Surface design techniques are endless, but often favor application on flat planes or greenware. Here’s a process suitable for bisque-fired pots that yields graphic imagery.  

Combining ceramics and printmaking can be a wonderful way to add depth and interest to the ceramic surface, but there are challenges to printing on fully formed vessels. While investigating ways to transfer images to clay, I found that I could silk screen onto a Gelli printing plate, and then transfer the print directly onto bisqueware. A Gelli printing plate is a soft, translucent, flexible material, normally used to transfer paint to paper, but can be used to transfer underglaze to ceramic surfaces. Since the plates are flexible, they can print a crisp, detailed image along the curvature of a pot. The translucency of the plate is perfect for positioning the underglaze print accurately, and since underglaze dries quickly, there is no wait time after transferring the print, allowing for limitless possibilities for layering of images and colors.

Preparing to Print

Gelli printing plates are readily available at local craft stores, or online. They come in a variety of sizes, so find the size that works best for you and your work. I tend to use smaller 4-inch circles to print on small items, 5-inch squares for singular or vignetted images, and an 8×10-inch rectangle for larger, continuous designs (see 1). Creating a screen with artwork is its own process. There are many screen-printing kits you can buy through a variety of online and physical stores (see the Resources list at the end of this article). Screens are pretty simple to expose, easy to store, and fairly inexpensive. 

1 Materials for printing from left to right: 8×10 in. Gelli plate, yellow squeegee, Amaco Velvet Velour Black underglaze, silkscreen with hand-drawn berry illustration.

Since traditional printmaking ink won’t stand up to the kiln’s temperatures, a ceramic pigment must be used. Commercial underglazes come in a variety of colors and work well with the screens. Underglazes will need to be thickened before using them with this process. This can be achieved by simply leaving the jar lid open for a few days, and stirring occasionally, until a sour cream–like consistency is reached. I find that different brands of underglaze, and even different colors within the same brand, need to be slightly different consistencies in order to print properly, so some experimentation is needed. 


To give a little extra cushion before printing, place the Gelli printing plate onto a sheet of thin craft foam. Lay a screen face up on the printing plate, keeping in mind that your image will be transferred in reverse (make sure to consider this when designing your image, especially if you are incorporating text). Apply a small amount of thickened underglaze to a squeegee or flat rubber rib (2), then, holding the screen with one hand, drag the squeegee across the screen at a 45° angle, making sure to evenly distribute the underglaze over your image (3). Lift the squeegee and drag it across the image again, angling the squeegee up a bit more to collect the excess underglaze. You may need to repeat these steps to completely cover the image with an even layer of underglaze. 

2 Place the silkscreen onto the Gelli plate and apply the thickened underglaze.3 Use the squeegee to spread the underglaze over the image, making sure to apply the color evenly.

Lift the screen from the Gelli printing plate (4). Working quickly so the underglaze doesn’t dry out, gently roll your pottery over the image on the printing plate (5). The dry ceramic surface will absorb the underglaze, immediately transferring the print from the printing plate to your clay (6). To print on a flat surface or interior, pick the printing plate up and gently press it onto the surface of your piece. Once you have completed a print, clean up the Gelli printing plate with a damp sponge, dry it off, and repeat the process. The screen can also be cleaned with a damp sponge; however, there is no need to clean it between prints unless the underglaze starts to dry and clog the screen. 

4 Gently peel away the silkscreen to reveal the image remaining on the Gelli plate. 5 Using gentle pressure, roll the pot over the print.


Many Gelli printing plates come with a thin film on them, which can repel water, making it difficult for the underglaze to stick to a new plate. To counteract this, add a light dusting of cornstarch before printing to break in the plate. If your underglaze continues to bead up, you may need to adjust the consistency of the underglaze.

Finding the right underglaze consistency is important. If your image isn’t showing through, and you have made your screen correctly, then the underglaze ink is likely too thick. Add small amounts of water incrementally until you get a good print. If the image is beading up on the plate, the underglaze is too thin and will need to thicken more. 

Although it can take some trial and error to find a comfort zone with this process, the ability to merge ceramic forms with imagery opens up endless possibilities.

6 The image transfers from the Gelli plate to the pot and is ready for further decoration.


Gelli Printing Plates


the author Shawna Pincus is a ceramic artist living in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, daughter, and their very fluffy cat. She grew up near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. She currently works full time in her studio in addition to teaching pottery classes at Baltimore Clayworks as well as through various online workshops. You can find more information on her process and artwork at or @pinkkisspottery on Instagram.