Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

A very English process: Underglaze tissue printing for ceramic artists, a collaborative project to reappraise 19th century printing skills

Hoskins, Stephen



The standard text regarding Blue and White underglaze ceramic transfer printing ‘Penny Plain and Twopence coloured’ begins: ‘Transfer printing is a particularly English form of ceramic decoration’(1).
Underglaze tissue ceramic transfer printing first developed circa 1850 and involved engraved or etched copper plates, from which tissue was printed with cobalt blue oxides- the famous 'Willow Pattern' being the best known example. Underglaze tissue has a very distinctive, subtle quality – it is an integral part of both English ceramic history and the history of copperplate engraving.
The process was common in the UK ceramics industry until the 1980s. However from the 1950s it began to be supplemented, by screenprinting, because it was relatively slow and required skilled artisans to apply the transfers. By contrast screen-printed transfers are printed on top of the glaze therefore the image will wear and fade in a dishwasher and has none of the delicate qualities and permanence of underglaze. The authors are collaborating with Burleigh Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, the last remaining company to produce ceramic tableware decorated using the traditional printed underglaze tissue method. The pottery was recently saved from closure by the Prince Charles Regeneration Trust, who wish to maintain the traditional manufacturing skills for the next 25 years.
The Centre for Fine Print Research in Bristol has been reappraising the use of the traditional 19th Century skills with modern materials and methods for producing engraved plates. There is almost no written record of the actual material and methods used in the process up to the 1950’s. This paper seeks to demonstrate how those 19th Century methods can be applied by contemporary ceramic artists, explaining ink manufacture (using oxides), heating the plate for printing, modern methods of making plates and where to obtain the elusive potters tissue, which has always been printed dry, unlike the traditional etching and engraving processes in conventional printing.

(1). Halfpenny, Pat. (1994) Penny Plain Twopence Coloured, Transfer Printing on English Ceramics City Museum and Art Gallery Stoke on Trent UK. ISBN: 1 874414 05 X


Hoskins, S. (2014, March). A very English process: Underglaze tissue printing for ceramic artists, a collaborative project to reappraise 19th century printing skills. Paper presented at Material World, NCECA’s 48th Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Material World, NCECA’s 48th Annual Conference
Start Date Mar 19, 2014
End Date Mar 22, 2014
Publication Date Mar 19, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords underglaze ceramic transfer printing, engraved plates, digital print, ink manufacture
Publisher URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : NCECA 2014, 48th Annual Conference