Department of Anthropology

Transfer-Printed Wares

  • Type: English porcelain and refined earthenware
  • Date range: c.1751-present
  • Place of origin: England, then other potters

Transfer printing was first used on creamware as early as 1765, and on pearlware by 1787.

In the technique, the pattern is engraved on a copper plate, and a metallic oxide pigment is applied. From there, the pattern is printed onto a special paper. The paper is used to transfer the design onto a biscuit-fired ceramic object. The object is then glazed and put in for the final firing, which vitrifies the glaze and transforms the metallic oxide pigment to the desired colour.

Unlike hand-painted designs, transfer printed designs do not exhibit brush strokes. In general, the lines are finer and tiny dots from the original engraving are visible on close examination of some examples.

Transfer printed patterns often include two different design zones: the rim or border design and the main design. The border tends to include geometric designs, while the main design is often a scenic, historical or oriental view (such as in the willow design).

Usually, only one colour is used for the design, although some examples also include overglaze polychrome elements. Early transfer-printed wares are usually printed in blue. Later, towards the middle of the 19th century, a variety of colours were used such as light blue, red, black, brown and purple.

See Miller 1991: 9; Sussman 1979: 10.


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Photo: Brown transfer-print mug