Last year, I blogged about my experience using Sharpies to decorate mugs and other ceramics. I used a series of Sharpie and other brand permanent markers and none of them worked well enough for me to spend any amount of time and effort on something useful for me or as a gift. I had previous experience with some other products designed for ceramics, and wanted to see what else was available. I’ve got some excellent results to report!
But first, a word on the whole Sharpie craze. There are a lot of people that really, really want this to work. Me too! How nice would that be if I could whip out one of the millions of Sharpies that are all over my house and turn dollar store mugs into wonderful gifts? But, sadly, it doesn’t work. Well, it might work well enough, but after a few weeks (or even days) of use, the pigments will chip, flake, or wash off. Sharpie ink in multipurpose permanent ink, suitable for use on many surfaces. It will stick, but it won’t stick to all surfaces permanently, particular non-porous surfaces, like ceramics.
Ceramics are created when a glaze containing tiny particles of silica is applied to earthenware, then fired in a kiln. The temperature varies based on the kind of glaze applied. Glazes considered “very low temperature” fire between 1112° and 1566°F (605° – 850°C), and go up to 2530°F (1390°C). This results in a vitreous (glass) surface that is impervious to liquids.
Given that the surface of the ceramic piece that we want to decorate needs to get to well over 1000°F to alter its surface, I’m certain that the only thing affected by a 300°-500°F oven is the ink or paint. Most general-purpose craft supplies aren’t made to be heated, and the pigments may be heat-stable only to about 200-250°F (which is why certain colors fade or become dull in the oven). Many general-purpose craft supplies use a solvent that will dry quickly (like alcohol or water), so heating something that’s already dry might not accomplish anything other than dulling the color. Heat does not necessarily help pigment adhere.
My dad used to say, “Use the right tool for the right job.” Sometimes you can use the heel of your shoe as a hammer to hang a picture, but most of the time, a hammer works much, much better, particularly if you’re, say, adding on to your house. We should be searching for the right medium to decorate ceramics, not trying to make something do what is wasn’t designed to do. We want something that, if it’s heated, is designed to go through some sort of chemical or physical change to permanently adhere to a non-porous surface.
Fortunately, there are a number of inexpensive products available. I took a walk through my local crafts store and found these:
|Medium (with link to manufacturer page)||Locally(Nat’l Craft Store)||Amazon(FS-free shipping; P-Prime eligible)||MSRP||Dick Blick(Free shipping over $99, otherwise flat $8.95)|
|Sharpie oil-based paint markers||$4ish||$4.86 FS||$3.79||$3.03|
|Nicole Rainbow Markers||$4.49||Darice brand for $3.87 add-on|
|FolkArt Enamel Paint||$2.29||$5.35-6.17 P|
|Americana Gloss Enamels||$2ish||$5.17 FS|
|Pebeo Porcelaine and Vitrea products (I had paint and outliners, markers available)||$10.59 P paint, $11.75 P outliner;$6.98 P markers||$7.60 paint;$6.30outliner;$5.95 markers||$6.29 paint;$4.87 outliner;$4.82 markers|
|Pen-Touch metallic gold pen||$3.99||$6.41 P||$3.49||$2.95|
All of these note that they will adhere to glass and ceramics. Only the Americana paint, the Folk-Art paint, and the Pebeo products require baking and promise to be dishwasher-safe. The Rainbow Markers says to “Finish with a clear sealer to make designs permanent.” All of them recommend not using on food surfaces.
As an aside, I noted that Amazon’s prices are really high. Because of free shipping or being Prime eligible (or in one case, the add-on price), it actually is cheaper than ordering online, due minimum shipping costs. Finding it in store is the cheapest option, though. These products should be available at most national (or semi-national) chain craft supply stores, some even at Wal-Mart.
I spent some time creating a test piece. I used an inexpensive piece of wall tile purchased from the local home improvement center for around$0.50. I washed it thoroughly with Dawn dishwashing liquid, using a light scrub with a Magic Eraser to ensure that the surface was completely clean.
After it dried completely, I used each medium to write its name (clearly not using the neatest handwriting!). Note that in addition to the media listed above, I used the Silver Sharpie and a regular Sharpie, as a control from the last time. Here are my thoughts on each.
The PenTouch (by Sakura) in opaque, metallic gold is a permanent marker that adheres to glass and ceramics without baking. It doesn’t make any claims to be dishwasher safe or any other specific ceramic claims for permanence. It has a nice feel when writing and the paint flow through the tip provided extremely consistent line widths and smooth coverage (no streaks or glops).
The Sharpie oil-based medium paint marker felt like a regular Sharpie, only a little darker with a little more coverage. It claims to stick to glass and ceramic without baking, but makes no claims to be dishwasher safe. The line width can vary a little, as it has a rounded tip. It feels like a Sharpie.
The Silver Sharpie is the standard one found at any discount, office supply, or craft store. This is the exact same marker I used in the first test that fared the best of them.
The plain ol’ Sharpie is the ubiquitous Sharpie. After writing the name, I added “(x2)” and went over that a second time after I finished the rest of the tests. I got this idea from a poster who commented in my first post by leaving a video link that claimed going over it twice was one key to permanence.
At AC Moore, I found some Nicole Rainbow Markers for Ceramics in a 10 pack for $4.50. How good could those be at that price? But they met my criteria for being made for ceramics. They do not require being baked. They specifically say to cover with a clear sealer for permanence, and they are specifically not dishwasher, oven, or microwave use. But, hey, neither are Sharpies, so we’ll try them.
The products to this point are markers, which are ideal because everyone can use them easily. The remaining products tested are paints, either in a bottle or tube, although Pebeo makes a marker (which I don’t have and didn’t test).
Next up are two kinds of Pebeo paints. After drying for 24 hours, they are designed to be baked in a home oven at 300°F for 35 minutes for the Porcelaine brand, and the Vitrea line is baked for 40 minutes at 325°F. They are designed to be extremely durable, washable with many kinds of detergents, withstand scrubbing, dishwasher-safe, and even withstands the elements outdoors. The paints clean up easily with water until they have dried.
First, I tried the Pebeo Porcelaine Outliner. It’s in a little metal tube with a very fine plastic tip that can be cut to varying diameters (all very tiny). The paint is actually a bit dimensional. It can be used to outline a design, then fill in the areas with the paint product, and a cloisonne effect can be created — this is pretty cool! I didn’t test that here, trying to stick with the same kinds of designs suitable for markers. The tube is a bit trickier to use than a marker, but if you practice your design, it doesn’t take that long to become proficient. I liked the dimensional aspect, but it doesn’t work for every design. It can become bumpy and does take practice to get right.
The Pebeo Porcelaine paint is the next one. I used a very small brush to paint with. I should have gone to their website, as they have some tips on how to make lettering look good. That said, the paint flows nicely and is very workable. Both the outliner and the paint are easy to wipe off with a cotton swab or paper towel to correct mistakes. The Porcelaine paint is the opaque paint for ceramics; the Vitrea line is transparent for glass, though I’d bet that you can layer the Vitrea for some interesting effects on light colored ceramics. But choose either Vitrea or Porcelaine — the two are not mixable with each other.
I would LOVE to try these markers. I really like the quality of the paints and outliners, and would expect that the markers would be the same high quality product.
The Folk Art Enamel paints in black and metallic gold, as well as the Americana Gloss Enamel paint are water-based acrylics that look like all the other little 2 ounce bottles of acrylic paints and media that take up an entire aisle of your local craft store. Look carefully, and you’ll find these paints that cure in your oven. The Folk Art requires air drying for 1 hour, then 30 minutes at 350°F. The Americana brand says to dry for 48 hours, then 30 minutes at 325°F. Both warn not to use where it comes in direct contact with food. Both of these have a nice feel. The Americana brand seemed to have more of a gel feel to it, the Folk Art feels just like any other kind of acrylic craft paint.
Now that I have a nice test piece, I had to reconcile the directions. I let it dry for 4 days before I put it in the over. Given that the recommended temperatures and times varied, but I decided to go with the 30 minutes at 350°F. If it worked, great. If not, I’d do a separate test. Here are pictures of in the various stages of before and after the oven.
1. Just after completion, ready.
2. After drying for 4 days. No discernible color or texture change.
3. After baking. Little discernible color or texture change. The regular Sharpie and Rainbow Markers seem a bit lighter and the PenTouch metallic has a tiny, tiny halo of dark green/gray around it. You have to look pretty hard to see it, and it’s not unattractive. It’s probably because it wasn’t meant to be heated. Finally, the Porcelaine blue paint is slightly darker (though the difference isn’t as dramatic as it appears in the picture — I should really get a lightbox and take better pictures!).
So, now, what about permanence?
My first reaction was to scrape my fingernail over the last character in the name to try to scrape it off. Only two tiny flecks were dislodged, on the PenTouch metallic and the Sharpie Oil based. Below is a closeup of the damage. Not bad, since I was really trying to take the whole last letter off. The rest looked perfect.
The next step, as in the first try, I took some Dawn dishwashing liquid and a foam sponge and went over the right side of the tile 25 times, as if gently hand washing it multiple times (leaving the left side intact). The plain ol’ Sharpie didn’t fare well. To my surprise, the part where I went over it twice did fare better, but not perfect.
As in the first test, the next step was to take a worn nylon scrubbie pad and lightly scrub 25 times over the whole thing. I scrubbed as if I were rinsing dinner dishes, not as if I tried to get off dried-on food. The plain ol’ Sharpie is almost all gone; the part where I went over twice is barely there). The Rainbow Markers have significant damage, too (to be fair, they did say that to make it permanent, it needs clear sealer, which I wouldn’t want on a mug or other dinnerware).
The rest are looking pretty good, though! We need to up the ante. Let’s try an SOS pad (steel wool impregnated with soap). Same 25 times deal, with a bit of force, like trying to get some sticky food off of a plate (but not completely dried on), and only on the right side. This obliterates any remaining plain Sharpie and Rainbow Marker. The Sharpie Silver didn’t fare so well, nor the black Folk Art paint (the gold paint seemed fine). The oil-based Sharpie is worn, but not too bad; the American has one letter that didn’t seems a little worn, but otherwise it looks great. The PenTouch Metallic is a little dull, but still intact, and the Porcelain outliner and paint still look great.
Next up: rubbing alcohol. It can damage a lot of paints and markers. There was no discernible difference. I’m pretty impressed. The Silver Sharpie has lasted a bit longer than my previous trial, but it still shows wear. The oil-based Sharpie held up quite well up until the SOS pad — admittedly a very tough test! But the PenTouch Metallic, Folk Art Enamel Gold Paint, Americana Gloss Enamel, and particularly the Porcelaine outliner and paint held up well enough that I’d use them on a project. I’d recommend them (as long as you keep them away from direct contact with food or lips). And y’know, all of those are formulated for use on glass and ceramics. I think there’s something to my dad’s adage to “use the right tool for the right job.”
I’m going to take this tile and run it through the dishwasher a number of times. It’ll take me a while to put it through its paces, but I’m going to treat it like my regular dishes and send it through the dishwasher for a week or two to see how everything holds up. Watch for part III.[Check out Part III with the successful dishwasher results, and Part IV, on whether to seal Sharpies with Mod Podge.]