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Published Apr 10, 2024

From screenprinting to decals, there are many ways to transfer imagery onto pottery. There's a nifty commercial product out now, which acts kind of like a rice paper decal, only you can customize the image. Graffito Paper, as it's called, is kind of like the clay world's equivalent to carbon paper.

Basically, you lay the Graffito Paper onto your piece and trace any design you want over it. Et Voila! It is on your pot.Our own Jessica Knapp tested out this cool new tool in our "Ceramic Test Kitchen." In this post, she shares her results for underglaze transfer paper.  - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

If you’ve ever wanted to transfer designs or trace patterns onto a surface, help is here. Graffito Paper, which is made by Minnesota Clay Company, is the clay world equivalent of carbon paper, and can be used to transfer patterns, photocopies, or drawings to bisque ware using underglaze as ink. It’s essentially a 9-inch square paper substrate embedded with one of six underglaze colors: black, green, blue, teal, brown, and rose. All of the colors except rose have a firing range of cone 06–8. The rose color can only be fired to cone 06 as it burns out at higher temperatures.

Underglaze Transfer Paper

The underglaze mixture applied to the sheets also contains wax, which helps bind it to the paper and to bisqueware. The sheets are flexible, and can be used on curved surfaces as well as flat tiles or plates. Like applying any other paper pattern to a clay vessel, there are limits to the flexibility and coverage over a round surface, so, depending on your form, it may be necessary to trim or dart the Graffito Paper or apply the pattern in sections. Experiment with cutting plain paper to fit your forms first before trimming your image and the Graffito Paper to size.

Once you have a pattern selected, cut it to size, and make registration marks on it that extend to the edge of the paper. Attach the Graffito Paper to the back of your pattern or image using painters tape, which adheres well and is also is easier to remove without leaving residue or damaging your paper pattern (figure 1). Either side of the Graffito Paper transfers the underglaze, but most of the tests shown were done with the darker side laid against the piece as it seemed more saturated with the color.

Next, lay the pattern over the bisqued piece and secure it with tape. Once the image is in place, extend the registration marks from the paper to the piece (see figure 2). Using a slightly dull pencil, ball point pen or the larger ball end of a sgraffito tool, trace over your pattern, pressing firmly (figure 2). I tested used a sgraffito tool (shown in figure 2), a pencil, and a ball point pen. Using the pencil or pen gives you the benefit of knowing where you left off with a line, while a sgraffito tool keeps the original image legible for longer, allowing for more tracings from the same print out. Be careful to keep the sgraffito tool in constant contact with the piece while you work, so as not to miss an area.

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It’s important to finish tracing the drawing before removing the paper. If you need to peek at your progress, lift only one edge of the papers up and peel it away slowly so that the drawing transfers properly to the piece (figure 3). Lay the paper back down carefully, smoothing any creases. Make sure that the registration lines on the paper match those on the surface again before you continue to trace your pattern.

When transferred, the image may need some clean up where extra underglaze has pulled away from the transfer paper. Use a sharp tool to remove any excess (figure 4). Once your design is finished, fire the bisqued piece to 500°F to burn off the wax and set the transferred image or design. If you can’t do this type of firing, the piece can also be fired to bisque temperatures again to set the underglaze pattern. Figure 5 shows the transferred image after a bisque- set firing on the left, and after a glaze firing on the right. Note: If you glaze the piece without first firing the piece to set the underglaze, the image area will resist the glaze.

When glazing, any application method that you normally use with underglazes will work with the Graffito Paper transfer. Just be sure to use either a clear or transparent glaze, otherwise your image will be obscured by the glaze once the piece is fired. Depending on how firmly you press down when tracing over your image, the finished result can be solid and clean, or can retain the feeling of old mimeograph illustrations or text from carbon copy forms. The detail shown here is a blue transfer under a clear satin glaze (figure 6). A glossy glaze would give a sharper image.

Thank you to Minnesota Clay Company for providing samples of their Graffito Paper for testing.

**First published in 2014