The standard text ‘Penny Plain and Twopence coloured’ regarding Blue and White underglaze ceramic transfer printing begins: ‘Transfer printing is a particularly English form of ceramic decoration’ (Halfpenny, Pat. 1994).
Underglaze tissue ceramic transfer printing first developed circa 1750 and involved the use of engraved or etched copper plates, from which a wet strength tissue paper was printed with an oxide (commonly cobalt for blue colour) 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 the1980s. However from the 1950s it began to be supplemented by screenprinting because it was relatively slow and required skilled artisans to apply the transfers. Screenprinted transfers are printed on top of the glaze, therefore the image will wear and fade in a dishwasher - having none of the delicate qualities and permanence of underglaze. In addition screenprinted transfers are easier to apply and do not require the skills necessary for underglaze tissue application. 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 project title is ‘Combining digital print technologies with 18th Century underglaze ceramic printing to retain an industrial heritage process’. The pottery was recently saved from closure by the Princes' Regeneration Trust, who wish to maintain the traditional manufacturing skills for the next 25 years.
There is a long-term issue with both the maintenance and production of printing hand-engraved rollers and plates. The project addresses that issue by introducing the potential of printing the traditional potter's tissue and applying it in the same way as the late 18th Century process, but creating the plate from a digital file. Thus creating a combination of the digital capabilities of flexographic printing technology and the earliest printing process developed for the ceramic industry. The result is to reduce the time from one month needed to engrave a roller to less than a day to create a digital equivalent, whilst retaining the integrity of the final product.
Hoskins, S., & Huson, D. (2014). ‘A very English process’ Underglaze tissue printing for ceramics - a collaboration to retain 19th century printing skills in a commercial environment. In P. L. Harrison, E. Shemilt, & A. Watson (Eds.), Borders and Crossings: The Artist as Explorer (122-127). Dundee: Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee