How Are Designs Painted on Plates & Cups?

mugs- tea cups image by kastock from

New ceramic paints enable arts and crafts enthusiasts of all ages to easily decorate cups and dishes with long-lasting, dishwasher-safe designs--without using a ceramics kiln. Ceramic paints are applied to commercial glazed dishware and baked in a standard oven.

Specialised ceramic paints are food-safe and available at craft and ceramics supply stores and online. Do-it-yourselfers can create hand-painted ceramic cups, mugs and dishes as special, personalised gifts. Unique, colourful designs can add lots of flair to any table.

Selecting Ceramic Paints

For any project involving surfaces that will contact food, crafters need to make sure to purchase nontoxic ceramic paints by checking manufacturer labels carefully and selecting a food-safe brand of paint. Ceramic paints are water-soluble. You need to have a cup of water on hand to thin the paints, wash brushes and erase design mistakes as you paint.

There are a variety of colours of paint available, including the primary colours (red, yellow and blue) for mixing secondary colours such as green and orange. Ceramic paint pens are also available. Combining a fine pen outline in black around painted shapes creates impact and visual interest.

Selecting Dishes

Selecting just the right glazed commercial dishes to use as a base for your painted decorations is part of the design process. Generally, plain white dishes work best, but you may want to experiment with pastel-coloured dishware or painting around existing designs.

Inexpensive white dishes and cups are available in settings of 12 at department stores and outlet stores. Online speciality stores offer a wide selection of white ceramics specially designed for decorative painting. You should avoid surfaces with raised textures that will interfere with your paint and cause it to pool.

Creating a Design

You may want to paint freehand on your dishes for an expressive, free-flowing design. If you want more control, you can trace a pattern from a book of patterns or from wallpaper or card stock. Tracing with a black grease pencil allows for easy transfer to your dishes. You can trace the design, flip it over and then trace over the tracing so your design is not reversed. The next step is to place the design on dishes and use a hard pencil to trace over the grease pencil to transfer it to the ceramic surface.

Painting a Design

Crafters who want to paint on plates and cups need to decide whether they want to use outlines to fill in with ceramic paints and pens, or whether they will just paint freehand. Paint can be removed any time prior to baking with a damp cloth so you shouldn't be afraid to experiment and practice with different painting techniques and styles.

Ceramic painters must wash ceramic surfaces with water prior to painting, then wipe them with a rag dampened with rubbing alcohol to remove any oil-based reside from the painting surface. You should wear latex gloves to avoid transferring oil from your hands to the ceramics.

For painting natural-looking leaves and petals on ceramics, consider trying the one-stroke painting technique for dynamic colour combinations, which involves laying blobs (the size of a dime) of each paint colour out on a plastic painters palette, then swiping one side of a pointed tipped paintbrush in one colour, and the other side in another colour. You will slowly presses the tip of the paintbrush at the beginning point of the design and move the brush as you press and drag it to the end point of your design. The colours will blend gently and create a nice gradient effect. The finished design will need to dry thoroughly for at least an hour.

Baking Dishes

dutch painted cup and saucer image by Ramona smiers from

To set the paint on ceramics, they need to be heated in an oven. Painted ceramics always need to start out in a cold oven for gradual heating. You'll need to heat the oven to 177 degrees Celsius, or to the temperature recommended in the paint manufacturer instructions, and when the stove reaches the desired temperature, hold it there for half an hour or for the length of time recommended by the paint manufacturer.

The oven should cool thoroughly before you remove any painted ceramics. Opening the door before the dishes are completely cool may result in cracking. Once the oven is cool, you can remove the ceramics and wipe the designs gently with a cloth dampened with water and a little dish detergent. The dishes are now ready to be used.