How Do You Decorate a China

Until recently, to have individually designed china in your home usually meant paying a lot of money for hand-painted pieces from well-known craftspeople. With the introduction of specialist china paints however, everything has changed: you can now paint on whatever you like and be sure that your designs will last. A quick and easy decorative technique, with the added advantage of the large amount of inexpensive white china available. This is a wonderful way of adding a splash of colour to everyday items.
There are three different types of paint that you can use for decorating china. Not all of these are non-toxic so if you are making pieces to give away, remember to mark them accordingly.
Enamel paints are not made exclusively for china and ceramics. They are available in a range of colours and dry to an extremely hard finish. These paints contain lead and should only be used for decorative purposes.
Solvent-based ceramic paints come in a huge range of colours and lend themselves well to varied painting styles such as wash effects. White spirit (paint thinner) can be used to dilute the paint and to clean brushes after use. Protect the finish with varnish.
Water-based ceramic paints are specially made for painting glazed ceramics. They produce a strong, opaque, flat colour and can be diluted with water. Do not attempt to bake them until they are completely dry o the colour may bubble. Baking the painted item will make the colour durable enough to wash in a dishwasher. It is a good idea to do a test first as over-firing can run the colour slightly brown.


Low-tack adhesive tape: use to hold templates or stencils in place on the china if masking tape is not available.

  • Masking fluid: watercolour art masking fluid is used to mask off areas of the design while colour is applied to the surrounding area.
  • Masking tape: useful for holding stencils in place or to mask off areas when painting straight lines. Can be removed easily without damaging the painted surface.
  • Paintbrushes: choose sable watercolour paintbrushes in a range of sizes, including a fine brush for painting lines and details, and a broad soft brush for covering larger areas. Good synthetic brushes are adequate and affordable.
  • Pencils and pens: a hard lead pencil such as a 2H is good for transferring designs with carbon paper. For marking the ceramic surface directly, a softer 2B lead pencil or a fine felt-tipped pen would be more suitable.
  • Ruler: a good-quality metal or plastic ruler makes measuring and cutting easier and more accurate.
  • Scalpel or craft knife: scalpels with disposable blades are the most accurate cutting tools, especially for cutting stencils. Craft knives are a good alternative.
  • Sponges: use to produce interesting effects. Natural or synthetic sponges can be used.


  • Sponging: Load a sponge with paint and test the print on a scrap piece of paper first. The first print or two will be too saturated with paint to achieve a pleasing effect, so it is best to make a few.
  • Sponging variations: A stencilled design can be made more interesting by varying the density of the sponging within the image or by adding more than one colour. Allowing the first coat of paint to dry partially before applying the second will mean that there is more contrast and less blending of the two colours.
  • White lines: If you want to leave thin lines of china showing through areas of colour, paint them first with masking fluid. This can be gently peeled off when the paint is dry to reveal the white china beneath. Use a sharp-pointed instrument such as a craft knife or compass point to lift off the dried masking fluid.
  • Printing blocks: When using printing blocks, roll the block lightly on to the surface to ensure you get a good even print. Test the print on scrap paper before printing on the china.
  • Using masking fluid: Add a drop of water-based paint to masking fluid before use when working on china that is completely white. This will help you to see where the masking fluid has been applied, enabling you to wipe it off easily when you are ready to do so.
  • Watery effects: You can achieve subtle watery effects in oil-based colours by diluting paints with white spirit (paint thinner). Water-based paints are diluted by adding water.


Before painting any white china, always clean it thoroughly to remove any invisible traces of dirt of grease. The most effective cleaning agents are cleaning fluid, methylated spirit (denatured alcohol), white spirit (paint thinner) or lighter fuel. Make sure there are no naked flames around when using these materials.
To ensure that there is no possibility of any paint being swallowed when drinking from a mug or glass, adapt designs so that any colour you paint is at least 3 cm/11/4 in below the rim of drinking vessels. Otherwise the piece should be fired in a kiln.
Always test out a technique that you have not tried before. Apply the new technique to a spare piece of china, which can be cleaned up easily, rather than a piece you are already in the process of decorating.
Use tracing paper and a soft pencil to transfer designs directly on to the surface of china. First, trace the template or the design you wish to use, then fix the tracing paper to the china with masking tape. Gently nib over the traced design with a soft pencil to transfer.
Pencil or pen guide marks on the china can be easily wiped off once the paint is completely dry or has been baked. Use a damp cloth and take care not to rub the paint too hard.