A Beginner's Guide to Painting Ceramics

Last Updated on Jul 17th 2024
painting ceramics

Maybe you’ve taken a few classes and know your way around a pottery wheel, but when it comes to painting ceramics, you may be wondering where to begin.

It can be overwhelming when figuring out how to select the right type of paint or understanding the glazed versus unglazed debate. And how do you paint already-fired ceramics or come up with unique pottery ideas?

Whether you’re just getting into pottery or excited to start painting ceramics, having a creative hobby is an excellent way to help you improve your life.

Adobe mentions that creative hobbies are beneficial in helping you express yourself and can also connect you with other people. So if you’re looking to deepen a friendship or expand your social circle, why not start by painting ceramics together?

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Ceramic Painting Techniques for Beginners

Pottery for beginners is a creative and relaxing craft to learn if you’re excited to discover a new hobby. Whether you’re decorating your home or looking for unique pottery gifts, this unique artistry is a great way to get inspired and stay creative.

Try Pottery Classes

If you want to learn ceramic painting techniques for beginners, pottery classes are one of the best ways to level up your skills. From working with clay to glazing pottery, expert artists will guide you through creating beautiful pieces, such as stunning vases and mugs.

From pottery classes in Boston to pottery classes in Chicago, there are many exciting classes to learn this relaxing hobby. Discover pottery classes in Houston for a fun girl’s night or a unique date idea. Wherever you’re located, there are plenty of engaging pottery classes near you.

Book a pottery painting class for a special occasion, like as a 50th birthday gift idea, sweet 16 party idea and other fun group events.

painting ceramics pottery classes
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Types of Paint to Use on Ceramics

What kind of paint do you use on ceramics? It all comes down to knowing what paint will work best for your pottery painting ideas. There are several options available if you’re searching for what paint to use on ceramics.

Latex Paint

Latex is a water-based paint you can use when painting ceramics. It has a thinner consistency and requires several layers of paint for a solid finish. Latex paint dries fairly quickly and comes in a variety of gloss options. With several coats of paint, latex is perfect for ready-to-paint ceramics.

Enamel Paint

Enamel is an oil-based paint you can also use when painting ceramics. It’s extremely durable and can resist high temperatures when baking in an oven or kiln.

It holds color well over time and is perfect for a beautiful, glossy texture on glazed pottery. Unfortunately, enamel paint can get expensive due to its durable and stunning coating.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the best paints to use when painting ceramics. These paints are versatile and can be used on many surfaces, specifically for unglazed pottery.

Acrylics are chemical-based paints, but most brands are also non-toxic. These paints have a natural elastic quality which helps them remain intact over time.

types of paint to use one ceramics
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Spray Paint

Spray paint is another option when painting ceramics. This type of paint is popular because it doesn’t show the brush strokes you can see while painting ceramics.

Spray paint works best for both glazed and unglazed pieces. You can also choose from a glossy or sheen finish for a beautiful design on your ceramic.

How to Paint Glazed Ceramics

Glazing pottery involves firing ceramics in an oven or kiln to create a glossy, beautiful texture. However, when painting ceramics, glazed pottery can be more challenging to paint.

Since the texture of the pottery is already smooth, the paint does not easily stick to the surface. You’ll first need to prepare your glazed pottery for painting ceramics.

So, what kind of paint do you use on glazed ceramic? You’ll want to use enamel paints for the best paint job. If you’re looking for a unique way to paint already-fired ceramics, you can also use spray paint to add a beautiful finish to this piece.

Prepare Your Ceramic

Before you begin painting ceramics, you’ll want to properly prepare your piece. Grab a sheet of sandpaper and rub it across your ceramic. This will eliminate some of the previous glaze and create a better surface for the paint to stick. After you finish sanding, wipe off the dust with a clean cloth.

Apply Primer

Do you need to prime the ceramic before painting? Absolutely! Primers help hold the paint in place on your ceramic. The primer combined with the sanding method will help the paint on your ceramic last even longer.

Paint Your Piece

The next step for painting glazed ceramics involves grabbing your desired paint color and a clean paintbrush. Move your paintbrush in even strokes in the same direction for a consistent, beautiful paint job.

painting glazed ceramic with black stripes
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Let Your Ceramic Dry

Allow your ceramic to air dry for several hours. Store it in a safe space where it will not easily get knocked over or damaged.


After painting ceramics and letting your piece air dry, you will apply several layers of glaze and fire your piece in an oven or a kiln. This step isn’t necessary, but it will ensure that your beautiful piece lasts even longer.

RELATED: Best Glazing Pottery Guide for Beginners for 2023

How to Paint Unglazed Ceramics

Unglazed ceramics are ceramics fired without a coating of glaze. Painting these ready-to-paint ceramics are fun and simple ceramics project for beginners.

If you’re trying to figure out how to paint unglazed ceramics, use acrylic paint for your beautiful piece. These paints are convenient and easy to find in your local arts and crafts store. Most acrylic paints are also non-toxic, making them perfect for mugs or bowls you’re excited to use in the kitchen.

Prepare Your Ceramic

Before painting your beautiful pottery, ensure that your ceramic is clean and dry. Use a moist cloth to wipe away any dust or dirt. These pieces could get tangled in your paintbrush and create unwanted texture on your ceramic.

Paint Your Piece

Next, select your desired colors and start painting your piece. The best method for painting ceramics is placing a small amount of paint on a palette. This process will help you conserve paint and you can always add more to the palette while painting.

When painting unglazed ceramics, you can use a paintbrush or sponge for a unique texture on your piece. Just ensure you let each coat dry before adding more paint. 

woman in studio painting on clay sculpture
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Seal Your Design

End your painting process by using a clear acrylic spray to seal your piece. Acrylic paint cannot withstand high temperatures and can be ruined if you finish this process by placing your ceramic in a kiln. The spray sealant is the best way to ensure the paint on your beautiful new piece lasts for a long time.

How to Shade When Painting Ceramics

Shading pottery is a beautiful technique when painting ceramics. Shading involves darkening or coloring with lines or blocks of color on your piece. This method creates depth and uniqueness in your ceramic.

To properly incorporate shading when painting ceramics, you’ll want to follow a specific method to ensure a beautiful piece.

Prepare the Brush

First, you’ll dip your brush in water to create a smoother texture for your shading. Lightly dab it on a paper towel before applying paint to the bristles. You don’t want your paintbrush to be dry to ensure the right texture for shading.

dipping paintbrushes in water
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Apply Paint on the Brush

Next, you’ll press the brush next to your paint color, with only one side of the bristles catching the paint. Shading requires intricate detail so you’ll want to keep the paint on your brush to a minimum. You can always add more paint later.

Paint Your Piece

Gently apply the side of the brush against your ceramic. Make sure you have enough water in the paintbrush to help it easily glide along your piece. Shading is best for lightly applying lines of color while painting ceramics.

RELATED: 23 Most Creative Pottery Painting Ideas for Bowls, Vases and More

How to Add Designs When Painting Ceramics

It’s fun and easy to add unique designs when painting ceramics. To create finely-drawn flowers or leaves, you’ll want to ensure you have the right paintbrush and colors for a beautiful display.

Flat-tipped brushes are perfect for shading and geometric work. If you plan on using stencils for your piece, use a small-flat tipped brush for the intricate designs. You can also find acrylic or oil-based pens for easy decoration.

Paint Your Design

After letting your piece thoroughly air dry, it’s time to add your personalized design. Select from a variety of colors or stencils to decorate your ceramic. Additionally, you can use strips of painter’s tape to create straight lines or easily shade in sections of your piece. When finished, carefully remove the stencil or tape to avoid scratching your piece.

Finish Your Piece

After painting your base color and unique design, let your beautiful piece air dry. Then, if you painted on glazed pottery, make sure to bake it in an oven or kiln to help your piece last even longer. If you painted on unglazed pottery, make sure to use an acrylic sealant to protect your design.

man painting ceramic design on large plate
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Painting ceramics is a great way to have some fun and get creative. Whether you want to learn how to paint already fired ceramics or you purchased ready-to-paint ceramics, this hobby is a relaxing and exciting way to unwind.

Although there are several methods for painting ceramics, knowing the difference between glazed and unglazed, as well as understanding how to properly paint your piece, will guarantee a high-quality and long-lasting design.

For even more fun pottery ideas, check out other experiences happening on Classpop!