th?

I have used the Amaco ODC overglaze decorating colors directly onto commercial glaze tiles. I used them first for test tiles for all the colors and then the ones using 3110 or gerstley borate with stains. I fired to 04. These fused well and the colors were good.

No problem applying to the glaze fired tile. I lated used them for a kitchen mural for a commission. 


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  • 2 years later...

I have painted murals on commercial white glazed tile and usually outline my drawing with Duncan cover coat underglaze and then fill in with Duncan glazes. I fire to cone 06. They are very durable and the glazes bond perfectly.

i use good quality Dal tile. I prefer this to bisque because I can remove any mistakes I make easily with a wet Qtip or scratch off dried paint with a toothpick.

Hope this helps.

Kathleen G

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On 8/6/2017 at 7:27 AM, neilestrick said:

The white low fire tile that have been discussed here will not hold up for floor use. You'll need to use a harder tile than that- one that is made for floor use. As for whether or not china paints/overglazes will hold up for floor use, I'll have to let someone else chime in on that.

Neil’s comment is pertinent in that the wear layer of a China painted tile will be thin for high traffic floor use. His low fire glaze idea though could give you a fairly sturdy result.

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  • 3 months later...

Do a search in these forums. The decal stuff has been discussed in many different posts

Some folk make own .

Others buy 

Others get their design transcribes by commercial people.

I'm guessing your school has a kiln?

It may also have the type of printer required.

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