I learned to make ceramic gum prints some time ago. It’s a messy process, but if you want to transfer a photo to a ceramic piece and fire it, a ceramic gum print is a good option. The ceramic ink or paint mix you will make can fire all the way to cone 10. It can be clear glazed. The ceramic gum print process is fun, but it takes patience and a bit of practice.
By making a photocopy of a favorite photo, you can preserve that image on a clay object. The first tests of printing photos onto a ceramic surface were done in the Civil War era by Lafon DeCamarsac, in France. Even the Minoans printed images to clay. Ceramic gum prints are not a new idea. But it’s fascinating to transfer family memories to a permanent ceramic piece.
Supplies for a Ceramic Gum Print
Here’s what you need to make a ceramic gum print:
- Powdered oxide, mason stain, or under-glaze – darker colors work best
- A small bottle of gum Arabic — you will want to thin it to the consistency of thick thick cream or rubber cement
- A laser printed or photocopied image to transfer.
- Soft leather clay slab or clay object
- Plastic gloves
- Lindseed oil (I have heard that regular cooking oil will work – experiment if you’d like)
- Container with tight sealing lid to store your mixed ink. However, once that ink dries out you can’t reconstitute it.
- A quart bowl of water mixed with about a teaspoon of gum, and a smaller bowl of plain water
- Small sponges
- A piece of plate glass, ¼” thick or so. This glass can be any size that will accommodate your image.
- A rubber brayer for print making
How to Make Your Ceramic Gum Print
- In the jar, mix about 2 tsp of stain into about ¾ cup gum. Stir well with a plastic spoon (for about ten minutes or so) and cover the jar to set up over night. The result should be a mix that is about as thick as wall paint. You will have to use more colorant if you are using liquid underglaze.
- To make a ceramic gum print of a small image (like 6×6″), pour a tablespoon of gum arabic on the glass plate and spread the gum
thinly. Use your fingers. Wear a glove. Lay the print face up on the gum and pull the gum evenly over the surface of the image. This allows the ink to stick to the toner on the image.
- With a sponge, remove excess gum from around the print.
- Make a line of your ceramic paint/ink, maybe four inches across, horizontally on the glass. Spread the color out thin with the breyer. Roll back and forth over the ink until it’s a thin coat that allows you to evenly coat the brayer. Again, it’s like loading a roller to paint a section of a wall.
- So go ahead and load the breyer with a thin coat of paint and spread that over the image for your ceramic gum print, This time, work only in a single direction until the image is lightly, evenly coated.
- Soak a sponge in the prepared gum arabic water and squeeze it over the coated image. Wipe off that water and repeat the washing. Wring out your sponge and dab moisture off the image.
- Do steps 5 and 6 two or three times.
- Carefully lift the image by a corner and put it face down on your clay slab. Once you lay the image down, you cannot move it.
- Using clear water and a clean sponge, pat the image to make it adhere smoothly to the slab. Wait about five minutes until you see the surface begin to dull — meaning the surface looks flat damp, rather than glossy wet.
- Using the back of your kitchen spoon, burnish the surface of the image making sure you press across every part of it.
- Lift the paper from a corner and peel it off the clay. Don’t fire the piece with the paper print on it.
This ceramic gum print process produces a slightly fuzzy, vintage-looking print. It can be done on flat or curved surfaces. You can enhance the ceramic gum print image by overlaying more prints in different colors.
When the clay is totally dry, bisque fire. You can wax coat the image after bisque or apply clear glaze, Then apply glazes or surface treatments as desired and fire up to cone ten, depending, of course on your clay’s requirements.
In love with the idea of ceramic gum printing? Want to read more about printing on clay? Try this inclusive article about photo ceramic printing.
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