Ceramics transfers tutorial
As promised, here’s a tutorial showing you how Jesse and I got our drawings onto ceramics last month, creating two dinner services for the Rooms on View show. You can take a look at my finished plates here and see Jesse’s here.

Now, let’s get cracking:

Step 1 – Get transfers made

Getting transfers made was much easier than I might have thought. Just find screenprinters who will print in vitrifying ink on transfer paper, give them your positive, choose colours, and then pick up your stack of transfers. Jesse and I used JT McMasters in Cape Town, who were brilliant.

If you’re very DIY, you can also screenprint your own transfers, as long as you can get hold of the right ink and paper.

Step 2 – cut out and sort

Using my sharp knife, I carefully cut the images from each transfer sheet, going fairly close to the edges of the images, but not so close that the image became spidery and unwieldy.

Then I grouped the cut images in old avocado punnets. I was working in three colours with loads of different images, so it was important to keep some order.

Step 3 – Place transfers

This was a fun bit, but also quite overwhelming, as there are so many different designs you can put together with all those cut transfers. I found that using the same image (or a slight variation) in three colours gave a fantastic range.

I just messed around, placing the cut outs on plates, and when I was happy with a layout, I photographed it using my mobile phone camera. This was a great way to keep a record of a layout, as everything must be removed from the plate for the next step.

Step 4 – Soak transfers

Put the transfers into some water, and keep tweezers handy to get them out again (I used my fingers and they got irritated after a while). It doesn’t take long for the transfer to loosen from the backing paper. In fact, it’s important that they don’t soak too long, or they’ll lose their backing glue.

Step 5 – Apply transfers

Slide the transfer from the backing paper onto the plate. This is very exciting, because it looks fantastic straight away. The transfer is still pretty slippery at this stage, so it’s easy to slide around and place. However, don’t do too much sliding around, as you’ll lose the backing glue.

Step 6 – Remove water
It is important to remove all the water from the plate and get rid of any air or water bubbles behind the transfers. I used my fingers to smooth out wrinkles, then used a sponge to get rid of water.

This is a bit of a tricky operation, and it’s very easy to shift the transfers at this stage. Pernickertiness is essential at this point.

Step 7 – Dry the transfers
Leave the transfers to dry for a day. It will be hard leaving all your studio full of beautiful plates, I warn you!
Step 8 – Firing

Now (and this is where Jesse and I almost came short), you need to find a friendly potter who will let you use their kiln. Tessa Blem Gawith in Muizenberg was kind enough to take us in when we had almost lost all hope! Here is her studio with her trusty assistant, David.

Plates get stacked inside a kiln, and are then fired to whatever temperature your transfers require. Ours required a temperature of 800 degrees Celcius.

Step 9 – Ta dah!

It’s magic! The plates come out of the kiln, cool down, and then they’re ready to eat off.

The next step?
I know there’s still lots to learn about ceramics transfers, and I’m looking forward to finding it out as I go along. Jesse and I are planning to do more for an exhibition at Curious, Whetstone & Frankley, opening in early July, so watch this space.
Posted in: IN THE STUDIO.Tagged: .


  1. love this im so coming to capetown to see you heather i want to get my hands dirty with design great work and thank you for the tutorial

  2. Pingback: Question: Printing on Ceramics??

  3. Thanks for info – I googled ‘how to’ and your article came up. I am in Kilkenny, Ireland (4yrs now) and originally from Durban! So was delighted to see your are in Cape Town and delighted to see lime green avo containers from Woollies! I still have the ones I brought over! Looking at transferring my drawings onto ceramics. Cheers Jen

    • So pleased my tutorial has been helpful, and how funny that you should recognise those Woollies containers! I still squirrel them away every time I buy avos – they’re so useful! Good luck with the ceramics, xx

  4. Will you be selling these transfers in your store? I’d like to decorate some plain Corelle plates and your designs are beautiful…

    • Hi there
      That’s a great idea! I’ll list some of my transfers in my store soon. Please bug me if you don’t see them soon.

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