Painting Ceramics With Acrylic Paint – Step-by-Step Guide

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Ceramics is an ancient industry that dates back to the time before history began. The oldest existing ceramic piece is the so-called Venus of Dolní Věstonice, a small statue of a female that was found in a small prehistoric settlement in the Czech Republic, and dates back to 28,000 BCE. These days, ceramics is not just a thriving industry, but a popular hobby as well. In this article, we are going to explore ceramics, discuss painting ceramics with acrylic paint, and the best type of ceramics to paint.



What Type of Ceramic can be Painted?

The term ceramic has come to mean pottery in all its forms, be it glazed or unglazed, painted or plain. There are three main types of ceramic that we will look at, and then we will establish which is the best type to paint.

Pottery in its raw, true form is also known as greenware. That means clay that has been air-dried but not been put into a kiln and fired. Greenware is extremely fragile and has a short lifespan, and is not recommended for painting or artwork. Furthermore, painting pottery that has not been kiln-fired would be difficult because even if you were to source paint for pottery, you would find that it would not adhere to the surface of the clay.

Paint for Pottery

Another type of ceramic is glazed ceramic which has been air-dried and fired once in a kiln and had ceramic glazes applied to it afterward. When the glaze has been applied, the ceramic piece is put back into the kiln at a higher temperature. Although this type of ceramic is waterproof and dishwasher safe, unfortunately, you cannot paint it because the paint does not stick to the glaze.

The best ceramic to paint is known as “bisque”. It is greenware that has been air-dried and fired in a kiln, but not glazed. Having been kiln-fired, bisque ceramics are solid and strong, and being porous, they are ideal for painting with acrylics. Paint is absorbed by the clay which means that you may have to add extra layers to achieve the color you want, but you can rest assured that the paint will not fade or chip or crack once dried.

There are three types of bisque pottery: earthenware, which is terracotta-colored, stoneware which is a gray color, and porcelain bisque which is pure white. All three kinds of bisque can be successfully painted with acrylics.



How to Paint Ceramics

Once your unpainted ceramics have been fired in the kiln and cooled down completely, there are a few preparations that we recommend you make before you start painting it. These are quick and easy to do and will save you time and make your painting job a lot easier.Painting Ceramics


Preparations for Painting Ceramics

There are a few things that you will need to prepare for and be aware of before you begin using acrylic paint on ceramic items. Here is a brief list of some of the most important things to consider before you start painting pottery.

  • As we have mentioned, unpainted ceramic is extremely porous and almost sucks in the paint as you apply it. This is fine if you do not mind using a great deal of paint to get the color and finish you want, but we would recommend that you use spray acrylic to prime the surface of the ceramic. Acrylic paint on ceramic works best if the piece has been primed beforehand because, although it remains porous to an extent, the acrylic paint will adhere to the surface without being absorbed completely.
  • When you are ready to start painting, you should not put too much water and paint on your brush at one time. First, tap your brush over your water cup or a piece of paper towel to get rid of the excess, and when you see that no more water is coming off the brush you will then be able to dip it into the acrylic paint. If you do not follow this process, you will find that the pottery absorbs the water and leaves the paint blotchy and dripping.

Painting Pottery

  • Painting pottery with acrylic paint is the same process as painting on canvas or any other medium. Acrylic paint dries very quickly, usually between five and ten minutes of applying it (and presuming you have not laid down a very thick layer of paint). You can paint as many layers of paint as you like, providing that you allow each layer to dry between applications.
  • A number of pottery painters like to paint human figures on their pots. The trick is to learn how to capture skin tones correctly – unless of course, your figures are going to be painted in a solid, single color. The beauty of acrylics is that you can mix them to form other colors, thus it should be fairly simple for you to create skin colors. Use pictures from magazines and newspapers for reference. The more proficient you become at mixing colors, the more beautiful your finished ceramic piece will be.


A Tutorial on Painting Ceramics With Acrylic Paint

Having prepared your unpainted ceramics, you will now be ready to paint them. It is good practice to have your paints, brushes, and water set out before you start painting as you will find that this helps to make the painting process go smoothly.

Remember that acrylic paint dries quickly so you will have to work fast, and you do not want to waste time looking for the right color paint or searching for the water cup between layers!


Step 1

Make sure that your pottery is clean and dust-free before painting it. Wipe it down with a damp cloth first to get rid of any dust or small particles of pottery and other debris. You do not want it to get caught up in your paintbrush because when you start painting, those little bits will spoil the effect.

Acrylic Painting Ceramics


Step 2

Decide beforehand which colors you are going to use, then squeeze out as much as you think you will need onto a palette or even a china dinner plate. It is not a good idea to squeeze paint onto your brush directly from the tube because you will probably squeeze out more than you need.

Also, the tubes should be kept closed so that air does not get inside them and start drying out the paint.


Step 3

Besides your brush, you can also use sponges to add texture to your painting. Also, you do not need to stick to one brush only, you can use thinner or thicker ones, depending on the picture you are painting and the look you want to achieve. Thicker brushes would be best for laying down a lot of paint, while thinner brushes would be used for finer detailed work.

Acrylic Paint on Ceramic


Step 4

If you are going to use your ceramic piece in the kitchen or dining room, in other words, you will be eating or drinking out of it, you should leave a space of about an inch from the lip free of paint.

If the piece is purely decorative, you can paint the piece all the way to the top.


Step 5

When you have finished painting your ceramic, you can seal the paint with a spray acrylic sealant. It is also a good idea to do this if you want a shiny finish rather than a matte finish. Acrylic paint will not withstand the heat of a kiln, so the only way to get that shiny finish is with the sealant.

Acrylic Painting Pottery



Find a suitable Acrylic Paint for Pottery

The best paint you can use for painting pottery and ceramics is acrylic paint. Being an oil-based paint it is extremely versatile and can be used to paint just about anything you put your mind to. Some dry to a matte finish, some to a gloss finish, and others to a satin finish. They are extremely hard-wearing and will not flake or chip or discolor. In addition to these desirable characteristics, there are a few others you need to look out for as well.

Painting Ceramics Acrylic



When you are planning on painting ceramics with acrylic paint, look for paints that are available in a range of colors. You can use each color as it comes out of the tube, or you can also mix colors to create new ones.

You might find a color that is unique to you and which becomes your own special “signature” color when it comes to special paint for pottery.


Curing Time

Curing or drying time is very important. Acrylic paint on ceramic needs to be left to dry for a while, ideally no longer than 48 hours. Alternatively, look for paint that can be cured in a kiln. Paint that takes longer than 48 hours to dry is not ideal, especially if you want to paint multiple layers onto your ceramic piece.

Acrylic Paint for Pottery



A paint that is lightfast will not fade over time, or turn yellow with age, or become translucent. This is exactly the type of paint you need for your ceramics because you do not want to have to repaint them or touch up the paint every now and then.

You want to be able to enjoy the beauty of your ceramic pieces for a long time, so this is an important consideration.


Dishwasher Safety

If you plan on using your ceramics for eating and drinking, you need to ensure that the paint you choose is dishwasher safe once it has been cured. Make sure that the paint is safe for food as well, otherwise, your beautifully painted ceramics will have to be only for show.

Unpainted Ceramics


We trust we have fired your enthusiasm for painting ceramics with acrylic paint, and that you are already picked out that special unpainted ceramic piece. Painting pottery is fun and rewarding, and providing you use non-toxic paints like Craft 4 All, why not get the kids involved as well? No matter how imperfect their painting might be, it is often the most imperfect piece that becomes the most treasured.



Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Best Kind of Ceramic to Paint?

The best kind of ceramic to paint is called “bisque” ceramic. This particular ceramic means clay that has been air-dried and then put into a kiln and fired. For this reason, bisque ceramics are extremely strong and will maintain their structure even if the piece is used daily, as opposed to being an ornamental piece.


What Is the Best Paint for Pottery?

The only paint you can use on pottery is acrylic paint. Acrylic is an extremely versatile medium that is suitable for almost any type of surface you can think of. It is particularly suited to pottery because it adheres so well to the clay, although it is preferable to first seal the clay with clear acrylic spray paint. Like oil paints, when you are painting acrylic paint on ceramic, you can paint in thick layers to add visual interest and texture to the piece.


What Is the Difference Between Pottery and Ceramic?

The true definition of ceramics is items made from clay that undergo a change when they are heated, or fired, in a kiln. Pottery is just another word for ceramics, although it refers specifically to containers that you would use in the kitchen or dining room, such as mugs, bowls, and plates.