It doesn´t matter if you paint pottery that you made yourself or pottery that you bought, painting pottery, in general, can be quite daunting and most guides out there will tell you that you need a kiln if you want to permanently paint your pottery. The truth is that there are methods for painting pottery permanently that don´t require a kiln or even an oven for that matter. In this guide, I will tell you exactly how to properly and permanently paint pottery in easy-to-follow steps.
The basic steps for painting pottery are:
- Get the right materials. You will need Enamel paint, fine-grit sandpaper, rubbing alcohol, and a primer.
- Prepare the pottery for painting by sanding the surface slightly, cleaning it, and then applying a primer.
- Apply the paint to the surface of the pottery.
- Seal the paint if necessary.
I will explain every step in detail in the sections below. Depending on the pottery you may don´t have to sand and prime it and some paints don´t need to be sealed, so you might be able to skip some steps. But make sure to read the sections below before you skip any of these steps.
1. Get the Right Materials
Before we can get started you will need some Materials. Most of these are pretty easy to get but some are more specific and might only be available in specialized hardware stores or craft stores.
Choose the Right Paint for Painting Pottery
Normally you would use either glaze, colored slip, or underglazes to paint pottery but all of these methods require the use of a kiln. So we will take a look at some alternative paints that you can use to permanently paint pottery.
As a whole, you can use acrylic paint or enamel paint to paint on pottery. Acrylic paint, however, is not perfectly water-resistant so it should not be used to paint mugs or vases for example. Enamel paint, on the other hand, is water-resistant which makes it the preferred choice for painting pottery.
Don´t get me wrong you can use acrylic paints and I even recommend using them if you have them lying around anyways and if you don´t want to paint pottery that gets into contact with water often.
As a general rule, acrylic paint can be used to paint pottery but only for pottery that will not get into contact with water often. Acrylic paint should also be sealed after application. Even a topcoat will not make acrylic paint fully water-resistant so acrylic paint is best used for painting decorative ceramics only.
The major downside to using acrylic paint to paint pottery is that it will come off eventually. That´s why I recommend using a sealer to seal the acrylic paint after it was applied just to ensure its longevity.
But even then I would still not recommend using acrylic paint to paint pottery like mugs, vases, dishes, or similar. It is best used for painting decorative pottery.
Enamel paint is still the best kind of paint for painting pottery. It is water-resistant and it doesn´t require a sealer. But I wouldn´t use enamel to paint pottery that gets in contact with drinks or food, just to be sure.
The biggest downside to using enamel paint for painting pottery is that you need to properly prepare the surface of the pottery to ensure that the enamel paint adheres properly to the surface. Otherwise, it might peel or crack after a short while.
Get the Rest of the Materials
You will also need some materials for preparing the surface. You can get almost all of these materials at your local hardware store.
- Fine-grit sandpaper. Anywhere between 250-grit and 400-grit.
- Rubbing alcohol
- An old towel or a piece of cloth
- Paint primer
- Acrylic sealer if you want to use acrylic paint
- A soft brush
You will need a primer that sticks to ceramic and that prepares the surface optimally for enamel paint. You don´t need a primer when using acrylic paint.
I personally made the best experiences with using a spray-on primer from Rust-Oleum. It is easy to apply and the fact that it is a spray primer will help you to apply it very evenly. It sticks to almost all kinds of surfaces and I rarely need to apply more than two coats before it covers the surface fully.
You can buy Rust-Oleum spray primer at your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.
You really only need a sealer or topcoat when you plan on using acrylic paint to paint your pottery. Enamel paint doesn´t need any sealer.
You need an acrylic sealer to seal acrylic paint. I highly recommend using a spray-on acrylic sealer. Spray-on sealer is generally easier to apply and it will ensure that the sealer is applied in a nice and even manner.
My favorite acrylic sealer to use is Krylon’s acrylic spray paint sealer. You can buy it right here on Amazon.
2. Prepare the Pottery for Painting
Preparing your pottery for painting is the most work-intensive step in this whole guide. But it is well worth it to properly prepare the surface of your ceramics to ensure the longevity of the paint job.
As a whole, to prepare pottery for painting it needs to be lightly sanded with fine-grit sandpaper, then the surface needs to be cleaned with a piece of cloth or a towel and some rubbing alcohol. Finally, a primer needs to be applied in multiple thin coats before the surface is ready to be painted.
You don´t need to apply a primer and sand the surface if you are using acrylic paint.
If you are using acrylic paint to paint your pottery then simply clean the surface with some rubbing alcohol and you can then apply the acrylic paint directly to the clean surface without the need to prepare it further.
If you are using enamel paint then you need to sand the surface and apply a primer to the surface to ensure that the enamel paint adheres properly to the surface of your ceramics.
It is enough to sand the surface very lightly. You only need to rough the surface up to give the primer something that it can adhere to properly.
You don´t need to sand the surface if you are using a primer that adheres extremely well to all kinds of surfaces but I still recommend sanding the surface anyway just to be on the safe side.
After sanding the surface you need to clean it from any dirt, debris, or grease. You can use some rubbing alcohol and an old piece of cloth to do that.
And then it´s finally time to apply the primer. Either use a very soft brush or a spray-on primer to apply the primer. The primer needs to be applied in multiple thin coats. It usually needs between 2 and 4 coats before the primer covers the pottery sufficiently.
Let the primer dry in between coats. If you see some uneven parts or drops on the surface of the primer after it has dried then simply use some fine-grit sandpaper to make the surface smooth again.
3. Apply the Paint
This step is pretty straightforward. Simply apply the paint either with a soft brush or by spraying it on. Apply the paint in as evenly as possible and make sure that you don´t miss a spot. Once enamel paint has dried it will be difficult to apply another layer on top of it.
When applying acrylic paint, on the other hand, it´s much better to apply it in multiple thin coats. Let each coat dry before applying the next one. This will ensure that the paint is applied evenly.
4. Seal the Paint if Necessary
If you painted your pottery with acrylic paint then this step is necessary. But if you painted your pottery with enamel paint then you don’t need to apply a topcoat. It doesn´t do any harm but it is also not necessary.
If you want to know why enamel paint doesn´t need a topcoat then you can read my article “Does enamel paint need a topcoat?” right here.
Apply the sealer in thin and even coats. I highly recommend using a spray-on acrylic sealer as it will make the application process much easier.
I usually need around 2 or 3 coats until I am confident that the whole piece is sufficiently sealed.